Life’s Work

Soon after arriving in Amsterdam in 1974, Killiam made it his life’s work to document the facades of the buildings on Amsterdam’s canals in their current state.

Following the example of the Dutch engraver Caspar Philips (1732-1789), Killiam published the Amsterdam Canal Guide in 1978 through Uitgeverij Het Spectrum. It was a paperback edition containing drawings of the facades of all the buildings on the four main canals of the ring: Singel, Herengracht, Keizersgracht and Prinsengracht. In addition to approximately 3000 drawings of facades, the Canal Guide also contains an illustrated overview of typical frontage types, an explanation of how the foundations of the canal-side houses were built and an illustrated glossary of dozens of architectural elements and style features. In the Canal Guide, facades on opposite sides of each canal are placed correctly facing each other.

Whereas Caspar Philips probably used the camera obscura as a basis for his line drawings, Killiam used photographs taken with his large-format Yashica camera. To minimize the perspective distortions, Killiam photographed the facades from a utility ladder and printed the photos in his own darkroom on an inclined table.

Killiam’s Canal Guide first appeared in 1978 and he later self-published several reprints through Cityboek Productions. Despite the unceasing changes to the canal-side buildings, the Canal Guide remained popular with Amsterdam cognoscenti, residents of the canal district, tourists and realtors.

In 2000, Killiam published a large illustrated book in color and a small paperback about the Singel, followed the next year by an illustrated book about Herengracht. Digitized versions of the Canal Guide’s original line drawings served as the basis for these books. They were modified where necessary and supplemented with lively details such as curbstones, facade lanterns, lighting and curtains. The drawings were colored in by the graphic designer Rolf Unger.

Killiam lived and worked in Kerkstraat in Amsterdam, in the building of the former stockbrokers Jolles & Co., a building from 1896 designed by the Amsterdam architect F.W.M. Poggenbeek (1860-1922).

After Killiam’s death in 2014, the original Canal Guide photos of Herengracht and the original illustrations from the guide were deposited in the Amsterdam City Archive (Stadsarchief)