Israël Kiek Memorial - Atlas Obscura

Israël Kiek Memorial

A memorial commemorating the man whose name became synonymous with taking a picture in the Netherlands. 

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Now that nearly everybody carries a camera with them in their phone, photography is ubiquitous. But there were times when taking a picture was a big deal, and required expensive and hard-to-find equipment. In these early days, people became famous for their photography skills—some to the point where their names became synonymous with their photographs. 

Israël Kiek was one of the pioneers of photography in the Netherlands, offering the service in his cigar shop starting in 1858. Kiek became particularly famous amongst students because of his willingness to take photos in the middle of the night when groups of drunken students would knock on his door. 

While he was a very sober individual who did not approve of this nonsense, he nevertheless always opened his doors for these students and allowed them to use unorthodox poses in their portraits. In his photographs you can see students standing on a ladder, sitting on the ground, or standing close to the camera making strange faces—all normal today, but bizarre back then. Kiek did not exactly approve of this behavior, and was known to take the pictures with his back turned to the clients, which added to the appeal of getting your picture taken by him. 

Likely because many of these students went on to work across the country, Kiek’s name slowly became synonymous with taking a photo. People everywhere in the Netherlands still take kiekjes to this day. Oddly enough the origin of the word is forgotten by most. 

In Leiden, on the opposite side of the canal from where Kiek’s old studio once stood, there now is a memorial to the man and his legacy in the form of a camera that shows some of his photos.

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The memorial is freely accessible. However the camera is a bit damaged and seeing the photos inside is difficult. 

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