“My idea of a good picture is one that’s in focus and of a famous person,” king of Pop Art Andy Warhol once said. Conveniently, Warhol was always surrounded by famous people, and by carrying a Polaroid camera around from the late 50s until his death in 1987, was able to amass hundreds such good pictures. Andy Warhol: Polaroids 1958-1987, a shiny new tome from Taschen, compiles the instant images he took in these years, many never before seen. They document the members of his glitzy milieu, including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Jack Nicholson, Mick Jagger, Audrey Hepburn, Yves Saint Laurent, Divine, Candy Darling, William S. Burroughs, and, of course, Warhol himself.
“The portraits signify who was welcomed into Warhol’s club, a place at once private, snobbish, and hostile to middle-class squares and yet open to scores of outcasts,” author Richard Woodward writes. Perhaps what’s most striking about these Polaroids to modern viewers is the rawness with which they present this snobbish world, something rare in the age of Photoshop. In Warhol’s pre-Instagram era, photography wasn’t as deceptive as it is today–lacking filters, these portraits’ famed subjects’ wrinkles, eye bags, forehead shine, and double chins are all refreshingly visible. They look annoyingly glamorous despite the fact, but still human in a way that celebrities photographed in 2015 often don’t.
Not that Warhol necessarily would’ve been opposed to iPhone cameras and Instagram: “A picture means I know where I was every minute. That’s why I take pictures. It’s a visual diary,” he said. Warhol, of course, was an accomplished photographer, in addition to being a painter, magazine illustrator, and sculptor. Far from limited to the instant Polaroid, he shot the likes of Bella Abzug for Rolling Stone, Alfred Hitchcock for Vanity Fair, and Nico for Film Culture. These impromptu shots offer a more personal counterpoint to these better-circulated images, and seem to foreshadow, in the way Warhol foretold everyone’s 15 minutes of fame, the ubiquity of the photographic diary today.
Andy Warhol: Polaroids is available from Taschen here for $100. All photos courtesy of Taschen, Copyright The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
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