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Maripol’s best shot

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The polaroid legend looks back on shooting Warhol, Basquiat and Madonna

Taken from the August 2009 issue of Dazed:

“When I was 16 I was put into a boarding school. I was pretty much independent after that. I never really knew what my father did – he lived in Saudi Arabia and worked in military secrets. I do remember visiting him when I was 17 and having the best summer, even though I used to be slapped by the military police just for being sleeveless. 

I would go to Paris a lot and met Edo (Bertoglio) through a friend of mine who said, ‘Come, there is a really cute Italian living in the house.’ He opened the door and completely fell in love with me. Or rather he had plans to use me as an object for his photography! 

We were both in separate relationships, but we fell in love and ran away to America when I was 20. New York was completely bankrupt back then. I don’t even know why my parents let me go. I was in Beaux-Arts school, which, of course, I did not finish. New York became my education, my school. It was great, back in those days you could see people like Andy Warhol running down the street in Soho. 

I started taking Polaroids of people like Blondie and Bianca Jagger. Blondie already had a name, but most of them weren’t celebrities at the time – they became celebrities after. Taking Polaroids, I could have had a book full of celebrities, but my plan wasn’t to take pictures of famous people and make money out of it. Back then, Polaroid was not accessible to everyone and people weren’t really into documenting what was happening, except for photographers like Nan Goldin

When I came to New York, I was coming out of art school, so I was more like an artist and a stylist making accessories. You could never find anything for people in fashion, so I would create all the stuff. One day I was picked up by a girl from Fiorucci. When I was 24, they sent me a ticket to go around the world and come back with ideas.

Edo and I always had in the back of our minds that we were going to do a documentary (Downtown 81). I think because we were Europeans, we didn’t have the same vision as everybody else. Everything was going really fast and I knew that it wasn’t going to last too long. Glenn O’Brien wrote the script, and Basquiat was the protagonist. It was supposed to be somebody else, but Basquiat came to the casting call instead, which was a shock. I think Jean-Michel saw the opportunity and was like, ‘What the fuck? He doesn’t want to come, I’m going.’ Glenn realised that the story around Jean-Michel was way more interesting. He even lived with us for a while. We shot it in the winter of 1981. 

We had the money to finish it, but then Rizzoli USA got into a scandal within their company. It was a blue-collar kind of crime, and we became victims of it. We got very disgusted with it all and never finished the film. We had the rough cut but that was lost too. Jean-Michel, before he died, was ready to give me his money to finish it. He felt that it would have rehabilitated him in the eyes of some art critics.

In 1983 Madonna came to see me with Martin Burgoyne, our art director, for her first album cover. I was hired, but in a friendly way, like, ‘Let’s get together and make some pictures.’ The photographs were rejected but they eventually turned into the black and white shots with all the jewellery styling.

When the Twin Towers fell, I decided to start taking pictures with a large Polaroid, the 24x30. So now I am archiving the old and trying to show the new. I’m looking forward to a retrospective at the Melet Mercantile in Montauk.” 

NOTES ON MARIPOL

Maripol Foque was born on May 14, 1947. Edo Bertoglio was a photographer for Italian Vogue and Andy Warhol’s Interview. He directed Downtown 81. PowerHouse Books published Maripolarama in 2005, a collection of Maripol’s snapshots taken with a Polaroid SX-70 during the early 1980s. Maripol eventually became art director for the legendary Fiorucci boutique. Originally entitled New York Beat, Downtown 81 eventually premiered at the 2000 Festival de Cannes. Glenn O’Brien hosted the public access programme TV Party from 1978-82. Maripol engineered the iconic look of rubber bracelets and gaudy Catholic jewellery that defined Madonna’s initial image.

Read our head to head with Maripol and Claire Barrow here

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