J. C. Lamster was a soldier in the Dutch colonial army in the East Indies when, on the recommendation of a senior officer who had noted his interest in local life, he was commissioned by the Koloniaal Institut in Amsterdam to make a series of films in the Dutch East Indies.
After training for a brief period with Pathé Frères in Paris, he returned to the Dutch East Indies and between March 1912 and May 1913, he shot footage primarily of European life and colonial activities (vaccination programmes, missions, prisons, docks, street scenes, the colonial army) but also to a limited extent of local life in Java. This footage constitutes, in effect, the first films of ethnographic interest shot in what would later become Indonesia.
Initially, Lamster was assisted by a Pathé cameraman, Octave Collet, but from August 1912, he was obliged to shoot his own material. For the period, the images in his films are generally well composed and the few camera movements are assured, though as was normal for the period, close ups are rare – the majority of shots are wide angle shots at a certain distance from the subjects. The films are structured around a series of intertitles.
Lamster was instructed by the Koloniaal Institut not to stage performances since it was anxious that his work should not be seen as a form of entertainment. However, the limitations of the early camera with which he was working, thought to have been a Pathé Professionel, would have obliged him to intervene in the action simply in order to be able to film it within the camera’s field of vision. On occasion, he would even engage in full-scale reconstruction of past events – as in his staging of a mock battle in his film about the colonial army.
Lamster returned to the Netherlands in 1924 and in later life, became a senior figure in the Department of Ethnology of the Koloniaal Institut.
Text : de Klerk 2013