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March 21, 2018

Vintage Polaroids of the Drunks and Weirdos in Amsterdam’s Red Light District Bars in the 1980s

Long before digital photography, the Polaroid SX-70 was the perfect way to get your portrait on the spot.

In spring 1979, American artists Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller moved from New York to Amsterdam. The two had already become known on New York’s downtown art scene, started taking portraits with the Polaroid SX-70 camera and selling them at 6 guilders a pop to make some extra cash.

“Every night we headed out for 4 or 5 hours seeking customers in Amsterdam's entertainment districts,” Marc Miller says. “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 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.”

In the process, they captured all the different faces and places that made up Amsterdam nightlife back then—from the Red Light District's rough sailor bars and Turkish cafes, to the trans club Madame Arthur and the Whiskey A Go-Go near the Leidseplein. Their pictures offer a unique glimpse into a time when mustaches were full, sex was a plenty, and rambunctious drunks cheerily flashed their bits in the pub.

(Photos by Bettie Ringma and Marc H. Miller, via VICE)



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