Remsen Wolff – Amsterdam Girls

Foam presents the unique portraits by American photographer Remsen Wolff in the exhibition Amsterdam Girls.

The exhibition 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.

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 spotlight of notorious nightclubs such as Club RoXY and iT.

Wolff encountered people from the transgender community in nightclubs, on the street, through friends and with a call in Gay Krant. The individuals posing for Wolffs camera vary from celebrated figures such as Jet Brandsteder (a.k.a. Francine), Hellun Zelluf and Vera Springveer (regular performers in clubs like RoXY and Mazzo), to anonymous transgender people who experimented and sometimes struggled with their gender identity in daily life. A session often lasted 6 to 8 hours and the models were photographed as they preferred to be portrayed.

Joris, Amsterdam 24 april 1991 © The Remsen Wolff Collection - Courtesy of Jochem Brouwer

Wolff never had any formal training as a photographer. The artistic approach is intuitive and thoroughly personal. Wolff experimented and struggled with sexual and gender identity and moved in a community of transgender people, crossdressers and drag kings and queens, whom Wolff photographed extensively from 1990 on. That was the year the project Special Girls - A Celebration started, which would ultimately comprise over 100,000 images.

Wolff died in 1998, a time when the pronouns 'they', ‘them’ and 'their' were not yet used as non-binary indications of gender identity. We do not know how Wolff would have like to be addressed in 2020. Conversations with models and others who knew the artist indicate that during a 40-year career, the photographer went under the name Remsen Wolff and that the pronouns 'he' and 'him' were used in the immediate surroundings. In the months before Wolff decided to leave this world, the photographer went by the name Vivienne 'Viv' Blum. This shows that Wolff did not unequivocally conform to a given (gender) identity, which the artist considered to be highly fluid.

LOOKING BACK WITHLooking back with Emme, 2020 © Foam. Video by Generous Studio.

30 years later, we look back with Sugi and Emme on the photoshoot with photographer Remsen Wolff. Wolff photographed Sugi and Emme in the 1990s at the American Hotel in Amsterdam as part of the series Special Girls - A Celebration.⁠ Discover more about Wolff's ideas about this photo series and way of working by watching the video.

Click here to watch the video series

All works are on loan from The Remsen Wolff Collection. Courtesy of Jochem Brouwer.

Special thanks to Transgender Netwerk Nederland for their indispensable advice.

Foam is supported by the BankGiro Loterij, De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, Foam Members, Gemeente Amsterdam, Olympus and the VandenEnde Foundation.

Joris, Amsterdam 24 april 1991 ©The Remsen Wolff Collection - Courtesy of Jochem Brouwer 2020

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Remsen Wolff – Amsterdam Girls