In the summer of 2007, I moved to Amsterdam with not a clue of what to expect. As a native New Yorker, my instincts warned me that it wouldn’t be anything like the frenzied metropolis I grew up in. I envisioned canals, windmills, classic art, coffee shops; Heineken. In reality, the city exceeded any and all of my cliché expectations. Aside from its villagesque façade and lively atmosphere, I have grown to realize that Amsterdam emanates a sense of authenticity I assumed only locals could understand.
Prior to attending the exhibit, I questioned whether three New Yorkers, let alone any, would be able to depict Amsterdam in its entirety; that is, capture the very honest, disheveled elements that I had come to know. Granted, these photos do come from a New York perspective (hence the title); nevertheless, I speculated this outlook, and wondered if it met my own.
Amsterdam: NY Inspiration
In honor of Hudson’s 400th anniversary, Amsterdam City Archives in cooperation with Foam Museum present works from New York based photographers Gus Powell (1974), Carl Wooley (1977), Richard Rothman (1956), and Joshua Lutz (1975) (Foam). Divided into four central themes: Pedestrian (Powell 1974), Night (Wooley 1977), Water (Rothman 1956), and Borders (Lutz 1975), the exhibition sections Amsterdam into simple yet very intrinsic properties. For the spectator, this creates a visual narrative: A sequence of events accentuating Amsterdam’s intriguing and conflicting nature. On the one hand, the photographs exude a sense of tranquility, peacefulness, and serenity. Yet, on the other, the vacancy, not to mention subtle displays of desolation, call forth very intense and raw qualities unique to Holland’s capital.
Gus Powell ‘s (1974) Pedestrian invites the observer to walk along the streets of Amsterdam. The series features a vast (in comparison to the other works) collection of Dutch houses, crowded streets, and random bystanders. Powell impulsively and unsystematically portrays the city from a very local perspective. We see traffic; we see hustle; we see crowds… we see every day reality. Claimed to be guided by a visual hunge, his collection evokes a rather voyeuristic element (Foam). Quick and seemingly abrupt snap shots of individuals at home conducting normal, everyday activities were very much a part of Powell’s (1974) collection. This, like the rest of his series, authentically brings attention to the everyday.
Unlike Powell (1974), Carl Wooley (1977) begins his story at sundown, luring the observer to experience Amsterdam in a very naked, vulnerable state. In Night, many of the photographs convey an impending action, creating a rather concentrated, suspenseful milieu: either something has just happened or is about to (Foam). The dimly lit streets lights and vacant corners allow the images to communicate the city’s intense nature. Figuratively speaking, the spectator can feel this night, and perhaps recognize the empty, uninhabited quality within themselves.
Similar to Wooley (1977), Joshua Lutz (1975) portrays a very desolate atmosphere, devoid of human activity. His collection, entitled Borders, explores Amsterdam’s smaller, more suburban communities. One would encounter a similar landscape along route 33. Trailers, office parks, tract housing, and gas guzzling SUV’s are a far cry from the romantically lit canals and cobblestone streets typically reminiscent of Amsterdam. Perhaps those unfamiliar with this uncanny and rarely depicted sector may find these images difficult to grasp. Nevertheless, these almost primitive, unkempt communities are just as much a part of Amsterdam.
Compared to the other works, Richard Rothman’s (1956) Water reveals a very idyllic side of Amsterdam. The aesthetic is dreamlike. The black and white imagery depicts Amsterdam in a very classical manner radiating a sensuality unseen in the other works. Furthermore, one may argue that there is a sharp contrast between nature and city: Cars, boats, sidewalks, and other components of urban landscape appear to be overshadowed by a more natural environment: The water, vegetation, and wildlife serve as the focal points, and define the city’s essence. These elements intricately convey Amsterdam from a more romantic perspective.
NY Perspective exposes a part of Amsterdam seldom considered. The collection delivers an exceptional amount of honesty rarely depicted in many [pictorial] representations. Each part of this thematic structure, albeit rather obvious though it may be, melds with the next one to present a panoramic view of this cuty's true character. More than just an outsider’s perspective, the series is an exceptional representation of a city unlike any other.