Edwards Collection Photo Exhibition

In 2018 Leiden University Libraries (UBL) acquired a major collection of 19th-century photographs on South East Asia. The collection comprises more than 3,700 photographs of the Netherlands East Indies and mainland South East Asia, including Singapore, Myanmar, Penang and Malacca. The photographs are an important addition to UBL’s collection of colonial photographs.

The collection was purchased from G.A. Edwards (1947), a private collector who built his collection in the course of three decades. His collection was chiefly put together while he was living in Indonesia, where he worked for the oil industry in Borneo and Jakarta from the 1970s. His love of the country and its rapid transformation caused him to study Indonesia’s visual history and begin a collection in this field. The recently acquired collection has been named after Edwards.

Valuable addition

UBL’s photography collection on South and South East Asia is a rich source for social historical research. The work of such 19th-century photographers as Woodbury & Page, Kassian Céphas and Isidore van Kinsbergen are key elements in the collection. Their work shaped the perception of the Netherlands East Indies inside and outside the colony. Thanks to the recent purchase, the collection has now been enlarged with unknown material from these photo studios. Two highlights are a pair of hand-coloured photographs by the Padang photographer Christiaan Benjamin Nieuwenhuis. It was not known that C.B. Nieuwenhuis also produced hand-coloured photographs.

The Edwards collection fits within the profile of the photo collections of UBL which focusses on the colonial period between 1850 and 1940. It is the intention that in the future the Edwards collection will be digitized. The collection consists of 87 albums, among them many ‘farewell’ albums compiled for important Europeans who were leaving the Dutch East Indies, and about 800 individual prints.

The so-called farewell album is a typically colonial Indonesian phenomenon. These albums were given to a (European) recipient of some standing who went on furlough to Holland, retired or pursued his carrier elsewhere in the archipelago.

Unique and rare items

The recently purchased collection contains images that provide new information on the colonial authorities and private individuals from Europe, such as the album of a Dutch recruiter of unskilled ‘coolie’ labourers in China, photographs of heads hunted by the government in Borneo and a photo of a public execution in Deli. Of major importance is the work of the first female photographer in the Netherlands East Indies, Thilly Weissenborn, both private and professional photographs. Private photographs are highly valued among photo researchers because it helps to contextualize a photographer’s oeuvre. Another major addition is an ambrotype portrait of a Javanese aristocrat made in 1858. Early images from the Netherlands East Indies are a rarity.

‘The Tilly Weissenborn pictures are a highlight at the Edwards Collection. They show some of her most striking work, for her own studio and for Kurkdjian. The sample books are also interesting because they show how her works were presented to customers, and personal photographs give a rare insight into her networks and life’.  

Susie Protschky, Senior Lecturer in Modern History, Monash University, Melbourne.

The Edwards Collection Photo Exhibition will be opened with a mini symposium. The speakers will be Oscar Motuloh and Bondan Kanumoyoso.

Oscar Motuloh was born on August 17 in Surabaya, East of Java. He started his journalism career as reporter at Antara National News Agency. He is now the executive Director of Galeri Foto Jurnalistik Antara and teaches photojournalism across Indonesia. The Indonesia Institute of the Arts (ISI-Yogyakarta) recently awarded Oscar with the title “Empu Agung” which is equivalent to Doktor Honoris Causa.


Bondan Kanumoyoso obtained his PhD from Leiden University with his thesis on the society and economic development in Batavia’s hinterland during 1684-1740. He is currently a lecturer in the History Department, Universitas Indonesia and his latest publication is titled “Malay Maritime World in Southeast Asia”.