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How Andy Warhol Used Photography to Create his Visual Diary

How Andy Warhol Used Photography to Create his Visual Diary

The new exhibition “Andy Warhol: Photo Factory” in New York offers an expansive look at the artist’s enduring love of photography.
Self-portrait in Fright Wig, 1986 © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Andy Warhol was a master diarist, a man who understood that the foundations of art, history, and culture are built on the shared experience of daily life. Under the banner of Pop Art, Warhol elevated consumer products and celebrities into the realm of fine art. With his time capsules, Warhol preserved the mundane for posterity — much in the same way his daily calls to Pat Hackett detailing his comings and goings about town became the basis of The Andy Warhol Diaries, which was published after his untimely death in 1987.

But perhaps Warhol’s penchant for chronicling mid-century life could best be seen in his enduring, albeit lesser known, photography practice. Between the early 1970s and his death, Warhol had produced some 130,000 black and white 35mm photographs and 20,000 Polaroids. No matter where he went, Warhol took a camera along — his “date” as he fondly described his Polaroid camera.

Bananes, 1977-78 © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Warhol began practicing photography after taking up filmmaking, which allowed him to create the original works that became the basis for his iconic portraits of everyone from Marsha P. Johnson to Muhammad Ali. Making photographs proved an effective way to avoid copyright infringement suits from photographers like Patricia Caufield, Charles Moore, and Fred Ward, who sued him for using their work. But Warhol never fully ceased his penchant for appropriation. Earlier this year, a 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals revered a 2019 ruling, declaring Warhol’s 1984 Prince Series was derivative, not transformative use of a Lynn Goldsmith photograph.

A to B and Back Again

Whether testing the boundaries of appropriation or driven to make his own work, Andy Warhol was nothing if not prolific. A capitalist at heart, Andy Warhol embraced owning the means of production to usher in a new era of art in the age of mechanical reproduction. Going so far as to name his studio “The Factory,” Warhol and his team produced a stunning array of artworks, films, exhibitions, books, and happenings — much of which has become the stuff of legend.

Grace Jones © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Keith Haring and Juan Dubose, 1983 © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

The new exhibition “Andy Warhol: Photo Factory”, at Fotografiska New York, brings together more than 120 works, 20 of which have never been exhibited before, that explores that wide array of approaches he took to photography. Featuring Polaroid portraits of luminaries including Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat; photobooth strips made in Times Square in the 1960s; gelatin silver prints showcasing scenes of everyday life ;16mm film Screen Tests from the mid-60s and accompanying films, the exhibition also includes Warhol’s last body of work exhibited before his death — a series of stitched photographs, a technique he borrowed from long-time collaborator and confidante Christopher Makos.

“Warhol was as restless as he was relentless and shortly after he took up film, he picked up his own cameras: Polaroids and nifty little point-and-shoots,” curator, collector, and critic Vince Aletti writes in an exhibition text. “’My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person doing something unfamous,’ he said. ‘It’s being in the right place at the wrong time.’ Warhol always downplayed his skill, his unerring eye. Nothing here is careless or shrugged off, but he liked playing the wide-eyed amateur and dreaded being seen as the knowing aesthete. Clearly, he was a bit of both.”

By Miss Rosen

Miss Rosen is a New York-based writer focusing on art, photography, and culture. Her work has been published in books, magazines, including TimeVogueAperture, and Vice, among others.

“Andy Warhol: Photo Factory” is on view at Fotografiska New York through January 30, 2022.

Dolly Parton © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Jean-Michel Basquiat and his mother, undated © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

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