Amsterdam Blues bears its name well. There's a lot of grit to Aram Tanis' book, one that you'd be hard pressed to find in the cloroxed city of Amsterdam these days. It shows the bizarre and erotic which have since the 1990s given way to a more hygienic debauchery. Tanis' voyeuristic collection of Nan Goldin-ish vignettes rings true with nostalgia for a time when dirty was dirty, not staged for tourists; what his lens has captured leaves us wondering if such a disheveled Amsterdam can indeed still be found.
Tanis's real talent lies in juxtaposition, as he couples photos that would otherwise not make you bat an eye; matching compositions, contrasting subjects, marriages sometimes witty and sometimes simply esthetically intriguing. It is somehow the biggest strength of the book, one which almost makes up for the astonishing number of pictures within pictures. I get really annoyed at photographers who simply take photos of existing art, and Amsterdam Blues is replete with snapshots of advertisements, wall art and TV screen shots - other people's work. By the end of the book, the reader is left wondering how many of the photos were actually taken by the author, instead of camouflaged plagiarism.
Nonetheless, Amsterdam Blues is a bewitching vision of discombobulated times gone by, and Tanis plays well with the beauty of the ugly and uncomfortable. In that way, despite its lack of narrative, the book remains cohesive and eyebrow-raising - and with a little imagination, you can almost hear the punk rock soundtrack.
Amsterdam Blues can be ordered from the artist's website.