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.
"To mark the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s discovery of Manhattan, Foam (Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam) is teaming up with the Amsterdam City Archives and the John Adams Institute to organise an exhibition about Amsterdam, as seen through the eyes of four New York photographers. Gus Powell, Carl Wooley, Richard Rothman and Joshua Lutz were each commissioned to explore a different aspect of the city: the street, the night, the water and the outskirts. This commission has resulted in surprising images, which show an unknown side of Amsterdam." (text provided by FOAM)
This exhibition sections Amsterdam into simple yet very intrinsic properties. For the spectator, this creates a visual narrative that pulls one through an examination of the city. It is as if we experience a sequence of events accentuating Amsterdam’s intriguing and conflicting nature which, on the one hand, exudes a sense of tranquility, peacefulness, and serenity, and 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 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 the daily reality. Claimed to be guided by a visual hunger, Powell'ss work 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 collection. This is everyday Amsterdam.
Unlike Powell, Carl Wooley 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, Joshua Lutz 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 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.
(Images top-bottom: Carl Wooley, Night, Yellow Van ©Carl Wooley; Gus Powell, Voetganger no. 267 ©Gus Powell; Carl Wooley, Night, Handrail ©Carl Wooley; Joshua Lutz, Untitled ADM1B ©Joshua Lutz; Richard Rothman (no title) ©Richard Rothman. All images courtesy of the artists and FOAM)