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Edo Bertoglio's New Film Face Addict

A photographer's documentary about art and life in Factory-era New York.

When Edo Bertoglio came to New York in 1976, he was a young film student looking for a ring flash for his Leica and a good time. When he left in 1990, he was a celebrated artist and staff photographer on Interview Magazine, having been part of the downtown scene – the hedonistic circle of freaks, artists, musicians, writers and whatevers vaguely orbiting around Andy Warhol’s Factory. He’d also become a heroin addict, pawning everything bar his two chests of negatives – pictures of friends and lovers, many of whom never survived the AIDs and OD epidemic that swept through the scene. After fifteen years in Italy, he decided to make the trip back to the rotten apple to connect the pictures in his archive to the faces of those who survived. Face Addict, out this week, is the film he made on the trip: a remarkable document – part confessional memoir, part art history – of a remarkable time.

Dazed Digital: Tell us about the film.
Edo Bertoglio: Face Addict was shot over two or three trips to New York. I lived in New York for 14 years from 1976 to 1990, and I had the privilege to work for Andy Warhol’s Interview, in the beautiful time that was the “downtown scene”. Unfortunately by 1982, 1983, the community started to be wounded by heavy drug use and the AIDs, overdoses, so the lightening flash lasted for 4 years, the really good years from 78 to 82. With the film I wanted to see how my friends rebuilt their lives. We were all survivors, in a way.

DD: You came to New York in 1976 from Paris. What was it like, falling out into this crowd?
EB: It was a great time because there were so many artists living close together geographically, and the music was what tied us every evening together. There was no difference between playtime and work – it was nice, “serious fun”, because we were having so much fun doing our thing with movies, pictures, painting, writing, music. There was a lot of creativity, but as a community not as individuals

DD: It most of been very exciting for you, as a photographer.
EB: I’d meet people and say, 'Can you come to my studio in the morning the way that you are dressed now?' This was long before stylists and so on: it was just the way that you saw the world and showing that to other people on the scene. Young people had come out of the early seventies, and people were not caring about clothes: not hippies, but jeans and all that. But in that scene, there was a real effort to look special.

DD: Today, the downtown scene is held up as this creative Mecca: were you conscious that what you were doing was going to have such a lasting impact?
EB: When we shot 'Downtown ‘81', the original guy was not reliable, so the director was like, Why don’t we take this young kid called Jean-Michael Basquiat? He was a star in that little, little corner of New York but we didn’t have this idea that he was this big star of the world. We were living so much for the moment, for the day – we were so busy underlining the importance for us, but not as a thing we could read the signs of in the future.

DD: When did this change?
EB: The DIY scene got bigger and bigger and got fashionable, but that’s where it started to go wrong, because the core of the downtown scene dropped off, because of AIDs or drugs, or just because everything going so fast all of the people there at the beginning little by little fell at the waysides. No… heavy drug use in '82 was what destroyed the whole thing. Suddenly a lot of people got big problems. For really a little while, for the space of a morning, drugs helped the creativity, made us even more prodigious, more dynamic, and because were sharing and we were discussing; we really thought that we could go on like this and we could maintain this habit; but when it became a habit, it was not so important to paint that painting: what was important was to go out and get drugs. For such an experience there is a very high price to pay, you know and we did pay a high price. I was the lucky ones, but many, many of us are not here now. That’s why I call Face Addict a survivor’s film.

Face Addict, sponsored by CP Company, is out now.