Johan van der Keuken (2000-03-10)

Johan Van der Keuken
Practice: Film and Video
Date of Lecture: 2000-03-10


“Perhaps I take photographs because time passes too quickly and make films because I am short of time.” – Johan van der Keuken

Johan van der Keuken was born in Amsterdam in 1938. He began taking photographs at the age of 12 and in 1955, at the age of seventeen, he published his first book of photographs entitled “We Are Seventeen“. It was on the strength of this series of portraits of friends and schoolmates that Van der Keuken was awarded a scholarship to the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques in Paris. He studied there from 1956 to 1958, during which time he published a second book of photographs titled “Behind Glass“. Van der Keuken continued to balance work in both mediums throughout his life. He has left behind a large body of work, which investigates ideas of reality, perception, and the history and ideology of representation.

VanderKeuken_Johan_w01Big Ben: Ben Webster in Europe , 1967

His documentary films, of which they are more than fifty, are constructed from within a consciousness of the medium’s limitations and the falsehood implicit in presenting one’s view of the world as a fair and objective one. His films often question the history of documentary film itself. In speaking with Ron Burnett on one of his later films, Van der Keuken explained: “Every time I watch “Springtime” with an audience I get tense because I don’t know if it works, whether or not people will accept this intrusion on their normal viewing experience. Audiences expect results, polish, they cannot accept weak phases in a product.To me it was important to transform the process and go through these uncertain phases and try to give the audience a place in any discussion of the film, opening the text up to them, reinventing its premises, relocating the viewing experience“.

His last film, The Long Holiday, was conceived and produced after Van der Keuken was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in 2002. To visit the website dedicated to his life and work go to:

Van der Keuken’s lecture was followed by a week long retrospective of his films at Cinametheque Ontario.