Photography by Wim Dussel (1920-2004), courtesy of the International Institute of Social History
Dutch photojournalist Wim Dussel had a gift for capturing the simple moments of everyday life, revealing their true beauty. He gravitated toward markets, schools, streets, and the daily hustle and bustle of work—scenes so ordinary that, as travelers, we often don’t bother capturing them, opting instead for the vehicle shot, the sunset photo, or a smiling selfie. However, the power of Dussel’s images lies in their ability to tell a story—we are not only invited into his world, but, more importantly, we are provided with a glimpse into the lives of the people he photographed.
Dussel’s career began in Indonesia, a Dutch colony, before it declared independence in 1945. Having volunteered for the Marine Brigade, Wim became a correspondent for the Marine Information Service, writing for the magazines Wapenbroeders (Brothers in Arms) and Ik Zal Handhaven (I Shall Maintain). After joining the Dutch UN detachment and reporting on the Korean War in 1950, he published a book, Tjot: Nederlanders in Korea (Tjot: The Dutch in Korea).
According to the International Institute of Social History (IISH), Dussel decided to shift from war reporting, focusing instead on “foreign photo reports.” During the Dutch military campaign in Indonesia, a truck Dussel was riding in hit a mine, killing the driver. Perhaps after years of continuous war correspondence, he was eager for a change.
Teaming up with photographer and cameraman Manfred Uschold, Dussel embarked on a year-long round-the-world trip by flaming red 250cc Maico scooter with a sidecar (nicknamed pechyogel or unlucky bird) and an 8.5-liter fuel tank from 1955 to 1956. The result was a book featuring 36 of his images titled (translation) The World is Still Around: By Scooter Across Europe, Asia, and North America.
Departing from the city of Groningen in northern Holland, the pair beelined it to Munich’s Maico dealership, where they picked up Pechyogel the Maicoletta scooter. By the time they reached Kerman, Iran, the daily ritual of packing up 22 pieces of luggage would become old hat. A tape recorder, five cameras with accompanying filters, lens hoods, tripods, masses of film, an air mattress, and folding chairs made up much of their kit.
From Yugoslavia to Japan, Dussel photographed women working the land, spinning yarn, and sifting grain. Greek sailors, fishermen repairing nets, and shopkeepers touting weaved baskets and lengthy strings of garlic bulbs were also the subjects of Dussel’s images. His color portraits are, arguably, the best shots of the journey. In addition to vibrant crimsons and pleasing soft light, the portraits capture the innate beauty within each subject. A photograph of a Thai monk wrapped in a turmeric-hued robe and gazing into the distance is particularly striking. One wonders what their reactions were to these two roaming Dutchmen.
Dussel and Uschold boarded the MV Yunnan in Bangkok, Thailand, accompanied by a different group of deck passengers: 50 cows on their way to Hong Kong for slaughter. In Korea, Dussel and Uschold visited an American base, placing flowers in the Dutch section of a United Nations Cemetery in Busan and snapping photos of the demilitarized zone sign. The Korean War ended several years earlier. “Years after the war, children [are] still wandering in the impoverished country,” he wrote.
Manfred, enamored with Japan’s Fuji Rabbit scooters, bought one for the next leg of the trip in America, where the pair began a wholesome schedule of activities, including riding whirling teacups in Disneyland and apple picking in Santa Ana, California. Passing through Arizona, Colorado, and Michigan on their way to New York City produced even more black-and-white images to round out the collection. The boys shipped to Rotterdam and celebrated a warm welcome back to Groningen. The last black-and-white shot of the series shows Dussel, seated comfortably and with hair perfectly coiffed, squinting at a film slide—one of the hundreds stacked on the table in front of him.
“Through rumors we had already been informed that roads to the south close to the Greek border would be better than two years ago. But what we saw did surprise us. Two years ago it was hell on earth to drive anywhere close to the border town of Gevgelija, a life-threatening undertaking that you could only do during the day and then only if it was dry. It was a cascade of holes and potholes and sinkholes and rockfalls, mud, sand, tree trunks, and huge boulders. It was a battle that was almost lost by every vehicle.” –Wim Dussel, The World is Still Around: By Scooter Across Europe, Asia, and North America
Not one to sit idle, Wim recreated his global tour in a small car made by automobile manufacturer van Doorne’s Automobile Fabriek (DAF). In 1976, Dussel returned to America, crossing the United States by bicycle while continuing to work as a correspondent for the Dutch daily newspaper Nieuwsblad van het Noorden (Newspaper of the North) until 1985.
Ten-thousand film negatives were eventually transferred to the IISH; a generous selection can be found at flickr.com. Fortunately, you won’t have to venture that far, as they’ve been made available under Creative Commons, allowing us to enjoy Dussel’s captivating photographs splashed across the pages of Overland Journal and on Expedition Portal.
Editor’s Note: This Wim Dussel article was originally published in Overland Journal’s Fall 2023 Issue.
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