Biography – Short

Dutch | English

Steef Zoetmulder (1911 Schiedam – 2004 Rotterdam) studied from 1933-1935 at The Arts Academy in Rotterdam. Professors Gerrit Kiljan (design /advertising) and Jan Kamman (photography) defined the curriculum in the New Objectivity Style. This movement was characterized by an entirely objective vision: an impersonal, realistic reproduction of subject matter, a simple documentation of daily objects and cultural/social reality. In the 1933 exhibition New directions in Photography, Zoetmulder’s photographs were praised by the press as the New Objectivity’s finest pieces.

In this same pre-war era, Zoetmulder was experimenting with a visual vocabulary of his own; a perfect combination of pure objective reality and an aesthetic, emotional, intuitive approach. In this he was a pioneer of the Subjective Style, which emerged in international photography during the post war period. This movement was characterized by its attention to linear form, suggestive perspective and associations evoked by objects and materials. With these elements added, photography could become a vehicle for emotion, thought and individual perspectives, thus opening the door for an artistic form of expression.

Zoetmulder cultivated a severity of form and a strength of artistic vision combined with classical aesthetics. He chose subjects marked with a certain lyric poetry, such as multiple exposure prints of studio nudes interwoven with fabrics or superimposed on glass objects. In 1939 he published the first of 6 articles in Kleibeeldfoto magazine on photomontage, one of his favorite techniques. He also worked on still lives and abstract composition in which he often used the reflective and refractive properties of glass objects. Precise technical and chemical control, play of light and light angles, play of lines, surfaces, textures, compositions, shadows, perspectives and reflections are elements that Zoetmulder mastered to perfection. In the final analysis his photography reflects multiple facets: it is symbolic, lyrical, suggestive, associative, complex, decorative and abstract. From as early as the late thirties, Zoetmulder’s work was seen in all the main group exhibitions of European photography. It was thus a matter of course that Otto Steinert asked him to participate in the now renowned 1951 international exhibition Subjektive Fotografie I. This amounted to a significant recognition of his constant pursuit to accomplish a personal kind of photography.

In 1934, Zoetmulder received the first of over 30 awards. He participated in more than one hundred exhibitions on three continents, and he is prominently featured in The History of Dutch Photography. In 1935, he opened his first studio in Schiedam. He went on to specialize in publicity, advertising, architecture, commerce, industry, fashion and some portraiture. In the fifties, Zoetmulder became one of the key figures in the Dutch Photographers Art Circle (NFK) in the Hague, a society that elevated the standards of creative, artistic and aesthetic photography.

Determined to further expand his range of creative expression, Zoetmulder began experimenting with abstract colour photography in 1960 and studied painting and drawing in the 1970’s at The Arts Academy in Rotterdam, which also resulted in exhibitions. On the occasion of his eightieth birthday he was honoured to have a photo book published, Steef Zoetmulder Subjective Photography 1940/1960. This book accompanied a European solo exhibition tour in 1992 and 1993 of 53 of his finest photographs. It is a tribute to a man whose life has been dedicated to photography and to its acceptance as an art form. So much so that we are fortunate to see a renewal of interest in his work today.

Collections: Nederlands Foto Museum-Rotterdam, Prentenkabinet van de Rijksuniversiteit-Leiden, Van Reekum Museum-Apeldoorn, Stichting Dutch Photography-Amsterdam, Stichting Nederlands Foto & Grafisch Centrum-Haarlem, Stedelijk Museum-Schiedam, Centrum Beeldende Kunst-Rotterdam, Randstad Uitzendbureau-Amsterdam, Museum Voorlinden-Wassenaar, Galerie Baudelaire–Antwerpen, Provinciaal Museum voor fotografie-Antwerpen, LaSalle National Bank-Chicago, Paul M. Hertzman-San Fransisco, National Gallery-Canberra Australia.