If Andy Warhol‘s name comes up people (younger ones) are always amazed when I say I knew him. Practically everyone knew Andy or encountered him here or there in the 80s in downtown NYC. But photographer Christopher Makos really KNEW Andy. He traveled with him, ate with him, worked with him and photographed him. A sale of Chris’s photos of Warhol are currently on Paddle 8. He and Vincent Fremont, Warhol’s right-hand man and former head of the Andy Warhol Enterprises take a trip down memory lane along with Chris’s his studio/archive director, Peter Wise on the stories behind Makos’s iconic photographs of Andy Warhol’s scene.
Vincent Fremont: This picture (above) is from the Centre Pompidou. Christopher and Andy liked to take pictures together. Andy got his point-and-shoot camera, his first one, probably around 1975.
Christopher Makos: Right.
VF: It was a perfect meeting for us, because here he met a photographer and so there was something he could share.
CM: It was the beginning of Andy taking his own photographs. Andy always took Polaroids, but then there was the idea of taking black and white prints.
– Christopher, you were responsible for introducing Andy to the point-and-shoot camera.
CM: Well I encouraged him, and I could go through lots of pictures on trips where we both had the same exact pictures. He would say, “What do I take pictures of?” and I’d say, “just do this and this and this…” I do remember he would always wish he could be a photographer. For a number of reasons: one, it was so immediate. There wasn’t the long process, you could just take the pictures and send them out.
VF: Well that’s why he liked taking Polaroids for his portraits–he liked the distortion of the Big Shot (which was the plastic camera), which he had to physically move back and forth to put it in focus. He had a good relationship with Polaroid. They gave him all the newest cameras and film stock. He wanted a certain look in his Polaroids, which are very distinct.
CM: These pictures turned out to be the drag photos. Lady Warhol. But the series is actually called Altered Image and the idea is same way that Cindy Sherman alters her images. Halston at the time asked us, “Do you want to borrow a dress?” And we didn’t want to borrow a dress. We weren’t trying to do drag photos. It was just about altering Andy’s face. Because clearly he’s wearing jeans, a button down shirt, and a tie. You know, I still have that tie. I don’t know why I have that tie, but I do.
Peter Wise: Why do you have that tie?
CM: I don’t know… Oh, maybe it was my tie and I said “put the tie on,” I don’t know…
VF: It was commissioned by Hermann the German.
CM: Hermann Wunsche… interesting guy.
VF: That’s how that series came about. Bob Colacello was actually really upset by it. There were two main people who were influential in Andy’s life, Fred Hughes and Bob Colacello. Fred loved this series and thought it was crazy and artistic. But Bob hated it because he thought that that was the end of Andy’s portrait commission career. He thought, if these ladies see that, they’re not going to want to have their portraits done by Warhol.
CM: I can’t believe he had the nerve to say that at that time. I didn’t know that. I guess that was a sensitive subject to him.
CM: The wind blown hair. This one hasn’t been shown much. Andy and I were always looking for opportunities. At one point, I remember the Sony Corporation coming to the Factory and asking, “Would Andy be a spokesperson?” for this or that. And at the time, I remember Fred—and maybe you [Vincent] were a part of that—didn’t know what we were going to charge. Somebody came up with the idea to have Andy become a Zoli model. And then as a model we could book him a special booking. So Andy wanted to get a portfolio, just like a model had a portfolio.
VF: He did become a Zoli model, by the way.
CM: Whether they’re studio pictures or pictures on the street, this was him posing for his portfolio in different settings. [laughs]
VF: Where’s that, Chris?
CM: That’s in Detroit Michigan, and that was–
PW: His 1985 Book Tour for America. Andy’s book of America.
CM: And that’s his Stephen Sprouse haircut.
VF: By this time in Andy’s life, he was wearing predominantly Stephen Sprouse, with the exception maybe of his turtlenecks. They were cotton, they could be from anywhere…
CM: But he liked the all black look because he never had to change it. He never had to get it cleaned. It was always pretty dirty.
VF: He had to carry a lot. He carried his tape recorder, his little portrait camera, he carried his extra batteries. He always had his pockets loaded.
CM: This is a photo that we took in Madrid, Spain.
– Why was Andy there?
VF: That was the first solo show of Andy’s in Spain. Because with Franco, before that, no contemporary artist was allowed to have a show.
CM: I remember this Spanish photographer set it all up, and then I took the picture. And of course I got all the credit for it. No one ever knew. I got an email from him not that long ago, where he said, “Oh, here’s my picture” and I said, “Oh, that’s nice.” I didn’t know what to say. It’s not like I was trying to supersede him. It’s just that I took the picture and I published it in this and that. It became my photograph.
CM: This is from a series of kissing photographs. I used to do two pages in the back of Interview magazine called— was it “In” or “Out”?
VF: I can never remember if it was “In” or “Out.”
CM: No, Bob had “Out” and I had “In”. So I was always looking for a theme for every month and we were coming up on February. And what’s in February? Valentine’s Day. So a few months before that, whenever we were doing something or going somewhere, I’d say “give this one a kiss.” So then I developed a bunch of these kiss pictures. This was with Ultra Violet at one of those dinners that Salvador Dali gave…
CM: And that’s the picture which I’ve called the ‘Gang of Four.’ That was one of those big important nights. It was probably Bianca Jagger‘s birthday party…. they were the royalty of that time period, even though there were people around like Malcolm Forbes and this one and that one.
VF: This was showtime. If you were at Studio 54 when they were all together… You know, I brought the Polaroid executive in and that sealed the deal for more pages in Interview magazine. There they all were, and the guy was staggered by it. So it really helped the relationship and got us more ads. With Andy you were working all the time, from morning to night.
CM: This is at Tiananmen Square in front of the Chairman Mao portrait that Andy was inspired by. And this picture is so interesting because this was before his Botox. If you look at my last pictures of Andy, he’s different. I often feel that being a photographer is like being a psychotherapist. You know, it’s about giving people their good self-image. If you look at this photo, there’s no botox… who was that lady who he used to get the lamb placenta injections from?
PW: Georgette Klinger.
CM: Georgette Klinger, where he’d get the lamb placenta injections… It wasn’t Georgette Klinger, there was a lady who used to work with Bob… There was a lady…. what’s her name…
PW: I was just going to add that this is the one time Andy did go to China. He went around the world in the ‘50s but he didn’t go to China except for this one time. It was 1982, which was the very tail end of the authoritarian stuff before it loosened up for a few years. And then it tightened up again after Tiananmen Square. But here everybody’s still wearing their Mao outfits in either blue or brown or green. Nobody’s wearing Western clothes.
CM: This is an interesting picture because Basquiat‘s holding a blow up globe. There’s a point to the fact that he’s putting Africa in the front. Because I do remember him talking about how he felt like he was the token black person in the art scene. He was making a point of this with the globe, the fact that the globe could be deflated easily. This was after he had achieved some success. Because his early success was more with the crazy hairdo and this was when he was feeling—I don’t want to say the pinch—of being a successful art person. But he was the token black art person on the scene. There was nobody else. It’s sort of like, for the longest time, there were token women artists like Georgia O’Keefe and Louise Bourgeois. But when you start to think of the big stars, there wasn’t anyone like him. And there was no big black artist at the time.
VF: Sometimes we didn’t have a makeup artist. The subject had to be bright white, to offset the flash. So sometimes he’d do the makeup. He was very specific about how he wanted to photograph somebody.
PW: Chris, weren’t you actually friends with Debbie before? Or as you were meeting Andy?
VF: You were the one who brought Debbie up to Andy’s studio?
PW: Debbie [Harry] and [Keith] Haring.
– How did you meet Debbie?
PW: Did you photograph her for Rolling Stone or for Circus [magazine] maybe?
CM: I don’t know… I just remember spending the blackout with her in my apartment.
VF: And we all became good friends with Debbie, and still are. I keep in contact with her.
CM: She’s so accessible–and, she’s wearing a Stephen Sprouse dress there. You can see all these little pieces of plastic…
You can check out Scene: Warhol by Makos, where the above photographs, and more, by Christopher Makos are available.
(Photos, Christopher Makos; via Paddle 8)