Retro ’80s Polaroids from inside Amsterdam’s debauched Red Light District
Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller, photographers living in the Lower East Side of New York, packed up their belongings and set off to make a new life in Amsterdam.
Armed with a Polaroid SX-70 Instamatic camera, the pair attempted to make some money in their new city by selling Polaroid portraits. To get their subjects, they hit the gay bars, discos, red-light district bars and more five or six nights a week. “We tried first at Zandvoort Beach but it was too much work,” Miller told Huck Magazine. “The sand was potentially deadly for the camera so we moved to the nightclubs and it clicked right away.
“There are people that want the affirmation of the photos, and the opportunity to get pictures of people they knew primarily through bars and clubs,” Miller added.
“It’s a little bit theatrical because when we’re taking a picture, the bar doesn’t completely stop but there’s a lot of attention on the process and some of the characters in these bars used that to assert their presence. There are people that want the affirmation of the photos.”
Some 35 years after the pictures were taken, the polaroids surfaced once more and took centre stage at an exhibition in at Amsterdam‘s Stigter Van Doesburg Gallery, Amsterdam.
Here is a selection of those images:
“Every night we headed out for four or five hours seeking customers in Amsterdam’s entertainment districts,” the duo told Dangerous Minds. “Although at first we were not sure we would succeed, in retrospect I can see our success was virtually assured. Dutch art history is full of portraits done in bars and taverns, but apparently we were the first to update this tradition with instant photographs.
“Our Polaroid camera was a money machine fuelled by alcohol; each photo sold for 6 guilders (approx. $3) and we usually took more than 50 pictures a night. We were soon a fixture of the city’s nightlife with many regular customers eager to get new pictures whenever we happened to cross their path.”