What made the Polaroid special?
The Polaroid anticipated digital photography by half a century. People loved it because they got to see the pictures immediately instead of sending them out to be developed. Also, the Polaroid advanced the concept of ‘occasional’ photography, meaning that occasions, such as birthdays, could be commemorated on the spot. It was an instant way of capturing a moment. And each Polaroid picture was a unique object — you waited for the print to come out before you took the next shot, then you held it in your hands.
See more Polaroids in the
Andy Warhol @ Christie’s Instant Andy online auction
You’ve worked with many cameras over the years. Did the Polaroid have its own personality?
The Polaroid was a very friendly camera. The act of taking a Polaroid was so spontaneous that people were not intimidated by it. Both the photographer and the subject relaxed. I don’t think I’ve ever taken a bad picture with a Polaroid. It has a unique ability to conjure up the truth of the photograph.
The Polaroid never lies.
Did Andy use the Polaroid differently at different times?
At a certain point, the toy became a tool that was ancillary to his painting process. Andy was forced to abandon his practice of photo appropriation after he was sued by a photographer in the 1960s. He decided to take his own photographs and the quickest way to do that was with a Polaroid. Subsequently, the way he used the Polaroid was more utilitarian. The Big Shot (Andy’s favorite Polaroid camera in the early 1970s) could make high-contrast images, perfect for silkscreens.
You turn up in several of Andy’s Polaroids. Can you tell us the story behind the one of you and Taylor Mead?
This picture was taken during the summer of 1971. We took the train to Bridgehampton to visit our friends Jerome Hill and Charles Rydell at Hill’s home, ‘Windy Hill’. Taylor Mead (who starred in several films by Warhol and other ‘underground’ filmmakers) is sitting in a chair, waiting for his close-up, and I’m coming through the door, clutching my Nikon in one hand and something else — maybe another camera — in the other. Paul Morrissey was there, too. I don’t remember what we were shooting that day, but we seemed determined to get it on film!
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Brigid Berlin and Gerard Malanga. Unique polaroid print mounted on board, 4 1/4 x 3 3/8 in. (10.8 x 8.5 cm.) Executed circa 1979.
Do you consider any of Andy’s Polaroids to be especially artistic? The one with the newspaper headline, ‘Fire Kills Two in Skyscraper’ is quite similar to a Death and Disaster painting (‘129 Die in Jet!’) he did at the time.
Andy’s early black-and-white Polaroids stand out — they have a vintage quality about them. I was very taken by this shot of a newspaper with a cityscape in the background. The street is so familiar. I believe the camera is pointing north. It looks like 3rd Avenue; but it could be 2nd Avenue as well. The darkened brick building to the left in the frame might be a public school: the windows caged-in. The post-war high-rise a little further north: so ubiquitous for the neighborhood. The newspaper headline — an interesting study in contrasts. I think that's what may have caught Andy’s eye. The picture reminds me of a Walker Evans, or one of the other W.P.A. photographers.
Which Polaroid caused a scandal?
In 1963, Andy was invited to shoot the September cover of C, a poetry journal celebrating the work of Edwin Denby that month. He used his Polaroid to shoot me, the young poet, standing behind Denby, the elder statesman. At the very last minute Andy told me to bend down and kiss Denby on the lips, a daring image that was way ahead of its time. The scandal broke when we were on an extended road-trip to California (chronicled in the new book, The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic-Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure, Atria, 2015). A lot of feathers in the literary establishment — especially those belonging to Frank O’Hara — Andy’s ‘frenemy’, and a contributor to the magazine — were ruffled.
Parting words about the Polaroid?
The Polaroid was the fun camera – you wouldn’t say that about a Nikon.
Browse and bid on these and other unique Polaroid prints in our online auction, Warhol@Christie’s: Instant Andy, now through September 29, 2015.
Main Image: Andy Warhol (1928-1987), Taylor Mead (And Gerard Melanga in Background). Unique polaroid print, 4 1/4 x 3 3/18 in. (10.8 x 8.6 cm) Executed circa 1985. © 2015 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
This piece was contributed by Deborah Davis, author of The Trip: Andy Warhol’s Plastic Fantastic Cross-Country Adventure.