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War-time clandestine photographer Taconis subject of paper at Dutch conference

Images helped Dutch Canadian grasp experience of parents

Tags: Excerpts from the Windmill

WATERLOO, Ontario – Numerous Dutch WWII history books have been enriched with image material taken in occupied the Netherlands by a small group of photographers who formed the Ondergedoken Camera (The Underground Camera). One of these people with a candid hidden camera, Dutch Canadian Krijn Taconis, will be the subject of a conference paper in the Netherlands in June. Taconis who also produced faked ID documents and intelligence material, kept busy as a clandestine photo journalist during the war.

Doing research at the National Archives about ten years ago, Christl Verduyn who will present her paper in Middelburg, was amazed to be suddenly able to fill in the blanks in her family’s wartime story when she came across the Taconis photography collection. Verduyn who now is Chair in Literature, Canadian Studies, at the Wilfred Laurier University always had found her parents tightlipped about their life under Nazi rule. Married in Amsterdam in 1942, they had seemed to sidestep such questions. The photographs by Taconis however, each told her a thousand words, and so much more.

It would take nearly another ten years before Verduyn was prompted the get the rest of the story on the man who had helped her to gain insight in her family’s war-time circumstances. The call for papers by the Association of Canadian Studies in the Netherlands (ACSN) motivated her to investigate the Taconis story.


The Dutch Canadian whose other great legacy is his photograph collection on the Algerian uprising against the French (only released after Taconis’ death), emigrated in 1959 to Canada where his wife Tess was born. Initially still a freelancer for Dutch press photo agency Magnum, Taconis soon started working for several major Canadian magazines, most notably Star Weekly, Châtelaine and Maclean’s. In the late 1960s, Verduyn discovered, Taconis directed and produced documentaries for the National Film Board of Canada. He remained a free-lance photographer until his death in Toronto in 1979.

Taconis’ wartime episode particularly was fascinating to Verduyn. Was he acting alone? What were the risks for such endeavours? To gain a better understanding of her subject, she also looked at comparative clandestine photography in the Netherlands which has provided so many of the vivid images used in WWII history books.

Taconis, it turned out, had widely known colleagues in the underground group who also had honed their skills during the war years. It may well have escaped most people at the time, but it is very probable that cineast Bert Haanstra who went on to film unsuspecting people for a hugely popular documentary in the 1970s, used his wartime clandestine approach to record his subjects on film. Haanstra and colleague Willem F. Leijns both were present at the deadly May 7, 1945 Dam Square incident. Twenty two people were killed and over 100 injured when German soldiers from a building on the Dam Square fired at a huge crowd celebrating the end of the war two days earlier.

Clandestine photography then was carried out in various ways. One of Taconis’ portraits shows him stiffly carrying a briefcase high under his arm, not a good hiding place for a camera and certainly not the most convenient type of case for working cameras. It could be worse. Other photographers used bicycle panniers, which compelled them to dismount before they could aim for a shot. Others used their overcoats or even boxes to hide their candid camera. There were at least another 15 professional clandestine photographers recording this low point in Dutch history.

Verduyn’s research discovered that Krijn Taconis, whose widow resides in Southwestern Ontario, came close to paying a heavy price for clandestine photography. Arrested by the Germans, they finally let him go after three months for lack of evidence.