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Andy Warhol, Grace Jones (6/1984)
Andy Warhol, Grace Jones (6/1984)Images © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. and Andy Warhol artwork © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.

Never before seen Andy Warhol photographs go on display

We speak to art collector James R. Hedges, IV about Andy Warhol: Photo Factory – a new exhibition tracing the significance of photography in the artist’s work

Andy Warhol carried a camera with him obsessively. Similarly to his tape recorder, he used this technology not only as an artistic medium and a means of documenting his life, but also as a way of negotiating the world around him. ”I think everybody should be a machine,” he famously claimed, arguably preferring to mediate intimacy and social anxiety with his lens rather than embrace the unalloyed chaos which the emotional life of humans invariably entails. 

As a compulsive image-maker, he took endless photographs of the extraordinary individuals at the Factory with his many cameras, also using the Times Square photo booth as a way of making portraits. But while Warhol’s photography provides a fascinating visual account of the cultural milieu of midcentury New York City, it’s also absolutely fundamental to his work as an artist.  

A new exhibition in Los Angeles, Andy Warhol: Photo Factory traces the development and significance of photography as an essential aspect of Warhol’s work. Curated in collaboration with Fotografiska, Hedges Projects, and Jack Shainman Gallery, the show provides a comprehensive survey of Warhol’s photographs, featuring over 120 images, 20 of which have never before been seen, including some “rare surprises” such as a silver gelatin print of Keith Haring and Dolly Parton.

“I began collecting these photographs after learning about the camera’s seminal influence within Warhol’s body of work,” explains the Hedges Project founder, James R. Hedges, IV. “This exhibition provides a scintillating introspective, especially as I consider these lesser-known stitched photos as an extension of Warhol’s raw self, one that the public has scarcely seen. Virtually every painting, print, and most works on paper began their life as a photo study. The fact is, Warhol used a camera as part of his daily social interactions over the course of four decades, it was integral to his interactions and his art-making process.”

Take a look through the gallery above for a glimpse of the photographs on display in the exhibition. Below, active art collector and patron James R. Hedges, IV talks with us about why it’s impossible to underestimate the importance of photography in Warhol’s work, the continuing allure of Warhol, and emerging image-makers we should look out for. 

Please could you talk us through what you consider the highlights of this extraordinary collection? And some of the remarkable individuals who appear in the photographs? 

James R. Hedges, IV: What is relevant about this exhibition is simply that the show provides the visitor with an encyclopedic survey of Warhol’s entire photography-based practice through six different mediums over the course of over 30 years.  No other tool was more important to the artist than the camera. Film-based works, regardless of whether 16mm films, photo booth strips, polaroids, silver gelatin prints, stitched photos, and collages, were the foundation and source material for every work of art created by the artist over the long course of his career. It is a rare stroke of good fortune to be able to see how Warhol surfed through all six film-based categories, found source material for prints and paintings etcetera, and, ultimately, a formal body of work – the stitched photographs, which showcased the lasting relevance of contemporary photography.  

In what ways do Warhol’s photographs shed new light on his practice? 

James R. Hedges, IV: Warhol was a filmmaker and photographer for his entire career. First picking up a polaroid camera in the late 1950s, Warhol used it to document his entire art-making process as well as his social circles of friends. In the 1960s, Warhol’s work expanded by using tools such as a 16mm film camera and the Times Square photo booth in order to capture new visions of his subjects, thereby removing the hand of the artist and creating through a machine – something Warhol adopted for the remainder of his career. Likewise, Warhol’s screen tests and experimental films, along with the photo booth strips, provided a new visual vocabulary for the artist, with repeated serial imagery aligned in grid-like formats, in fact replicating the film itself. During the 1970s and 80s, Warhol worked daily with a Polaroid camera (in the Factory for portrait commissions and studies) as well as with a Minox 35 mm camera used to create silver gelatin prints. It was that set of black and white images that formed the basis for his ultimate film-based works, the stitched photos of the 1980s. This culminated with the last formal gallery exhibition of his life at The Robert Miller Gallery in New York which opened in January 1987, six weeks prior to his death. 

Are there any photographs in the collection you have a particular affinity with? If so, please could you share that with us?

James R. Hedges, IV: The photo-based works of Warhol provide us with enormous insight into Warhol’s artistic process and practice. However, it also shines a light on his closest friends and deepest obsessions. The Sex Parts & Torsos series, like Ladies & Gentlemen, provide us with a lasting impression of Warhol’s interest in both classical form and queer pageantry. Finally, certain photos, of seemingly unconnected people, such as the silver gelatin print of Keith Haring and Dolly Parton, highlight some rare surprises.  

Please could you tell us more about the ‘stitched’ photographs featured in the exhibition? 

James R. Hedges, IV: Drawing on the body of work created with the 35mm camera, Warhol began to select images that he wanted to use as the basis for more formal, process-oriented, almost sculptural works – his stitched photographs. While the silver gelatin prints began being produced in 1977, Warhol came later to create the stitched images. Inspired by the mother of Factory assistant and artist in his own right, Christopher Makos, Warhol would replicate the silver gelatin prints in identical panels of four, six, or nine images and then have them sewn together with the threads hanging downward creating something that approximates his films of the 1960s. 

This body of work is most definitely the rarest and most thoughtful of all his photographs. Making only around 500 stitched photos, Warhol planned to launch photography generally and the stitched photos specifically as his next great initiative, an early harbinger of the explosion of contemporary photography which occurred in the 1990s. Warhol’s stitched works were shown in an exhibition that proved to be the last in his life. These great works showcase a breadth of subjects and themes using both historic tools and formality with a new variant of fabrication. These are, indeed, the most important works of Warhol’s film-based practice, and the veritable heir to all his prior years of experimentation with the medium.

Are there any annotations or insightful scribblings on the back of the images? 

James R. Hedges, IV: Warhol’s photographs were only rarely signed by the artist. From time to time, though, he may initial the works, even sign them. But today, the most frequent markings are simply the stamps on verso from The Estate of Andy Warhol and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, along with Foundation inventory numbers and the initials of a Factory member responsible for the sales of those works. In rare instances, there are actual date stamps which can prove remarkably helpful to identify subjects by cross-referencing with The Andy Warhol Diaries entries.  

As a collector, patron, and art lover, what draws you to Warhol? 

James R. Hedges, IV: My initial interest and attraction to Warhol’s work stem from my exposure to Interview Magazine as a young man longing to learn about life in New York City. After the initial engagement, my ongoing attraction to the artist, his world, his friends, and his artwork is found on both the breadth of the work and the subjects along with the depths of conceptual ideas articulated through his bottomless art price.  

Which emerging artists are you a fan of? Who should we look out for? 

James R. Hedges, IV: I don’t know if it’s fair to call him emerging, but young photographer Tyler Mitchell is a rising star whose works cross the lines of high art and fashion and multi-media. His photos are sumptuous, beautiful depictions of mostly black subjects elevating their activities and informing their beauty in a very classical manner.

Andy Warhol: Photo Factory is on view at NeueHouse Hollywood from June 16 until July 9 2021, before travelling to Fotografiska New York later this year, and on to Fotografiska Stockholm and Tallinn in 2022 and 2023