Category Archives: Amsterdam

New York/Zwarte Piet

Saint Nicholas and his Servant

Since it’s all over the media, and today in the New York Times, I will briefly enter the fray surrounding the Dutch cultural icon Zwarte Piet (Black Peter).

As many of you know, I am married to a Dutch woman and lived in the Netherlands for about 15 years. My son was born there. It is a small country brimming with creative energy and industrious people. It’s an extraordinary place in countless ways. But with all respect to my Dutch friends and loved ones, let me be blunt.

The problem of Zwarte Piet is not simply that the Dutch can’t understand why outsiders are so upset about the image of a black-faced white person playing the role of Sinterklaas’s servant. Zwarte Piet is, in fact, emblematic of a deeply racist strain within Dutch culture. The reason the Dutch are so upset about foreign criticism of their tradition is because Piet exposes what they pretend does not exist. Something that goes against what they believe about themselves.

When Barak Obama was elected President of the U.S., I believed that it was proof that American society was moving beyond its legacy of slavery and racial inequality–and in some ways that may be true. But the ugliness directed at him since–that he is Kenyan, Muslim, communist etc.–that he is somehow not a legitimate president–all of that exposes the racist undertow running beneath the surface of American society. So, I take care not to single out the Dutch for their Zwarte Piet self-deception.

Not all Dutch people are supporters of Zwarte Piet.

Seven years ago, a short time before I returned to New York with my family, I wrote the following in this journal. I was clearly in something of a funk, but I still stand by it.

It’s getting late in November and the days are growing short, the sun is low in the sky when it does show itself in this mostly dreary climate. It’s almost time for Sinterklaas to arrive on his steamboat from Spain accompanied by his Black Petes. The Dutch cling tenaciously to the iconography of Sinterklaas: the severe bearded man dressed in Catholic bishop’s attire, the black-faced afro-wigged Petes cavorting about. It’s a children’s thing, but it is promoted with what seems an almost manic enthusiasm by adults. To outsiders interlopers like me who cannot get past the racist imagery of Black Pete, the whole business is repellent–and in bad taste. It is cultural heritage as kitsch–not a uniquely Dutch phenomenon, of course–but especially egregious.

Not unique — but especially egregious.



iamsterdamThe Rijksmuseum seen through “iamsterdam” promotional sculpture — © Brian Rose

After almost two weeks of superb weather on Texel, the North Sea Dutch island, we headed for Amsterdam for two days before returning to New York. For many years, both the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk Museum have been undergoing extensive renovations and were closed. Imagine if the Metropolitan Museum and the Museum of Modern Art were closed at the same time for the better part of a decade. This was not a good thing for a city trying to promote itself as a cultural capital — well, at least they had Van Gogh. But the good news is that both museums have reopened.

New entry courtyard in Rijksmuseum — © Brian Rose

The Rijksmuseum desperately needed upgrading. It occupied a decorative 19th century building by Pierre Cuypers, in the same style as his Central Station at the foot of the Damrak. It was a worthy home for the superb collection of Rembrandts and Vermeers, among others, but it was hopelessly outmoded as a contemporary museum, and could scarcely handle the ever increasing hordes of tourists hell bent on seeing the Nightwatch and checking it off on their to do list.

The reconstruction of the museum was delayed for years by a controversy involving bicycles — I kid you not. For decades one of the main bike routes through the center of the city passed directly through a passage in the Rijksmuseum. When the architects of the renovation proposed rerouting the bikes, they were met by the fury of the Amsterdam bicycle lobby, a group comparable in power to the military industrial complex in the United States. The solution was elegant — tunneling under the passage — but cost time and an ungodly amount of money. In the photo above, you can see visitors entering the museum through one of the impressive glass enclosed courtyards created by the Spanish firm Cruz y Ortiz Arquitectos.

nightwatchRembrandt’s Nightwatch — © Brian Rose

Once inside, the galleries have been beautifully refurbished by French interior architect Jean-Michel Wilmotte. The art mobs gravitate to Rembrandt’s Nightwatch — seen above — and press in relentlessly to see the relatively tiny Vermeers. But the museum is pretty big, so there are lots of galleries that are not crowded.

Jocob Saenredam — © Brian Rose

Here I am looking at one Saenredam’s architectural paintings made as if he were using a view camera.

ruisdaelJacob Ruisdael — © Brian Rose

And Ruisdael, who in this painting framed the endlessly horizontal Dutch landscape near Haarlem with a near square, the sky taking up 3/4 of the composition.

smuseumpleinThe Stedelijk Museum seen from Museumplein — © Brian Rose

The first time I visited Amsterdam was in 1985 when I was just beginning my photographic journeys along the former Iron Curtain. The Stedelijk made a major impression on me in that it presented a view of modern art history that differed greatly from the linear narrative of MoMA in New York. It was all over the map, and challenged the idea that art develops as some kind of grand procession, one thing leading to the next, as if it were all inevitable. That said, I’ve come to appreciate the Modern’s effort to organize and make sense of things chronologically and stylistically.

Unlike MoMA, which was housed in a modernist collection of buildings, the Stedelijk was confined to a 19th century art palace with a grand staircase and comfortable, but inflexible, galleries. Like the Rijksmuseum nearby, it had inadequate accommodation for large crowds of visitors and little space for a shop and cafe. With one of the best collections of modern art in the world, it was obvious that something needed to be done.

smuseumpanoThe Stedelijk Museum from the Van Baerlestraat — © Brian Rose

And here begins a sad tale of political and organizational dysfunction terminating in the “the bathtub” seen above in my quickly stitched together panorama. Read Michael Kimmelman’s Times article for the full story. The new wing of the museum faces the Museumplein, a desultory sward of grass punctuated by paved vectors and shapes, including the infamous “donkey’s ear,” a peeled up corner of the park serving as the entrance to underground parking and an Albert Heijn supermarket —  the perfect location for groceries — smack dab between the stately Concertgebouw concert hall and the Stedelijk.

The new wing is mostly diffuse empty space, which will allow the museum to mount the kind of installation art now in favor around the globe. Such an installation was on view in the enormous basement space — a windowless art dungeon — where multiple videos by Aernout Mik were on display set among an intentionally disorienting maze of passageways and spaces. The show was appropriately sponsored by Ahold, the company that owns the Albert Heijn supermarket just out the front door of the museum. See Times review of Mik’s work here.

There are lots of wonderful things to see in the Stedelijk, regardless of the new building. But after everything, the architectural confection of the Rijksmuseum and the empty calories of the Stedelijk, all the hundreds of millions of dollars, coming back home to New York, the one thing that made the most impression on me, was that little Ruisdael painting, just over a foot square, sunlight breaking through the clouds.



New York/Amsterdam

Amsterdam waterfront — © Brian Rose

The last photographs from my recent trip to Amsterdam. These were taken along the waterfront of the city on the Ij, once an inlet of the Zuider Zee, now an inland waterway connecting to the North Sea and the Rhein River. Although little new construction is underway in Amsterdam because of the economic crisis in Europe, there are major projects that are completed or near completion along the Ij. Above one can see Nemo, the science museum, designed by Renzo Piano, on the right. And to the left the new library/hotel/office complex adjacent to Central Station, partially finished. This picture was taken inside Arcam, the Amsterdam architecture center. I did not use my view camera on this walk–all were made with my point and shoot digital.


Eye film museum and Shell Building — © Brian Rose

Across the Ij (pronounced eye, more or less) is Eye, the new film museum of Amsterdam. It is designed by the Austrian firm Delugan Meissl Associated Architects and does a wonderful architectural tango with the Shell Tower from 1966. The latter building is currently empty and for sale.


Ijdok complex and film museum — © Brian Rose

Nearing completion is the Ijdok, a multi-purpose complex including courts, hotel, offices and residences perched on a pier on the water. click here to see computer generated renderings of this fascinating ensemble of buildings.


Westerdoksdijk — © Brian Rose


Westerdokseiland — © Brian Rose

A narrow strip of land that previously served as a rail siding for the nearby Central Station is now a handsome row of apartment buildings with inner courtyards and pedestrian promenade along the water. This new neighborhood lies within a few steps of the old canal district of central Amsterdam.

New York/Amsterdam

On my last day in Amsterdam the weather improved and I was able to get out with the view camera. I picked up where I left off five years ago in Ijburg on the edge of the city. The view then was of mostly empty landfill–it is now densely built. But it still feels detached to me from the rest of the city, and during the day, somnolent, empty. I took one photograph of a residential street that leads to a row of commercial office buildings, and then crossed over a bridge to the Diemerzeedijk, a historic dike that once protected Amsterdam from the vicissitudes of the Zuider Zee. The area has been used as an industrial dumping ground and remains polluted, though now contained. It is being developed as parkland.

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

In the distance one sees the  Enneüs Heerma Bridge designed by Nicholas Grimshaw, and following a bicycle path one crosses a busy shipping canal on a spectacular bridge, the Nesciobrug, designed by Jim Eyre. A long looping causeway  leads to the bridge allowing for a gradual incline. The Amsterdam Ring highway stands a short distance away with its billboards.


© Brian Rose

© Brian Rose

All of these photographs were made with the 4×5 view camera as well as my pocket digital. The sun shone in and out through a broken deck of clouds, a striking phenomenon all afternoon. I feel both alienated and at home in these transitional areas of the city–places that are neither here nor there. It’s how I felt in general during the 15 years I lived in the Netherlands traveling back and forth to New York. I was an untethered agent caught between continents and cultures. Although I am now ensconced in New York City, I easily slide back to that state of uncertainty, in which the world appears new and strange. Even in my hometown.

Amsterdam/New York

Just arrived back in New York after 10 days in the Netherlands. Two quick visual anecdotes from Amsterdam.

Amstel, near the Blauwbrug, Amsterdam  — © Brian Rose


Prinsengracht, Amsterdam — © Brian Rose



The Netherlands/Amsterdam

Review in Photo-Eye Magazine

After four days on the island of Texel on the coast of the Netherlands, I am now in Amsterdam. Day before yesterday we had a book party for my Dutch friends and Kickstarter backers. It took place in a beautiful house in the canal district near the Rijksmuseum, and we had at least 30 guests. The atmosphere was warm and convivial. Yesterday, we got a late start, but were able to enjoy some sterling weather (finally), and walked around the center of the city. I stopped in Architectura and Natura, one of my favorite bookstores in Amsterdam, and I am hoping to have Time and Space for sale there soon.

The review I have been waiting for just came in from Photo-Eye written by Faye Robson. Here are a few quotes:

With its carnival atmosphere – the fluttering streamers in the top third of the frame, multi-coloured buildings and cars, and the dynamically positioned boy who swings a baseball bat right into the centre of the image – the image seems to suggest a clarity of vision to match the clarity of composition.

Layering and multiplicity are watchwords for this collection; from the texts that pepper the book – ranging in subject and tone from the macro-historical to the anecdotal (the General Slocum disaster) – to the views across streets and round corners that lay bare the city grid, both its thriving and desolate spaces.

Despite its title, the book cannot even be read in a straightforwardly chronological manner. The photographs are divided fairly evenly between those taken in 1980, in collaboration with Ed Fausty, and images made in 2010 by Rose alone. However, the structure of the book thwarts attempts to compare and contrast the two sets of images either formally or with respect to the neighbourhood they document.

That Rose decided to use a view camera for this project reveals a great deal about his approach – these clear, sharp, detailed images present more visual information than the eye can take in. They are a view across time and space, beyond the merely human perspective. This complex and handsomely-presented project is a portrait, or map, of a place, which challenges our assumptions about urban street photography.

This is an in depth review–the first one to really dig into what the book is about, and I am very pleased with it. Read the whole thing here.

The Netherlands/Texel

Texel, The Netherlands – © Brian Rose

Uh oh. After a couple of decent days, the weather has deteriorated. This is the watery view out of the picture window of our house in Den Hoorn at the south end of Texel on the North Sea coast. Tomorrow we head for Amsterdam.

The Slufter, Texel, The Netherlands – © Brian Rose

Yesterday, we drove around the island revisiting the campsite where my wife’s family used to go for summer vacation. It’s now little houses with lots of amenities instead of tents. Nearby is the Slufter, a tidal inlet among the dunes. We walked through it about a half mile to the sea. Depending on the time of year, tide, and weather, it can be mostly dry or mostly covered by water. Only a small stream flowed through at the time of our walk.

That’s Brendan my 13 year old son on the left, An, my mother in law in the middle, and Renee, my wife on the right.

The Netherlands/Texel

Texel – © Brian Rose

Despite a less than stellar forecast, the weather stayed beautiful all day, and I took my 4×5 camera for a four hour trek through the dunes that stand between the North Sea and the polder on the inland side of Texel. Left alone, the island would be a narrow arc of shifting sand rather than egg-shaped as it is now. At least 2/3 of the island is artificial land.


Texel – © Brian Rose

The pictures here were made with my pocket camera, but all were based on compositions set up with the view camera. Sometimes, I actually place my point-and-shoot on top of the 4×5 camera to take as close to the same view as possible. The walk was a 6 mile loop on grassy trails and sand, and I did most of it barefoot. It got a little tough slogging through deep sand with my photo equipment, but mostly this was an easy, pleasurable, walk. Had the weather been less favorable, the whole experience would have been radically different.


Texel – © Brian Rose

An odd object that looked like giant shipwrecked calculator with numbers and symbols was leaning against a dune. A few nude sunbathers were lying in the swales of sand just out of view.


Texel – © Brian Rose

A little further along near a parking lot and snack bar there are storage huts that are owned or are rented by frequent users of the beach.


Texel – © Brian Rose

On the road back to the village of Den Hoorn where I am staying.


Texel – © Brian Rose

Back at the house at the end of my walk I was offered a plate of new herring, cut into small bite size pieces served with diced raw onions. The Dutch are not known for their haute cuisine, but it doesn’t get any better than this.

The Netherlands/Den Hoorn

Den Hoorn, The Netherlands – © Brian Rose

It’s been five years since I was last in the Netherlands. I lived in Amsterdam for almost 15 years, traveling back and forth to New York as needed for work. We’re on vacation visiting my wife’s parents on the island of Texel on the North Sea coast. The weather is, as is common here, wisselvallig, or changeable. It rained heavily between the airport and Texel, then the sun came out for several hours, and we were able to eat dinner in the garden. We then took a walk through the surrounding countryside  and the clouds once again rolled in.

We’ll be here for five days and then in Amsterdam. The photo above was taken near our house with my digital blog camera. But I have brought my view camera and may get out in the dunes nearby if the weather holds out. And then possibly add to my series on Amsterdam’s periphery.

New York/Amsterdam

Prinsengracht near the Noodermarkt, Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Almere, a suburb of Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I’ve been doing some renovation of my website portfolio. The two pictures above are from a major upgrade of my Amsterdam on Edge series.

From the accompanying text:

For 15 years I lived in the center of Amsterdam, the famous urban village of canals and bicycles. It was a great life style environment, but it did not interest me much as a subject for photography. What could I add or subtract from this idyll of urban seamlessness? Even the red light district appeared tame, and cozily contained. But I eventually found rougher edges of the city along stretches of the once bustling waterfront, and I discovered the new neighborhoods on the periphery, the playgrounds of Dutch planners and architects. This was clearly where the action was.

The first photograph was taken in the old canal district of Amsterdam and sets the stage for an exploration of the city that few visitors ever see. American tourists–especially–have a grossly distorted image of the city. It is both better and worse than the clichéd image most hold onto–infinitely more interesting and complex. Forget the drugs and prostitution meme. It’s tiresome, and blinds one to the what is really going on.

The second photo was taken in Almere, a new town in the polder, drained land, on the outskirts of Amsterdam. Although the landscape of the Netherlands is notably horizontal, punctuated by windmills and church spires, urban development tends to be vertical. Not tall as in skyscrapers, but narrow lots and skinny buildings standing shoulder to shoulder with exaggeratedly steep stairs, even in the newest houses. The Netherlands has plenty of planned sprawl, but it is denser than the typical American suburb. And although you see more historic architectural references these days, many of these communities flaunt their cutting edge design, theme parks of the new, as it were, even as they fulfill the most plebeian function as middle class shelter.

Amsterdam on Edge

New York/Two Images

I mentioned a few months ago that I was expecting the Museum of Modern Art to acquire two of my photographs. It is now official. The acquisition committee approved the purchase. This is not the first time I have sold prints to the museum. They have previously acquired images from my Lost Border/Iron Curtain series. But, I am pleased that they have now added more recent work from Berlin and Amsterdam.

Mauerstrasse, Berlin (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose
From the series Berlin: In from the Cold

Since the Wall came down I have been returning to Berlin every couple years looking at developments in the former border zone, and venturing beyond to places and themes that resonate with my earlier work. Berlin, while having undergone two waves of rebuilding–first after World War II, and then after the Cold War–remains a city of scars, of vacant land and rough edges, in which history is laid bare.

In the photograph above, the layering of eras, architectural styles, materials and objects, conspire in an almost bewildering jumble. The location is but a few steps away from Checkpoint Charlie and the trace of the former Berlin Wall. As I was walking around the area, I discovered an opening to an inner courtyard–a Hinterhof, common in Berlin–and came across this scene.

There are any number of ways I approach things as a photographer. Sometimes, the subject–a building or object–demands to be respected as is, as opposed to being integrated into a willful composition. It is the composition. One of the things I’ve learned from my experience as an architectural photographer is that sometimes–often, perhaps–one has to remain subservient to the subject. And as an artist/photographer I realize that it is not necessary, nor is it advantageous,  to attempt to reinvent the medium each time I set up my camera and release the shutter.

There are also times when the subject is illusive. It may be contained in the inchoate envelope of a space, or found in the interstices of a barely recognized structure. For me, the spacial world is always a multidimensional reality, not simply a compositional layering of one thing upon another. I see things rather as a matrix, a situation comprised of any number of anecdotal or accidental relationships. The photograph above is that kind of image. In simpler terms, it’s about how all that stuff hangs together visually–about nothing–and about something essential that defines, in this case, Berlin.

Jewish Cemetery, Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

For 15 years, while living in Amsterdam, I photographed the changing periphery of the city and its less determined edges. I call the series Amsterdam on Edge, which expresses not just the physical location of the photographs, but the psychological condition of a society deeply unsure of its identity and its future in a  multicultural Europe.

In exploring the outskirts of the city, I often took trams to their end points, or drove to obscure areas along the freeways. One unexpected discovery was a Jewish cemetery bisected by a train viaduct and hemmed in by a freeway and high-tension power lines. Many of the gravestones were marked Westerbork, the name of the camp that served as a way station en route to Auschwitz and other Nazi camps. Nearly 90,000 Jews, more than 10 percent of the population of Amsterdam at that time, were killed.

New York/Amsterdam

More photographs from my Amsterdam on Edge series made between 1992 and 2007.

Amsterdam (4×5) — © Brian Rose

New plans for the Bijlmer, a troubled neighborhood built from scratch in the ’70s, in a passageway beneath a train viaduct.

Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

In the south of Amsterdam alongside the same rail line, advertising signs convey social messages.

Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Ijburg, the latest new neighborhood in Amsterdam.

New York/Amsterdam

Sloterplas, Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Continuing with new scans of the Amsterdam On Edge project I did during the 15 years I lived in Amsterdam. The photographs were made mostly on the periphery of the city, or its rougher inner edges.

South of Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Almere (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

New York/Amsterdam

Continuing to work on my Amsterdam on Edge portfolio. These are new scans of view camera work done while living in Amsterdam from the early 90s up to three years ago. None of these have been printed before. The greenhouse photograph was previously unprintable because of damage done to the film in the sky area. Easily fixed in Photoshop. Almere is a satellite city of Amsterdam about 30 minutes from the city center, and Amstelveen lies to the south.

Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Almere (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Almere (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Amstelveen (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

New York/Amsterdam

Almere Buiten  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

I’ve been scanning my Amsterdam on Edge negatives, pictures of the periphery of Amsterdam taken during the 15 years I lived in the Netherlands. Most of the prints I have of that work were made conventionally in the darkroom, and many were frustrating to print because of uneven processing done by the labs I used at that time in Amsterdam. There aren’t many places in New York I’d trust for c-41 processing these days either.

I still like the look of C prints for the work I do, but I don’t do any more straight darkroom prints. I scan the negatives and work them up in Photoshop, and then print them at a rental lab, or upload them to Adorama Pix, which does a serviceable job. They use Kodak Endura, which is high quality archival paper. I am essentially using their machine to print out what i’ve already done on my computer.

The image above was taken in Almere, a satellite city of Amsterdam. It’s one of the grand experiments of Dutch urban planning, a completely new city of over 100,000 people built on reclaimed land. It is also something of an architectural theme park where anything goes–at least it can seem that way. Almere, for all its density, has a suburban feel to it, and since its beginning in the 1960s it has been attractive to young families seeking a dream house away from the frictions of urban life. It is now a stronghold of Geert Wilders’ right wing anti-Muslim party.

My wife grew up there, and when I moved to the Netherlands in the early 90s her parents still lived in Almere. They have since moved to Amsterdam and they have a house on the coastal island of Texel. Places like Almere just don’t have the cultural diversity of Amsterdam, and even finding a decent restaurant remains hopeless. Once the kids grew up, they moved out.

Amstelveen  (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

Amsterdam (4×5 film) — © Brian Rose

After World War II, the Netherlands engaged in a vast rebuilding that has gone on for decades. It was a new start inspired by idealism and the belief that a better society could be consciously created and cultivated. As a result, the Netherlands has become one of the most prosperous places in the world. But in recent years, a pall has hung over this prosperity. As the world became smaller, the Dutch have found themselves increasingly a multicultural society with all its accompanying problems. The incandescent confidence that suffused Dutch politics and planning in the 90s when I arrived gave way to an erosion of confidence in the great national project, the polder model, as it was called, and a confusion about Dutch identity and culture.

That’s the context for my Amsterdam on Edge series, a project I have never adequately presented or had an opportunity to exhibit. Although I have an Amsterdam page on my website, it needs a better presentation and the inclusion of a number of new photographs–like the ones above. The Netherlands remains a conundrum for me–progressive yet deeply conservative, cosmopolitan yet overtly parochial. It is one of the best places for architecture in the world. Photographers are doing great stuff these days. I met lots of terrific people. But the cultural extremes gave me whiplash and left me stranded between countries unable to find a niche in their midst.

Amsterdam/New York

Back in New York, an overnight two day shoot of interiors at a golf club in the Hamptons. Then scans, color correcting, and delivery to the client. A busy week. Monday, of course, marked the fifth year since the destruction of the World Trade Center, and I was happy, in a way, to be busy with other things. I did, however, take the time to post a picture of the Twin Towers taken in the 1980s that when enlarged in Photoshop revealed the scratched signature of Phillipe Petit the French street performer who tightrope walked between the towers in 1974. It’s currently in the Outtakes section of my homepage.

My son gave me the this drawing a while ago depicting the Twin Towers and me with my camera. He was too young to have any memory of 9/11, but much to my amazement he seems acutely aware of the importance of the event, and its importance to me personally.

Here are some more digital pictures of the Haarlemerbuurt (neighborhood around the Haarlemerdijk in Amsterdam) taken last week. Scroll down for earlier pictures.


Moroccan food store, Haarlmmerdijk