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WSJ Staff

In today’s pictures, a man tends to one of his goats in Ireland, injured people receive treatment after an explosion in Syria, a holy man helps his adopted child into a yoga headstand in India, and more.

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In photography, “the road trip,” especially by car around the United States, has been a right of passage for many photographers. Embarking on a fourteen-month world tour however is a bit less common, but that ambitious challenge was taken on in 1959 by the Dutch photographer Ed van der Elsken and his wife Gerda. The resulting photographs would turned into one of the most epic Dutch photobooks ever produced, The Sweet Life.

Ed van der Elsken

Ed van der Elsken photographing his exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in 1966.

Van der Elsken secured the much needed financing for the trip through contracts to make a series of films enroute for Dutch television and at the Royal Dutch Shipowners Association (KNRV), where Elsken and his wife would be provided first class passage on merchant vessels. In exchange, van der Elsken was to make a short film about the merchant navy that would be a present to Princess Margriet of the Netherlands. Additional funding came from Gerda van der Elsken who wrote a series of articles about their adventures for Dutch magazines illustrated by her husband’s photographs. On Aug. 22, 1959 they sailed for Africa.

Their travels would cover West Africa, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, Japan, Hong Kong, the United States and Mexico. Van der Elsken found his stride photographing in the streets of each major city or backwater; “When I’m working I get up fairly early, cup of coffee, camera, check if the film’s alright, any dust…then I set off to see what I can find. Hunting for luck, hoping I’ll come across people who excite me…I let them know with my eyes and facial expressions what I am doing, that it’s okay, that I mean no harm – and I don’t.” In all he would shoot more than 5,000 pictures, and by the time of their return to the Netherlands on Sept. 19, 1960, they were both completely exhausted and their money had just run out.

If the scope of the trip wasn’t enough of an exhausting (albeit exciting) experience, the ordeal to get Sweet Life published as a book would be frustrating and even more exhausting. Upon his return van der Elsken immediately set to work printing, editing, sequencing and designing a book he thought at first to call Crazy World. After four years of work there were still no book publishers interested that would take the risk on bringing his world project to print yet Elsken continued to rearrange and improve the edit and layout. He employed various improvised means to shape the material including hand drawn “storyboards,” cut up photo prints, variant printing techniques, extreme croppings, images bled to the paper edge, and double-spread pages that linked separate images into a run-on panoramics. Additionally, van der Elsken wrote 26 pages of extensive captions for each of the images with stories of experiences in a hipster voice that recalls the lyrical styling of Kerouac and Ginsberg.

*SWEET LIFE* – sweet and sour, sweet and bitter. Who am I to spout about life, love, happiness? About whether all’s right with the world, or whether it’s just a vale of tears, so store up your treasures for heaven. I think it’s unbelievable, fabulous, this life of ours – everything, the birds and the bees, the dear and the antelope, the spacious skies, the foggy dew, the rockabye babies. Men like John F. and Robert Kennedy, Pablo Picasso, Georges Brassens, Fidel Castro, Pope John XXIII. My wife’s embrace, a landing on the moon, space, time, eternity. I don’t understand one damn thing about any of it, except that it’s enough to keep me in a constant delirium of delight, surprise, enthusiasm, despair, enough to keep me roaming, stumbling, faltering, cursing, adoring, hating the destruction, the violence in myself and others.

© Katholieke Illustratie

Article in Katholieke Illustratie #39 from 1959 announcing the departure of Ed van der Elsken and Gerda on their world tour.

Finally in 1965, Andreas Landshoff a friend of van der Elsken’s who had ties to the American publisher Harry N. Abrams, persuaded Abrams and several other publishers into co-publish an edition that would appear in seven different countries (with seven different covers!) totaling 17,000 copies in all – a huge number of copies for a photography title. Borrowing the name from a tramp steamer they traveled upon in the Philippines, the book’s title became Sweet Life. During its printing, van der Elsken stood next to the presses in Japan and ordered the black ink to be applied as heavily as possible resulting in the dense and contrasty gravure images far blacker than his original prints achieved.

Today, for historians and those lucky enough to see a copy firsthand, Sweet Life is admired and celebrated for its cinematic energy, raw style, and gritty in-your-face design reminiscent of another masterpiece, William Klein’s Life is Good & Good for You in New York. What Klein’s New York and Robert Frank’s The Americans did for the genre of ‘personal’ documentary of one country, van der Elsken’s ambitions took on the world.

Jeffrey Ladd is a photographer, writer, editor and founder of Errata Editions. Errata Editions is featuring Sweet Life in its Books on Books series this month.

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Julian-germain-list

Now showing at Nederlands Fotomuseum is the ongoing series Classroom Portraits, 2004-2012 from social recorder Julian Germain. In each oddly familiar environment, your perspective is that of the teacher but at “child height”; you have the class’ full (largely uninterested, expressionless) attention and it is a strange, almost disconcerting thing to be looked at in such a way.

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Some happy, some sad, at times cheering or even fighting, fans of soccer are absorbed in the European 2012 Soccer Championship. Sixteen nations made it to the final tournament being held in Poland and the Ukraine with the final match to be played on July 1 at the Olympic Stadium in Kiev. -- Lloyd Young(40 photos total)
A soccer fan soaks up the atmospshere ahead of the Euro 2012 soccer championship group D match between Ukraine and Sweden at The Olympic Stadium on June 11 in Kiev, Ukraine. (Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images)

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Aurich Lawson

In 1999 a pair of researchers published a paper called "Unskilled and Unaware of It: How Difficulties in Recognizing One's Own Incompetence Lead to Inflated Self-Assessments (PDF)." David Dunning and Justin Kruger (both at Cornell University's Department of Psychology at the time) conducted a series of four studies showing that, in certain cases, people who are very bad at something think they are actually pretty good. They showed that to assess your own expertise at something, you need to have a certain amount of expertise already.

Remember the 2008 election campaign? The financial markets were going crazy, and banks that were "too big to fail" were bailed out by the government. Smug EU officials proclaimed that all was well within the EU—even while they were bailing out a number of financial institutions. Fast forward to 2012, and the EU is looking at hard times. Greece can't pay its debt. Italy can, but the markets don't trust it to be able to. Spain and Portugal are teetering around like toddlers just waiting for the market to give them one good push. Members of the public are behaving like teenagers, screaming "F**k you," while flipping the bird. The markets are reacting like drunk parents, and the resulting bruises are going to take a while to heal.

In all of this, uninformed idiots blame the Greeks for being lazy, the Germans for being too strict, and everyone but themselves. Newspapers, blogs, and television are filled with wise commentary hailing the return of the gold standard, the breakup of the Euro, or any number of sensible and not-so-sensible ideas. How are we to parse all this information? Do any of these people know what they are talking about? And if anyone does, how can we know which ones to listen to? The research of Dunning and Kruger may well tell us there is no way to figure out the answers to any of these questions. That is kind of scary.

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Jeroen Hofman

Playground

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My new project is called Playground. The Netherlands have several training facilities where members of the Fire Brigade, the Police Force and the Ministry of Defense are trained and prepared for a wide range of possible scenarios. Within the boundaries of these grounds it’s all just practice or ‘play’. Outside of them however, things are a lot more serious. My aim was to capture these facilities and the people who are trained there.

 

Bio

Jeroen Hofman graduated in 2002 at he Royal Academie of Arts in The Hague, the Netherlands. Since then he works as a free lance photographer on editorial assignments and non-commissioned projects.

 

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Jeroen Hofman

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