Besnyö - The Choice Collection
For three years Leo Erken filmed his colleague Eva Besnyö, 54 years
his senior. The film was released and broadcast in January 2003. Eva Besnyö
died on the 12th of December 2003. She was one of the best-known and celebrated
Dutch photographers of the twentieth century.
made by the famous designer Jan Bons who is an old time friend of Eva.
In Januari 2003 Leo Erken wrote:
Eva Besnyö is a Dutch photographer of Hungarian descent and despite
her advanced age she is sharp and clear in mind. She is still with us
as a living legend and is everywhere cheered like a pop star. Wherever
she goes people want to talk to her. She is always in the spotlight and
ranks very high in the art and photography world of the Netherlands.
The film tells about her career and shows the process in which she distances
herself from her life’s work. She can and will determine for herself
what will remain of it for future generations. By selecting or discarding
pictures she tries to define the essential part of her oeuvre. Her last
savings are spent on printing from negatives in cases where there are
no acceptable prints available.
Charles Kersten, Ata Kando, Eva Besnyö and cameraman Deen van der
Zaken. Final scene of the film. Photo Leo Erken
‘choice collection’, the 200 most beautiful of her pictures,
which she made some twenty years ago, is now in question. Some experts,
such as her fellow photographer and at the same time biographer Willem
Diepraam, are pressing her to choose from her pre-war work and to minimize
her later work. Adriaan Elligens, director of the Maria Austria Institute
which is charged with the administration of Besnyö's archive, has
totally different preferences and plans.
Eva Besnyö makes heavy demands on herself and the people around her.
She impresses by her intelligent, sharp, firm and absolutely original
attitude toward life.
Besnyö in 1998, photo by Leo Erken
In 1930, 20-year-old Eva Besnyö left Budapest to develop her photographic
talents in Berlin. The Jewish Hungarian immersed herself in the stormy
cultural and political life of those days and took a great number of her
most beautiful photos. By 1932, the worsening political climate made her
leave Berlin. She moved to the Netherlands, together with her eighteen-year-old
Dutch boyfriend John Fernhout.
In the 1930s, Besnyö enjoyed photographic fame in Holland and moved
in the artistic circles of Fernhout’s mother, the painter Charley
Toorop. During the war she was initially in hiding, but with help from
the underground, she succeeded in obtaining a ‘gentile transformation’.
From that moment on, she personally participated in the resistance, forging
identity papers and other documents together with graphic designer Wim
Brusse. They were married in 1946 and had two children, Bertus (1945)
and Yara (1948).
In the 1950s, Besnyö was a much sought-after photographer. The following
decade she fell into relative obscurity, but at the age of sixty she made
a remarkable comeback as the photographer of the feminist movement Dolle
When she displays her favourite photos at the Rosa Spierhuis in Laren,
the Netherlands, the vast majority appear to originate from her Berlin
'I was still free then,' she says. 'I could do what I wanted. Then came
Hitler, and it was all over.'
Eva Besnyö died on 12 December 2003.
The Choice Collection
Die Erste Wahl
A Film by
Deen van der Zaken
and Leo Erken
and Roger Cremers
Marlene van der Kooi
This production was made possible with support from the
city of Amsterdam, the Amsterdam Art Fund (AFK) and
the Maria Austria Institute (MAI)
About the music
for the documentary
Eva Besnyö -
You can find the photographs by Eva Besnyö on the
website of the
Maria Austria Institute