Tonight: ‘Andy Warhol’s Street Diary: Photographs 1981-86,’ at Deborah Bell Photographs

September 17 – November 13, 2010

Deborah Bell Photographs

511 West 25th Street
Room 703
New York, NY 10001

Here is my essay included in the catalog:



A couple of decades ago, when I asked Kenneth Anger to send me brief descriptions of his films, he sent me information such as: the movie was shot such-and-such year, the camera used was Bolex, the film stock was such-and-such, and the print was struck from the original negative, year such-and-such, on film stock such-and-such. All very, very factual.

I have never forgotten that lesson. He was giving me the essential facts that determined the physicality of his movies. Nothing that determined the content of his films.

I remember now Goethe’s dictum, that we should discuss works of art only in their presence. Be it films, paintings or photographs, we have to confront them directly, each of us, and they mean different things to each of us.

I will try to follow Kenneth’s model in my short introduction to the Andy Warhol photographs in this exhibition.


I was informed, by those who worked closely with Andy, or researched his life and work for the books they did on Andy, that he was given a Brownie camera when he was eight or ten years old. Together with his brothers, he managed to convert the family’s basement into a darkroom. I am also informed that later in his life he took some photography lessons from his close friend and former roommate, Ed Wallowitch (who, at Andy’s direction, made the still-life photographs in 1962 from which Andy produced paintings and drawings of the Campbell’s soup cans). And his brother John, together with their cousin, also John, ran a photo-booth business called “Johnny’s Photo Shop.” They even hand-colored some of the photographs. In short: photography was part of Andy’s life from childhood. Which also means he was looking at things since childhood.

This brings me to the question of what camera or cameras Andy used to take the pictures in this exhibition. When I posed the question to Deborah Bell, she did her own leg work and informed me that she had learned from sources at The Andy Warhol Foundation and The Andy Warhol Museum that, beginning in 1976, Andy used many small, point-and-shoot 35mm cameras to make the kinds of pictures that you will see in this exhibition, and that Andy had a collection of such cameras. As it has been documented, Andy had been introduced to the new Minox 35 EI model on a trip to Zürich in 1976 by Thomas Ammann, who was then working for Andy’s dealer, Bruno Bischofberger. This Minox, which was especially small for 35mm cameras at the time, remained one of Andy’s favorite models. Andy didn’t use larger, “professional” 35mm cameras such as Leica, Nikon, Olympus or Canon because he preferred the miniature ones that were relatively new on the market. From that moment in 1976 when he discovered the point-and-shoot camera, it replaced for him almost completely the Polaroid SX-70 camera, which he then reserved primarily for his studio work. Besides being small and light, the point-and-shoot cameras were self-focusing and had built-in light meters, so Andy did not have to worry about setting f-stops and shutter speeds. It was all about portability and convenience for Andy, and he wanted to be as inconspicuous as possible when taking these street photos. I am told that Andy frequented the camera stores in the Herald Square area, such as Willoughby’s. He’d look in the windows and then go in and buy these small cameras, of which he owned a lot. He would misplace or break them and then he’d go buy a new one or send an assistant out to buy another.

I remember now my visit to Stan Brakhage, in Colorado, in 1966. He had all these different film cameras, 16mm and 8mm, all around the place. Every one was in use, but for separate films — different films were slowly growing in each of the cameras.

The Prints

The information I have tells me that Andy did not make the prints himself. There is nothing very unique about that. Some of the greatest photographers have used other printers. I remember visiting Robert Frank around 1960. There was a developing tank in the room. I assumed that he was making his own prints there. No, he said, I hate making prints. I like taking pictures, but I have a good friend who prints for me.

Some of Andy’s prints were made by Christopher Makos, in his own darkroom. Later the printing was passed on to some of his assistants. For film processing, Andy used a lab, which also made the contact sheets. Andy edited the contact sheets and Christopher or his assistants made the prints almost immediately, often within days of Andy taking the pictures. The prints in the exhibition measure 8×10” or the reverse. As a rule, there were no duplicates made unless Andy was going to use the images for his stitched, or sewn, photographic composites, in which case he would order 11×14” prints of the selected photographs.

Andy primarily used Agfa Portriga-Rapid paper, though there were some other brands once in a while, such as Kodak. He liked Christopher Makos’ choice of materials — same papers and printing methods.

The prints with white borders, showing the black lines around the image, were made before the prints that are bled to the edge of the paper. Andy started doing the full-bleed prints in 1982. The prints in this exhibition were made between 1981 and 1986, during the last decade of his work.

Selection of Prints in the Exhibition

The photographs on view here exclude the well-known subjects of Andy’s other photographs, such as the fashion world and the Beautiful People. As the exhibition title conveys, it concentrates on the lesser-known part of Andy’s work. I am told that there are over a thousand of these “street” photographs.

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I always thought Andy was a diarist. A diarist in art is one who is totally open to all possibilities all the time. One who doesn’t throw out anything; everything eventually is used. Andy was recording everything. With a still camera, with a video camera, Polaroid camera, Sony tape recorder, pencil. A diarist’s work never ends. He snaps everything all the time. He is an open eye; he is the garbage can into which everything can fall, can be thrown. Celebrities, yes, there were many of them; they needed him, they flocked to him. Andy didn’t need them. He photographed them the same way he photographed shop windows and garbage cans during his street walks. With no judgement passed. The umbrella is just an umbrella. The neckties are just neckties. And so are the Body Girls; they are just Body Girls. Sometimes one can perceive a tiny, tiny smile in some of them, but it’s the unusual, typical Andy-smile that one can see in many of the photographs of Andy. Sometimes that smile shows up in the subjects he chooses to photograph, sometimes in the writing in the photographs, sometimes in the simple boredom of the subjects themselves – in their simple “dailiness” – such as spoons, or a window full of shoes (Andy’s first love…).

So he walks the streets of New York and snaps, snaps, snaps. I have always argued with the people who have talked about Andy as a voyeur. No, Andy was not a voyeur; Andy was a gazer. He gazed at things, at people, at reality. A very special gaze. There was no pathological obsession in it. It was a very natural state of gazing. Andy was an open eye. He was a looker. You see it in all aspects of his work, in his art. Maybe he was also the most democratic artist at the same time. The diaristic form in art is both the most personal and the most democratic.

Now that I have told you the basic facts about the physicality of the photographs in this exhibition, please look at the pictures themselves if you haven’t yet seen them. And I hope that someday a major museum will give us the chance to see reunited all of the street photographs by Andy from which these twenty-five were extracted.

Jonas Mekas
New York, August 2010


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