“Every night we headed out for 4 or 5 hours seeking customers in Amsterdam’s entertainment districts. Although at first we were not sure we would succeed, in retrospect I can see our success was virtually assured,” says Marc Miller of his work with his fellow New York-based artist Bettie Ringma (1944-2018) in 1979-1980. “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 fueled 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.”
You can help turn Marc’s fabulous photographs into book on his Voordekunst crowd funding page. Polaroids in Amsterdam in 1980 will be published by the Dutch publisher Lecturis in May.
The book is divided by entertainment area, with maps and stories reconstructing Ringma and Miller’s trips round the city.
For Bettie and me the hardest part of selling the one-of-a-kind portraits was losing the many great pictures that nightly passed through our hands. Polaroid Corporation partially solved the problem when they gave us film to take second shots for an exhibition. Then the Dutch Ministry of Culture commissioned a videotape of our photography excursions. The exhibition “Amsterdam Privé” showcased a year of Dutch nightlife capturing in the photos and videotape the people, action and sounds. At the packed opening, “celebrities” from the city’s working class bars intermingled with Amsterdam’s cultural elite. Like much of the art we did in the 1970s and 1980s, our Polaroids now seem like a missing link connecting the Pop epoch of Andy Warhol with the current art world transformed by computers and the internet. Often our instant pictures were placed by patrons on the walls of their favorite bars. How different is this from the displays of digital pictures now posted instantly on websites like “Last Night’s Party” and “Cobra Snake?”
– Marc H Miller & Bettie Ringma
In Spring 1979 Bettie Ringma and I relocated from the loft on the Bowery to a houseboat in Amsterdam. Bettie grew up in the Netherlands and was eager to reestablish a Dutch residence. From her small savings she purchased the boat, sight unseen, from her less than reputable brother-in-law. It was a long flatboat minimally modified for living. The ceilings were so low that we often had to stoop, it was cold, and in such disrepair that it sank just a few years later. But it was ideally docked on the Prinsengracht directly opposite the Anne Frank house in one of Amsterdam’s most picturesque areas…
The year and a half I spent in Amsterdam was an exciting time. Amsterdam was a lively place with a bohemian tradition that dated back to the 1960s when it was a central stopping place on the mythic hippie trail. Its liberal government tolerated squats and marijuana coffee houses. It subsidized youth-oriented gathering spots like the Melkweg and Paradiso where all the new bands from England and America played. Contemporary art was also on the government’s agenda. Non-profit spaces like Art and Project, de Appel, and Other Books & So made Amsterdam a mecca for every avant-garde direction including Fluxus, Conceptual, performance, art, artists books, underground film, sound works, and the spoken word. During the time we were there, Amsterdam was filled with an international array of artists in semi-permanent residence that included Lawrence Weiner, Ira Cohen, and Marina Abramovic and her partner Ulay.
– Marc Miller
You can back Marc’s fabulous photobook on his Voordekunst crowd funding page.
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