Photographer and journalist Ellen Thorbecke (born Ellen Kolban, 1902-1973) occupies a unique and forgotten position in the photography world. In 1931 she left Berlin for Beijing. For this trip she bought her first camera. Thorbecke developed into a compelling photographer who provided her photos with engaged observations about the people and places she visited. She made reports in a lively candid style with an eye for the vitality of street life and has produced several photo books including Peking Studies (1934) and People in China (1935).
Her visual stories and travel guides make her oeuvre a unique time document. Her compact but special photo archive is held at the Dutch Fotomuseum in Rotterdam and consists of 638 black and white negatives, 166 of which were made in China. The photographs Thorbecke made are still relevant today because of her human, direct and unbiased way of looking. The book Ellen Thorbecke – from Peking to Paris edited by Ruben Lundgren was published on the occasion of the exhibition “Ellen Thorbeckes’s China”, shown from 9 June to 3 October 2021 in the Dutch Fotomuseum in Rotterdam. The book presents rare pictures of everyday life in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Paris and the Middle East in the 1930s and 1940s.