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Amsterdam Privé
Selling Polaroid Portraits in the Bars of Amsterdam, 1979-80
A Miller & Ringma Collaboration

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Even artists on an idyll in Europe have to make money. Bettie and I found a lucrative gig selling instant photo portraits in the bars and clubs of Amsterdam. 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. 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.

Art Something exhibition poster, Amsterdam, April 8-26, 1980
City University Graduate Center Mall exhibition poster, New York, May 5-29, 1981

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?"