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 huge variety in gender fluidity in the 1990s, beyond the exhibited publicly in notorious nightclubs such as Club RoXY and iT. The individuals posing for Wolff’s camera vary from well-known figures like Jet Brandsteder (a.k.a. Francine), Hellun Zelluf and Vera Springveer (regular performers in clubs like RoXY and Mazzo), to anonymous transgender people who often struggled with their gender identity, lonely and insecure.
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 approach is intuitive and thoroughly personal. Wolff struggled with sexual and gender identity and was strongly attracted to transgender people, crossdressers and drag, whom Wolff photographed extensively from 1990 on. That was the year the project Special Girls - A Celebration started, which ultimately comprised 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 at the time - 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.