“I experienced Emmy’s life as a kind of dream world, far away from reality, and that is how I wanted to portray it…”

In 2009, a chance encounter linked the life of photographer Hanne van der Woude, then 27 years old, with the lives of of Ben Joosten and Emmy Eerdmans, a pair of much older creative free spirits and artists who had been married for over 50 years.

Like many photographic creations, it all began with a magnetic moment. Van der Woude first met Ben Joosten, a graphic artist, by chance on the street and asked him if she could take a portrait. Intrigued by his characteristic energy, van der Woude made an appointment to shoot the portrait at his home. There, she encountered his wife Emmy, whose remarkable nature was evident from their first interaction. And so, a long-running and deeply important creative collaboration (and true friendship) was born.

The couple lived in a historic school building that seemed, to van der Woude, to hold an almost magical energy. This intangible atmosphere was something the young photographer wanted to convey in her pictures. And so, van der Woude slowly embedded herself in Ben and Emmy’s space. She says, “they accepted me as they would a stray cat that turned up on their doorstep.” Over the years that followed, their mutual affection developed into an almost familial intimacy, giving van der Woude unique opportunities to create her images. She met Herman and Egbert, Ben’s brothers, and was on hand to witness pivotal moments in this unconventional family’s story. But in the end, it was Emmy herself who emerged as the true subject of this project.

Emmy, in van der Woude’s words, was captivating from the start—”I was intrigued; not only by her direct, uninhibited attitude, but also by the timeless quality she possessed, even at the age of 78. Like her husband, Emmy was averse to social conventions, her personal freedom being her prime concern. She spent as much time on her painting as she did on tending her guinea fowl or collecting various materials that ‘may come in handy one day.’ She is like water—in a constant state of flow.”

In total, van der Woude spent five years immersed in their world, trying to chronicle their remarkable life on film and in photographs. The resulting project, “Emmy’s World,” is a moving photographic project which offers an important testimony to the power of intergenerational friendships, the binds of creative collaboration and the art of living in a way that is true to oneself.

—LensCulture, Huis Marseille

Editors’ Note: “Emmy’s World” was shown at the Huis Marseille, Fotografie Forum Frankfurt and the Kyotographie Photography Festival in Kyoto.

If you enjoyed this article, you might like one of these previous features: Just Dad, a portrait series on the photographer’s eccentric—and occasionally exasperating—father; The North Fork, Trent Davis Bailey’s project on a tight-knit community in rural Colorado; and a video interview with Alain Laboile, a self-taught master of intimate family photography.