Destinations Magazine

Popstars in Amsterdam – A Photo Exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum

By Amsterdam City Tours
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Claude Vanheye's exhibition runs until 4 November (courtesy of

The Amsterdam Museum (formerly the Amsterdam Historical Museum) is one of my favorite museums in the city. The permanent Amsterdam DNA exhibition is fantastic – a multimedia adventure through the last thousand years. I am, by nature, a bit of a history geek, but this is truly an impressive show and well worth checking out.

However, if you need an excuse to go to this monument to city museums, the current temporary exhibition makes a visit a must. Until 4 November the Amsterdam Museum is home to the Famous Popstars in Amsterdam exhibition, featuring the best and most influential photographs from the impressive career of local Claude Vanheye.

In 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono checked in to room 702 of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel for their week-long honeymoon. Every day, between 9 am and 9 pm they opened the doors and welcomed the world press into their bedroom to photograph their first ever Bed-In. Hundreds of journalists from around the world came up to photograph them.

One such photographer was our man Claude Vanheye. He was sent to take photographs for a pop magazine, but when he saw the hundreds of other photographers he realised that his pictures would be just like theirs. Looking for something different, he moved over beside John and Yoko’s bed and began taking pictures of the mass of photographers instead.

This caught Yoko’s eye, who asked if she and John could have a copy of the pictures. When Claude suggested returning the next day, he was invited to join them for lunch – this time without the throng of press in tow. This would be a turning point in the career of what would become one of Amsterdam’s most renowned photographers. He was just 17 at the time.

Vanheye with a picture of himself and Lennon and Yoko

Vanheye pointing at himself in a photo taken on that fateful day in 1977

Today, Claude bears a striking resemblance to the Chief from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. His portfolio is a veritable who’s who of the 1960s, 70s and 80s. On video, he speaks fondly of his memories of shooting some of the greats: Cat Stevens, Elton John, the BeeGees and, of course, John and Yoko. These great photographs, and over a hundred more, hang together in the temporary exhibition space at the Amsterdam Museum.

A combination of studio shoots and casual canal-side snapshots, it is an adventure in Amsterdam of old. Vanheye has captured the spirit and feel of the city beautifully.

Popstars in Amsterdam – A Photo exhibition at the Amsterdam Museum

Cover of The Early Years Vol. 1

A personal favorite would have to be the shots of Tom Waits, a shoot which had absentmindedly been scheduled for none other than Queen’s day, April 30, the largest holiday of the year. Foregoing his comfortable studio, Vanheye took his camera to the street, capturing a virtually unknown Tom Waits mingling with the locals along the street markets. One of these shots would adorn the cover of Waits’ 1991 retrospective, the Early Years, Volume One.

Another stunning photograph is that of Michael Jackson – young, (still) black and, most oddly, not besieged by fans and paparazzi. Vanheye captured a very candid Michael Jackson, walking along our beautiful streets and enjoying himself. The photo itself was not published until 2009 – Vanheye had forgotten all about it!

Michael Jackson in Amsterdam

Michael Jackson in the Jordaan (1977) - Claude Vanheye

After Michael Jackson’s death, Vanheye gave a copy to Michael’s mother, Katherine.  Today, that unique photograph hangs in the Jackson’s livingroom.

This is how Vanheye differs from all other pop photographers of the day – he looks for the person behind the fame and manages to capture very human images. The exhibition is in honor of Claude Vanheye’s fortieth year as a professional photographer and the publication of his book, Claude Vanheye – Famous Popstars in Amsterdam.

Make sure you don’t miss this amazing exhibition. Not only is it a tribute to some of the greatest artists of the 20th century, it is also a monument to an Amsterdam that attracted and dazzled the stars back in the 1970s.

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