Blog post

Photographers Augusta and Anna Curiel

Sisters who chronicled early 20th century life in Suriname

black and white photograph of a group of people who are wearing white tennis clothing
Adrian Murphy (opens in new window) (Europeana Foundation)

Sisters Augusta and Anna Curiel were photographers, the owners of Suriname's most famous photography studio.

Augusta was born in 1873 in Paramaribo, Suriname which was then a colony of The Netherlands.

The Curiels receiving commissions and royal warrants which documented important events and daily life in Suriname for almost forty years in the early 20th century.

black and white photograph of a woman wearing a full-length light-coloured dress and a wide-brimmed hat

Curiel's mother, Henriette Paulina Petronella Curiel, was born in enslavement. Nothing is known about the family's father. The family were members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church and known to be part of the upper-classes of society in coloninal Suriname. Augusta and Anna's brother Adolf was a member of the 'States of Suriname', the colonial parliament of Suriname.

black and white photograph of a woman standing by a piano in a room with many bouquets and vases of flowers

In 1904, Augusta and Anna opened their photography studio and shop in a building behind their home (which can be seen in the photograph above).

Both had a role to play in the photography. Anna was a technically gifted photographer, with a great eye for composition and lighting. Anna's role was in developing the photographs and important preparation work like setting up the cameras and tripods. They can be seen at work in the centre of this photograph.

black and white photograph of a crowd of people outside a building

The Curiels took their photographs in their studio, in government buildings, factories, mines, on plantations and in schools and orphanages. They always worked on commission. This means that their photographs give the positive impressions wanted by the organisations and individuals commissioning them, and may not accurately reflect realities.

Nonetheless, Augusta and Anna's photography is a unique picture of life in early 20th century Suriname.

black and white photograph of a group of men, some standing and some are seated

This photograph was commissioned to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Surinamese Bank. George Calkoen, the bank's director, is sitting in the middle.

black and white photograph of a costumed group of people in a garden

This posed photograph was commissioned by the Boom-Gongrijp family. The group's costumes suggest that this may be a theatrical performance.

black and white photograph of a wedding party

These two photographs of a wedding party dates from betweeen 1903 and 1908.

black and white photograph of a group of people, women carrying large baskets on their heads and men standing in or beside a small boat

This photograph shows a number of Creole fishmongers and fishermen with their boat. It was taken around 1915.

black and white photograph of a woman who wears a full-length dress and holds a fan

The name of the woman in this photograph is not known. She is wearing a koto, a traditional dress worn by Afro-Surinamese or Creole women in Suriname.

black and white photograph of a crowd of people in front of an official building, with two large trees in the foreground

Queen's Day (Koninginnedag) (now King's Day) is an annual celebration in the Netherlands of the monarch's birthday. This photograph shows the celebrations in Paramaribo around 1900 for Queen Wilhelmina's birthday.

black and white photography of a crowd of people in a city street, some of whom hold a banner

This photograph shows a demonstration in Paramaribo in 1931 by people who are unemployed, due to the economic crisis of the time.

black and white photograph of a group of workers photographed outside on rail tracks with a factory-like building in the background

This photograph dates from the mid-1920s, and shows workers of a factory in Moengo, posing near a locomotive on the factory site.

black and white photograph of a Black woman who wears a white dress standing with two small children

This photograph from 1906 shows a Surinamese nanny with two European children.