As no other photographer, Cas Oorthuys has expressed the growing self-confidence of the Dutch in the period of post-war reconstruction. His photographs show the restoration of the industry, hard-working Holland on the road to a society with a booming economy, and the growth of tourism.
Just like many other photographers in the post-war years, he chose people as his major subject. Characteristic for Oorthuys, though, is that he has always tried to let the environment in which they live and work play a role in his photographs. Another striking feature is his strong sense for composition: his photographs are composed carefully within the square of frosted glass of his Rolleicord.
At the beginning of the thirties he was personally affected by the consequences of the economic depression when he was fired as architectural assistant by the municipality of Amsterdam. He started his career in photography as a communist labour photographer, working since 1936 as photo reporter for the social-democrat weekly Wij.
After the outbreak of the Second World War, Oorthuys tried to survive as a portrait photographer. He also forged identity cards and in the 'Winter of Starvation' of 1944/1945, he was a member of the group that later would become known as 'De Ondergedoken Camera' ('The Hidden Camera'). This group had come into being around Dolle Dinsdag ('Crazy Tuesday', 5 September 1944) intending to capture the Liberation. When this unexpectedly failed to occur, the group documented illegally the last year of the German occupation. In retrospect this photo material has come to define our view of the 'Winter of Starvation'.
After the Liberation, social commitment continued initially to be the focus point for Oorthuys. This is evident especially in his photo book Een staat in wording (A Nascent state, 1947), a plea for a peaceful solution for the Indonesian struggle for independence. When his hopes turned out to be vain, his view on the role of photography changed. He was to use the medium of photography no longer as a political weapon, and started to photograph people mainly motivated by the aspect of human interest. Ideology was pushed into the background, but people continued to play a prominent role in his photographs.