Enter the fascinating Red Light District in Amsterdam through the eyes of a local in Eva Roefs’ new book

Eva Roefs has been a local to Trompettersteeg in Amsterdam for many years now, and her new book Studio Trompettersteeg highlights the residents and workers of the famed tourist attraction.

29 September 2021

So rarely does a portrait photography book come around that reflects an entire community of people in equal measures of adoration, education, and artistic weight. That’s why we were instantly captivated by the new release from portrait photographer Eva Roefs, Studio Trompettersteeg. Centred around De Trompettersteeg, the narrowest alley in Amsterdam, the book covers 70 different portraits of those with connections to the surrounding neighbourhood – the infamous Red Light District. Inside the book, Eva covers an impressively large array of people, from “the owner of the famous live sex theatre (he is a local legend) and the owner of the first condom shop in the world all the way to the director of Europeʼs largest temple, brothel sex workers, Amsterdam students, tour guides, and local residents,” Eva says.

Eva’s beginnings with photography stemmed from learning “the tricks of the trade from [her] father,” in days spent in the darkroom her parents had in the centre of their house. It was a routine that spurred Eva to take up the hobby as a profession, from studying to working for Dutch newspaper Volkskrant. “After my studies and years of working for newspapers, my interest in analogue photography came back,” Eva explains. “About 18 months ago, me and my dad crawled into the attic together to fish a Sinar Camera out of the dust and straight away I started practising with it in his home studio.”

Within the book, Eva’s mastery of the analogue medium lends itself well to the many diverse portraits of Trompettersteeg. “I shoot with 4x5 negatives in the portraits,” she explains. “Most of the portraits are very close so you can see the raw feeling of emotions. Pursuing deep rich colours is a plus for me.” It’s certainly true that Eva’s palette is bold and vivid against a stark white background, illuminating stories behind the faces of her subjects. But closer inspection reveals a more fascinating aspect to Eva’s style that makes her photographs so alive. “I shoot with 4x5 inch negatives because of the sheer sharpness that they can achieve,” she says. “By seeing the portraits as large as possible, the pure sharpness of the skin can be experienced.”

GalleryEva Roefs: Studio Trompettersteeg (Copyright © Eva Roefs, 2021)

When Covid-19 took away the gaggle of tourists usually found in her neighbourhood – namely, outside her door – Eva took it as the perfect chance to document the neighbourhood in a way that highlighted just how special it really is. “When there were no more tourists, I realised I was in a very special neighbourhood,” she tells us. “The whole world has been coming here for decades to see my neighbourhood: the world-famous ‘Red Light Districtʼ.” In being forced to spend time in her neighbourhood and soak it all in, Eva began to enjoy its idiosyncrasies in a new and profound way. “With that in mind, I opened a temporary photo studio right under my house in De Trompettersteeg, which is an alleyway only 85 centimetres wide.” Over the course of six months, Eva invited locals to sit in front of her camera in her very simple studio set-up. What came of it was the book, Studio Trompettersteeg. “There were no rules about who could or could not come by, only that they had a connection with the neighbourhood,” Eva explains. “The result is a cross-section of a world-famous neighbourhood, the group of people who keep the neighbourhood up and running – the back office of a world-famous Red Light District.”

It was a rewarding experience for Eva, one in which she relished getting to know and being inspired by the people of Trompettersteeg. “In the Red Light District everyone lives together,” she says. “Many people only know the existing visual culture of the Red Light District, but most forget that this neighbourhood is also where people live and that there is an entire industry that keeps the neighbourhood going.” In essence, the book is an ode to the labour and communion of those in the Trompettersteeg, often overlooked as mindless participants of a neighbourhood-turned-tourist attraction. “But really, they’re all very hardworking people,” Eva says.

GalleryEva Roefs: Studio Trompettersteeg (Copyright © Eva Roefs, 2021)

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Eva Roefs: Studio Trompettersteeg (Copyright © Eva Roefs, 2021)

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Joey Levenson

Joey joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in May 2020 after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.


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