The story of the tragic photographer and his lonely Amsterdam

Have you ever wondered how some IKEA wall pictures came to be? This is the story of VILSHULT, a nondescript ready-to-mount photo of Amsterdam. I’ve passed by it many times at my local IKEA and never gave it more than a glance. That is until I heard the moving story behind it and the photographer who went missing. Now I’m wondering where in my home to hang this moody shot of a canal and a lonely bicycle in Amsterdam.

VILSHULT wall pictures
VILSHULT picture |

Now, all this background research came about when Tom Roes, a director based in Amsterdam, bought the VILSHULT for his living room. Then strange things started happening, besides his friends lambasting him for hanging such a “mediocre” photo of Amsterdam.

He wondered, “Who made this photo, why was it made, and how did it end up at IKEA?”

According to him in his documentary, he began seeing the poster everywhere and he meant E V E R Y W H E R E – at the butcher shop near him, a bike shop, restaurants and homes all over the globe. That triggered his curiosity and he wondered, “Who made this photo, why was it made, and how did it end up at IKEA?”

VILSHULT wall pictures
The photo hanging in Tom Roes’ living room | Source: and Tom Roes

Turns out, the photo was shot by Argentinian photographer, Fernando Bengoechea. When Tom went looking for Fernando, he found that Fernando went missing in the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. He did, however, manage to get hold of Fernando’s brother, Marcelo. Marcelo recounts the life of Fernando and how at the time of his disappearance, he was one of the most sought-after photographers in New York, shooting for big names like Madonna, Naomi Campbell and the like.

Fernando’s then-partner, Nate Berkus, was vacationing with him at Sri Lanka when the fateful tragedy happened.

Marcelo then directed Tom to Fernando’s then-partner, Nate Berkus, who was vacationing with him in Sri Lanka when the tragedy happened. Nate then pointed Tom to Ahmad Sardar Afkami, the boyfriend before him. Ahmad remembered the photo and that it was taken in March of 1999. It was a personal message to him. They had fought a few days prior and Fernando sent him the image as an apology.

Fernando’s photos that were not used for commercial purposes ended up in an image licensing company, Corbis. After his disappearance in the tsunami, his Amsterdam photo was picked by IKEA designer, Erik Hansen. He’s also the one responsible for the iconic Audrey Hepburn poster. The Amsterdam image was part of the VILSHULT wall pictures which featured major cities – New York, London, Paris, and Amsterdam.

Watch the VILSHULT documentary here:

Now, this photo is a winner in IKEA’s books, having sold 427,000 copies. It’s heartening to see Fernando’s work live on in almost half a million homes.

Next up: More hacks for wall pictures and posters. Click here.

Jules Yap