GAGA FOR LADY WARHOL
A Sneak Peak at CHRISTOPHER MAKOS’s New Photography Book LADY WARHOL
Christopher Makos by Tyler Malone
It was a beautiful autumn day when photographer extraordinaire Christopher Makos, after seeing Marie Havens and myself at a booksigning at BOOKMARC, took us aside and offered us an exclusive look at his new book Lady Warhol (La Fabrica, 2010). We followed him outside and down the street to his apartment: him walking his bike and offering us various insights about publishing and photography and life, us following behind, listening intently. He seemed ecstatic to be showing someone the only copy of his book, which was currently being printed, and we were equally excited to be able to get such an exclusive sneak peak. He disappeared into his apartment for a few minutes, while we waited in the still autumn air, smiling and kicking at debris on the sidewalk. We were like little kids, titillated by the prospect of seeing something no one had yet seen. It was as though we were about to uncover some buried treasure–except instead of some old pieces of eight or gold bullion, this treasure was a book of photos of Andy Warhol in women’s clothing that had remained, for the most part, unseen by the world.
Christopher Makos came out of his building with two books held tenderly in his arms. Judging by the way he cradled them, it was clear he considered these books his babies. One was Mistaken Identity: The Hilton Brothers (La Casa Encendida, 2009)–a collaboration between Paul Solberg and himself–which he offered to us as a gift, and the other was Lady Warhol, the only copy, he emphasized, in existence. He then guided us to his favorite park bench, just a short walk from his apartment, and the three of us sat down as the cars of 7th Avenue whizzed by us, and we went through the book page by page, picture by picture. The images of Lady Warhol are exquisite: so beautiful, and haunting, and raw. We knew immediately, that if Christopher Makos was willing, we would love to feature this book in PMc Magazine–and so, Christopher willing, here are some of the breathtaking photos featured in the book along with my conversation with the man behind them. Without further ado, here is Andy Warhol as Lady Warhol…
Tyler Malone: Hello, Christopher. Here at PMc Magazine, we love your new book Lady Warhol, and we were so pleased that we were some of the first people you showed it to. To start maybe you could explain a little bit about how this photoshoot took place. When and where these photographs were taken. How the shoot came about. Etc.
Christopher Makos: Andy and I wanted to collaborate on a photo project together, so we looked at a few ideas, but wanted to have a historical context, so we took the Man Ray / Duchamp project Rrose Sélavy done in 1921. Their project was very dark and moody, ours was very bright, very white. We took the photographs at 860 Broadway at 17th street which was the next to last factory that Andy had in NYC. There is currently a Petco at 860 Broadway. They were taken in a three day period in 1981.
TM: You say, in the introduction to this book, that you don’t consider these “drag photos.” You write: “I do not consider them drag photos anymore, if I ever did. They are not so. They are sort of a show and tell about identity, and changing identity, not really drag, not really Andy in drag, not really even Andy Warhol any more, but a record of a collaboration between the two of us: poser and picture taker.” What was this “collaboration” with Andy like?
CM: The collaboration with Andy is like it is with anyone that I collaborate with, whether it’s Calvin Klein, who has written the introduction and edited Exhibitionism, and did the introduction to my Polaroid book, or with Paul Solberg, with whom I have worked during the last 7 years on an ongoing project about Identity.
TM: Let’s talk for a second about Identity. Many of your photographs over the years, and the photos in Lady Warhol are no exception, seem fixated on the problem of identity. Would you agree with that statement? And do you see identity as a problem?
CM: I wouldn’t say “the problem of Identity,” but instead “the issue of Identity,” something that we can all identify with, how to dress for the day, who to be for the day, etc. Identity is not a problem, it’s a state of the human condition. Who to be today: an employee, a husband, a wife, a lover, a bus driver. “Who am I?” and to whom do I belong?
TM: Who am I? To whom do I belong? And, perhaps, another of those Identity-questions would be: Who am I influenced by? Not only was Andy a collaborator of yours, but also, it seems, an artistic hero. What other photographers and artists have influenced your personal vision and style over the years?
CM: Actually, Andy wasn’t an artistic hero for me, it was Man Ray who was more of a hero for me. If anything I was more a photographic hero for Andy. Andy always wished he was a photographer, he thought it was so much more immediate, much faster. I always remind people Andy was a friend of mine, and vice versa, we were friends before we collaborated. Other photographers and artists that influenced me: Man Ray, and Salvador Dali, and John Baldessari.
TM: What did you bring to the table and what did Andy bring to the table? And how did you two work together?
CM: Andy brought fame to the project, and I brought the sense of youth and newness. It was easy. Andy is very visual, so we both understand about subtle elements in a photo, if you look at the images, its all about the details in his hands, the face, the eyes…
TM: In so many of these photos there is a vulnerability we can see in Andy that was so rarely shown. Would you say he was “acting” vulnerable here, or “being” vulnerable? Was this vulnerability a conscious effort on his part or yours? Or was it more organic? Or something else?
CM: Andy never acted, he was always himself, acting was too hard, in the context of these photos, he was actually vulnerable, that is why these photos are so successful as photos. These are a famous artist, doing something he has never done, so his attitude is real, his emotions are real. His vulnerability was totally organic.
TM: You call these photos a “conversation” elsewhere in the book’s intro. It almost feels to the viewer as though we’re an eavesdropper on the conversation, catching bits and pieces and attempting to fill in the rest ourselves. As one of those that partook in the conversation, as opposed to us gleeful eavesdroppers lucky enough to own the book, what would you say this “conversation” was about? Or is “about” the wrong word? Are photographs “about” things?
CM: Photographs are about moments in time, those moments that we share with each other, and what we do in those moments are sometimes caught by photographers, writers, artists.
Christopher Makos is an important and iconic photographer, who once studied under Man Ray, and who collaborated with Andy Warhol. That collaboration with Andy Warhol is on display in his new book Lady Warhol (La Fabrica, 2010). Warhol once called Makos “the most modern photographer in America.”
Written by Tyler Malone
Photography by Christopher Makos
Design by Marie Havens
Andy Warhol, 860 Broadway, NYC, 1981, Photography by Christopher Makos
All photography courtesy of & by Christopher Makos, from the book Lady Warhol (La Fabrica, 2010)