The Dam square is not only the historic heart of Amsterdam, it is also the nation’s epicentre. Its 4.5 acres, paved with 2.5 million cobble-stones, are associated with many events and memories. It is a force field of architecture, culture, entertainment, and of political and economic power. Since time memorial, it has been the place to celebrate, parade, demonstrate, and remember (http://youtu.be/Kuv4AENUpFc).
Between 1984 and 1992, the French historian Pierre Nora published his Les lieux de mémoire. The Dam in Amsterdam is one of the locations in the Netherlands most deserving of the epithet ‘lieu de mémoire’ or ‘site of memory’. Playing such an important part in our collective memory, the square has obviously been photographed numerous times over the past century and a half. From royal weddings and inaugurations, the shooting incident and liberation festivities in 1945 to the ‘noise concert’ following the murder of Theo van Gogh in 2004.
Flip Bool — Professor of Photography, AKV|St. Joost, Avans University of Applied Sciences and former Senior Curator Collections & Research of the Nederlands Fotomuseum — and a team of co-workers have studied all those photographs. Together, these images provide a rich picture of this special location, its changing appearance over the years, and its social function. Bool’s selection from these thousands of photos also presents a unique overview of the history of Dutch photography.
The oldest known photograph of the Dam was made in stereo on 27 August 1856 by Pieter Oosterhuis, on the occasion of the unveiling of the ‘Monument in Remembrance of the Nation’s Spirit of 1830-1831’ — known in popular speech as ‘Naatje’. This curious monument was disassembled in 1914. Together with the Exchange by the architect J.D. Zocher, demolished in 1903, it takes central stage in numerous early pictures of the Dam.
Few people realize that this ‘mother of all Dutch squares’ did not get its present form until 1912, when the so-called ‘Commandant’s House’ and a block of houses in front of the present Grand Hotel Krasnapolsky were demolished. Decades later the National Monument — which had two now mostly forgotten predecessors — would be erected in this spot. Who knows that — except for the Royal Palace and the New Church — all other buildings on this square have been demolished or rebuilt at least once since 1856? In a new context about 800 photos tell the story on this website.
The results of this research into the photographs of the Dam will be presented on 1 October 2012, when the website AmsterdamDam will become digitally accessible. The website contains a careful selection from the many thousands of photographs residing in the digital databases of the following institutes that collect photographs: