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Articles > Culture March, 18, 2019

Behind Andy Warhol’s Polaroid

Giorgia Mulè
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“I told them I didn’t believe in art. I believed in photography”. That’s what Andy Warhol said to a crowd of visitors in his studio before his death.

Andy Warhol wasn’t just one of the main artists of the Pop Art movement (1950-1960), he was also one of the first who took pictures with a Polaroid, making it a recognisable brand. Warhol’s preferred Polaroid camera was the Big Shot, a snout-shaped plastic camera with no focus adjustment. It could only take photos at a distance of four feet, so to focus, he performed the “Big Shot Shuffle” by taking half-steps, forward and back, in front of the subject.

Besides the Polaroid cameras, Warhol used the negatives of his film: he would press down still-developing film onto textured surfaces resulting in a soft, broken image. This produced watery tones and added an old and slightly haunted quality to his photographs. By the 70s, photography became second nature to him. In an interview with the photographer Michelle Bogre, Warhol explained his vision of the art of photography and his concept of “visual diary”. He described his passion for photography and the attention to detail behind every shot. I’m personally amazed how, for Warhol, photography became a hobby, then a job, then a nessecity in his life.

Andy Warhol defines photography as “pop”. This term is related to the Pop Art movement and follows its key idea: there’s no hierarchy in art, no difference between “high” and “low” art. Pop artists’ aim was to transform everyday life into high art by creating paintings or sculptures of mass cultural objects and media stars. Warhol stated that anyone can take a good picture, because anyone can take a picture. In saying this, he is stating that everyone can create art, simply because everything that surround us is art; if even the most basic object can be considered art, there is no such thing as a ‘bad picture’. There’s no need for good lighting, an interesting subject, or vivid colors: to make art all we have to do is push a button.

With this key value in mind, Warhol created his visual diary, inspired by the artist Alfred Leslie, organising an exhibition in New York showing all the polaroids he had taken. The subjects were people, basically everyone the artist knew; friends, rivals, lovers, celebrities, clients…everyone who inspired him deserved a place on a Polaroid paper, himself included (selfies wouldn’t exist without him). In all of his pictures the face is the central element and the variety of expressions is, in my opinion, what makes those pictures special.

One of my favourite pictures is the one of Candy Darling (1969). Darling was a transgender actress and met the artist in 1967 at an underground burlesque show. Darling featured in two of Warhol’s films, Flesh (1968) and Women in Revolt (1971), yet he soon grew tired of her and cut off contact. Darling died of lymphoma a few years later, writing on her deathbed to Warhol and his cohorts: “Unfortunately before my death I had no desire left for life… I am just so bored by everything. You might say bored to death. Did you know I couldn’t last. I always knew it. I wish I could meet you all again.”


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