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Through the Viewfinder :: Henk Schiffmacher

Through the Viewfinder :: Henk Schiffmacher

I’ve always been fond of digging through other people’s stuff, so when my dad gave me the green light to sort out all of his cabinets with old Kodachrome slides, I was as happy as a dog with two dicks. This excitement wore off after, let’s say, a year, but I decided that for once I had to finish something I started (since alcoholic beverages don’t count). One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I was in the middle of putting together a book. Days of cleaning, scanning, and most importantly, listening to endless stories of wild adventures in the seventies.

Heroin-addicted artists, prostitutes in New York, riots in Japan, Hunter S. Thompson taking a shit, tattooed homeless people in Amsterdam (that are not me), stray cats, punk rockers, sadly lots of dead animals, and a fuck load more. The photos tell the story, but sometimes it’s just more interesting to hear the actual story behind the photo. So I had my ol’ man [Editor’s Note: AKA the legendary Dutch tattoo artist Henk Schiffmacher] pick out some of his favorites with the most interesting stories behind them. 

The Pike, Long Beach, California.

This picture was taken in 1974 at the Pike in Long Beach. The pike got demolished in 1979. Back in those days it was like a permanent carnival with arcades, a rollercoaster, and several tattoo shops where people would tattoo for 24 hours straight. Big names in tattooing, like Bob Shaw (seen in picture), Colonel Todd, Bert Grimm, and Owen Jensen. In those days, there used to a puppet hanging on a gallow above the pike, but when it got demolished, it turned out to be an actual body.

The Last Riots of Narita Airport.

In the years prior to 1978, there was a different airport located in Narita, but the Japanese government decided to expand it, including high-speed trains. The farmers refused to give up land, but one after another lost big acres. The Japanese socialist party convinced them to sell their pieces of land, promising the farmers that they would go in resistance—which they ended up not doing. Students started their own resistance party together with the famers, which ended in a riot very similar to World War 1. Trenches, bamboo made towers, kites to stop helicopters from flying over, underground hospitals. They would approach the opposition in some sort of centipede way, all walking side by side, splitting in 2 when close, so that out of nowhere another group would appear with Molotov cocktails. When there, a younger lady tripped on her Molotov cocktail and set herself on fire.

The Filipino Slashers. 1978.

This man was responsible for putting these razor sharp mini knives on the paws of the roosters participating in a cock fight, named the Filipino Slashers. I was a journalist for a Dutch magazine at the time and decided to buy my own rooster to participate in the fight. The sold me a big fat one named Otto, which you trained by massaging its thighs and holding them by its tail so they making running movements, resulting in thigh ‘muscles.’ Having told that Otto was a great cock, I put all my money on him. Ten seconds into the fight, Otto got his throat slashed by a big Texas rooster. So I lost my money, and they made pate of my cock.

Japan. ~1970

This woodcarved cart carrying women and children were carried around town by the men during nighttime. It went from whorehouse to the bar, back to the whorehouse, back to the café etc. Which resulted in people getting more and more intoxicated. A few of these beautiful handmade carriers would roam the town in between the tiny alleyways, and if confronted with another one, the rule was to keep going in a straight line. The one to pussy out the first would be the loser, which most of the time ended up in a fist fight. I had the honor of helping carry on of these things, wearing my beautiful orange kimono gifted by a good friend. Which turned out later to be a women’s kimono.

Yakuza. ~1970

This is called Ubizumi if I’m correct. That’s when a yakuza member makes a mistake and has to apologize in very drastic ways to say the least. From cutting of hair, or literally cutting of a fingertip, or multiple fingertips. If the boss accepts this gift as an apology he holds it to his heart. There are stories of Yakuza bosses owning big pit bulls that would eat all the fingertips, but this guy had a collection of 500 fingertips. One of them was given to me for my collection, which I still have to this day. The card game in the back was called Hanafuda. Hana means nose, and fuda means blossom. It was a gambling card game, so illegal in Japan.

Hunter S. Thompson. Soldiers of fortune convention Las Vegas.

“Hunter S. Thompson taking a shit.”

I travelled to Las Vegas to capture the Soldiers of Fortune convention with my then-wife Patricia. Upon arrival, some guys asked me if I was familiar with Dr. Thompson and if I wanted to hang out with him for a few days, seeing as they “did not really like him.” I agreed and went on a nice drinking/shooting binge with Hunter himself. Our brief friendship ended in me sneaking a picture of his ankles in a bathroom stall taking a shit. Nothing that couldn’t be solved with a good glass of Wild Turkey.

Confiscated Colors.

This photo was taken in the Hell’s Angels clubhouse in Amsterdam. Before they officially became a chapter. Any idiot with an amateur motorcycle gang would have his jackets confiscated, a thing that still happens to this day. Later these jackets would be burned.

Bernard Bramwell.

The man on this picture, his name was Bernard Bramwell. An railroad engineer from the UK. He knew everything about the switching system in a railroad. And was responsible for helping the switch to the electric train. The Netherlands hired him for our Dutch railroad system. Not knowing he was a very interesting guy, to say the least. Upon arrival, his wife was dressed in a well-tailored suit and Bernard himself in women’s clothing and makeup. He had dreams of having his teeth in all sorts of different colors. And being the great mathematician he was, all of his tattoos were mathematically correct tattooed on his body.


Purchase Henk Schiffmacher’s first extensive book of photography at, featuring photos taken between 1970 to 1985, co-curated by his daughter Texas, who discovered the 35mm negatives in a dusty drawer in their home.

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