Exhibition: 11 Sep – 6 Dec 2020
Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam
1017 DS Amsterdam
Mon-Wed 10-18; Thu-Fri 10-21; Sat-Sun 10-18
The exhibition Amsterdam Girls presents more than 50 vintage portraits and contact prints from the analogue archive of the American photographer Remsen Wolff (1940-1998). From 1990 to 1992, Wolff spent one month each year at the American Hotel in Amsterdam to work on the project Special Girls - A Celebration. For this project, Wolff made a series of portraits of transgender people in New York and in Amsterdam, the city known at the time as ‘the gay capital of Europe’. These unique portraits range from the exuberant and glamorous to the subdued and vulnerable. Together, the photographs show the degree of gender fluidity in 1990s Amsterdam, beyond the spotlight of notorious nightclubs such as Club RoXY and iT. The individuals posing for Wolff’s camera vary from celebrated figures such as Jet Brandsteder (a.k.a. Francine), Hellun Zelluf and Vera Springveer (regular performers in clubs like RoXY and Mazzo), to anonymous transgender people who experimented and sometimes struggled with their gender identity.
Remsen Wolff grew up in New York as the only child of the well-known painter Isabel Bishop and the neurologist and psychiatrist Harold Wolff. The photographer attended the prestigious Phillips Exeter Academy boarding school and went on to study art history at Harvard University. Wolff married and had two daughters, but eventually left the family. After being mistakenly taken for a serial killer by the State of Texas, a considerable financial compensation was awarded to Wolff in the eighties. In combination with receiving an inheritance (Wolff’s mother died in 1988), this financially allowed Wolff a life devoted to photography.
Wolff never had any formal training as a photographer. The artistic approach is intuitive and thoroughly personal. Wolff experimented and struggled with sexual and gender identity and moved in a community of transgender people, crossdressers and drag kings and queens, whom Wolff photographed extensively from 1990 on. That was the year the project Special Girls - A Celebration started, which would ultimately comprise over 100,000 images. Unfortunately, the work went largely unnoticed during Wolff’s lifetime. The publication Wolff envisaged failed to materialise and exhibitions of the work were few and far between. Wolff – going by the name of Vivienne ‘Viv’ Blum towards the end of his life - died of a morphine overdose at the age of 58. The vast archive of more than 200,000 negatives spanning 40 years was left to Amsterdam studio assistant Jochem Brouwer. The Amsterdam portraits by this exceptional portrait photographer are now shown in Foam for the first time.
All works are on loan from The Remsen Wolff Collection. Courtesy of Jochem Brouwer.
Special thanks to Transgender Netwerk Nederland for their indispensable advice.