A sunny spring day in picturesque Leusden, The Netherlands, in the middle of the countryside in an absolutely ordinary neighbourhood. I walk into a very normal room in a very normalhouse containing a collection that is anything but ordinary. I find myself in a room barely ten square metres large with two computers, three chairs, a desk and 5,500 books.
I am visiting the greatest collector of Dutch photography books, Jan Wingender. What started as an interest in photography has evolved into a hobby that has gotten completely out of hand. Every corner of the small room is filled with books, which are neatly arranged by genre and in excellent condition. A sophisticated computer archive tells you exactly which photographer can be found in which book, and vice versa. A machine provides air moisture, and ingeniously constructed shelves ensure that all available space is perfectly used. Despite all this, there isn’t space for even one more book because Jan’s wife does not allow him to keep books on the floor anymore. Luckily part of the attic will soon be his to use.
Lack of space and astonishment
It all started in 1956 when Jan visited the Family of Man exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The photography made such a deep impression on him that it has since never released its hold. He was astonished and pleased to find that photography could have a much more significant impact than other art forms. Not long afterwards, one photography book after another started to find its way into his home and into the Wingender family’s bookcase. It was only when the first large bookcase was full that choices had to be made. There simply wasn’t enough space. Jan decided to limit his interest in photography books to those from the Netherlands only, unaware that the same lack of space would soon haunt him again. Jan discovered the immense value of The Dutch Photography Book Collection, as his collection is officially known, when Matti Boom (curator Rijksmuseum, GUP) paid a visit to his house and literally stood agape with astonishment with what she saw.
A real collector never sells a part of the collection, even if the potential sale of a book enables him to buy ten more. In Jan’s case, that sometimes used to pose a problem because as a teacher at a technical college his financial means were not inexhaustible. Jan only buys one edition of a book, not all the editions with their different covers. But if the latter contains even one photograph that isn’t in the other edition, then it gets added to the collection.
500 books in one year
Any book containing even one photograph by a Dutch photographer is essentially eligible for The Dutch Photography Book Collection. Books containing photos of photographers who worked in the Netherlands for a substantial amount of time are also fair game. Photography books from 1945-1970 are the heart of the collection. It is difficult to keep up with developments at the moment because so many photo books are being published. In 2006 alone, Jan’s collection grew by 500 books. Jan has calculated that there are still 2,000 books in circulation that qualify for his collection. He has the most recent material sent to him straight from the publishers. He finds all the other books, especially older ones, by sniffing around jumble sales and used bookshops.
Interest and involvement
There is considerable interest in his unique collection in the photography world. It is a collection with immense cultural-historical value, which is enhanced by the size and care with which it is preserved. Organizations such as the Leiden University Library, the Lexicon of the History of Dutch Photography, the National Library of the Netherlands, Voetnoot Publishers and the Dutch Photography Museum in Rotterdam are all involved, some to a larger and some to a lesser degree, in his collection. Ten of the best items rom his collection are currently on display at the new photography museum until the end of August.
A little more patience please
In addition to a great deal of attention, collecting has also resulted in many friendships, some with the same photographers that inhabit his book- shelves. Nevertheless, there will come a time when he parts with his collection. And when this happens, it will be the entire collection. He does not like the idea of selling it off in parts because that would damage the singularity of The Dutch Photography Book Collection. His friend Willem Diepraam once valued the collection at several hundreds of thousands of euros. Interested buyers already exist. A little more patience and we can all see the collection.
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