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Pop goes the Polaroid

TASCHEN Editor Reuel Golden talks us through Andy Warhol’s fascinating instant picture collection

Divine, 1974
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Divine, 1974
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Candy Darling, 1969
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Candy Darling, 1969
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Jean-Michel Basquiat, 1983
© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Tell us about this new book Andy Warhol Polaroids. How did the project develop?

We’ve always had an excellent relationship with the Andy Warhol Foundation, which started with our book on Andy for our Basic Art series. Michael Hermann at the AWF and Marlene Taschen began discussing a new, major project and landed on the idea of a definitive book of Andy’s Polaroids. TASCHEN has already produced books on Helmut Newton’s Polaroids and the Polaroid Corporation's own collection, so we have experience with, and much love for, the aesthetics of classic instant film.

What period do the Polaroids cover?

The book is chronological so the Polaroids reveal how Warhol developed (to use a bad pun) as an artist and a person. The book starts in the late 1950s with some very rare black and white pictures, and then moves to the 1960s and the whole Factory scene. By the early 1970s, Warhol starts moving amongst the high society jet set and we see him in Venice, Montauk, and other exotic locations. These outdoor Polaroids are some of my favorite in the book. They are not only virtually unseen, but they also show a different, more relaxed Andy. From the mid 1970s until his death in 1987, Warhol was obsessively photographing everything and everyone. He could get particularly focused on a particular subject like cabbage patch dolls and shoot them from every angle. These shots aren’t all so individually compelling, but they reveal Warhol’s relentless quest for perfection and his obsessive interest in other people, such as fellow artist Jean-Michel Basquiat. Their relationship is so intriguing both personally and artistically that we’re now planning another book on their close connection.


How do you see the Polaroid portfolio in relation to the rest of Warhol’s work?

In some instances the Polaroids were a key component of his famous silkscreen paintings. He also used Polaroids to help with his commercial assignments, for example when he worked on his famous campaign for Absolut Vodka, and for private commissions of patrons and Upper East Side types. Warhol didn’t want a clear demarcation between his personal life and his work or between high and low culture, and the Polaroid camera is a perfect tool for that blurring of boundaries. He would shoot an important collector in the day and in the evening he would be photographing nude male hustlers.


How would you compare and contrast instant Polaroid photography with the Instagram images of today?

From a technical point of view, the Polaroid was more clunky and expensive and, being film, had only a certain number of shots available to the user. I think that sense of each shot having to count gives a Polaroid image something momentous and beautiful. At the same time, a fascinating element of this book is Andy’s futurist use of the instant picture which in many ways anticipated the age of Instagram. The ways in which photography is used by Warhol to project a personal narrative or “brand” is really an early form of social media.

Do you have a favorite image in the collection?

As well as the outdoor shots that I mentioned above, it has to be Andy’s self-portraits. Step aside Kim Kardashian, it’s Andy who invented the selfie! Yet unlike her, he wasn’t afraid to shoot himself looking vulnerable, in drag, getting older, despondent. This is Andy at his most human and exposed, showing us how he really sees himself.