Beginning in the 1960s, Warhol carried a camera with him almost constantly, obsessively documenting both his personal life and the daily goings on in his studio, The Factory. These images, artworks in their own right, also acted as visual references and formed the basis of many of the artist’s drawings, silkscreens, and paintings. Highlighting the integral contribution of photography to his art-making process, Warhol referred to his Polaroid Big Shot camera (which he purchased in 1970) as his “pencil and paper.”
Taken between 1974 and 1985, the works feature notable figures such as Liza Minnelli, Muhammad Ali, Bianca Jagger, Dolly Parton, Debbie Harry, and Robert Mapplethorpe, as well as a selection of self-portraits. Bringing together some of the most recognizable faces of an era, the exhibition illuminates Warhol’s longstanding fascination with celebrities and famous movie stars—a motif that went on to define his oeuvre. Warhol was sensitively attuned to the potential of the image—in particular, photography—to shape meaning and to both reflect and reaffirm the wider cultural obsessions of the American public.
Warhol’s fascination with the transience of consumer and popular culture, as well as his concern with appearances and representation, make the polaroid a fitting medium. Notoriously socially awkward, Warhol could use the camera to mediate his interaction with the world, helping him balance between inclusion and exclusion. These works, developed instantaneously, were born in a particular place and moment in time. Their rarity, coupled with the dwindling production of Polaroid film, capture a crucial period in Warhol's practice and recall a nostalgic moment in the history of photography.