From 7 October 2022 to 2 July 2023, the National Maritime Museum and Dutch National Portrait Gallery present Humans at Sea, a photography exhibition about the broad, divergent maritime world in which amazing, stimulating and moving portraits and stories show how a life at sea can change people. 

From 7 October 2022 to 2 July 2023, the National Maritime Museum presents a photographic exhibition in which thought-provoking and inspiring portraits and stories show how venturing out to sea can transform a life. Accompanied by various spectacular loans, historical and contemporary, Humans at Sea turns the spotlight onto the National Maritime Museum’s photography collection. It immerses visitors in the everchanging, sometimes contradictory maritime world.

Identity and transition

Embracing many forms of photography – a medium which has seen numerous transitions in the last 180 years – Humans at Sea presents a wide range of personal stories giving a real sense of the seafaring world. Mariners, passengers, or sailing entirely alone: everyone is going from one place to another, travelling between worlds and sailing beyond the familiar and the known. A life offshore brings freedom and transition, yet it also comes with a social structure and a hierarchy on board. Humans at Sea reveals how sailing the oceans can bring us to a new relationship with ourselves, with others, the ship and the sea, and how this touches on major themes such as gender, inclusion and migration. 

Portrait of an Indonesian crew member aboard the ship Johan van Oldenbarnevelt in 1938, Alphons Hustinx / collection The National Maritime Museum

Photography in the spotlight

Humans at Sea provides an insight into the National Maritime Museum’s amazing photography collection of as many as 150,000 items, accompanied by some truly fascinating works by contemporary artists shown here on loan. These exhibits, many of which have never appeared on public display before, showcase photography in every form and format. From the oldest known portrait of a Dutch seaman, to contemporary seascapes by Dolph Kessler and Mischa Keijser, from first mate Willem Dirk Duijf’s glass negatives showing every rank of a ship’s company, to an immersive installation featuring slides by solo circumnavigator Herman Jansen.

Workshop on oral history project 'Queer Spaces at Sea. Queer culture on merchant ships 1950 - 1980

The exhibition is accompanied by a studio space set up around the oral history project 'Queer ​​Spaces at Sea. Queer culture on merchant ships 1950 - 80'. In this studio you can reflect on the exhibition in different ways, where you are stimulated to think about what the sea means to you, about queer culture and about being yourself, about freedom and lack of freedom.

  • watch on a large screen the interview between 2 former crew members of SS Rotterdam about the queer culture on board of merchant ships between 1950-1980.
  • or let us know on the magnetic wall what the exhibition or the sea did to you, by means of magnets on which words and phrases are written.
  • or (from December 2022) take a seat in comfortable chairs and listen to interview fragments about the queer culture on board of merchant ships between 1950-1980.

Striking design

All this is brought together by prize-winning design agency MAISON the FAUX, with graphic designs by Dana Dijkgraaf Design. Humans at Sea is coproduced by the National Maritime Museum and Dutch National Portrait Gallery.

Humans at Sea will be on show until 2 July 2023. 

Keep an eye on our website and our other channels for more information. 

The exhibition Humans at Sea is a collaboration between the National Maritime Museum and the Dutch National Portrait Gallery.     

Carlos from the series Man at Sea, 2004, Henk Wildschut