I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty.—Andy Warhol
From 1970 to 1987 Andy Warhol took scores of Polaroid and black-and-white photographs, the vast majority of which were never seen by the public. These images often served as the basis for his commissioned portraits, silk-screen paintings, drawings, and prints. In 2007, to commemorate its twentieth anniversary, the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts launched the Andy Warhol Photographic Legacy Program. Designed to give a broad public greater access to Warhol’s photographs, the program donated over 28,500 of Warhol’s original Polaroids and gelatin silver prints to more than 180 college and university museums and galleries across the country. Each institution received a curated selection of over one hundred Polaroids and fifty black-and-white prints.
This January BAM/PFA is proud to present selected Polaroids drawn from this extraordinary gift of the Warhol Foundation to the museum. The group reveals that superstars were not the only figures that Warhol photographed with his Polaroid Big Shot, the distinct plastic camera he used for the majority of his sittings. Over half of those who sat for him were little known or remain unidentified.
The number of images he took at each session varied as greatly as the figures he photographed. Repetition, a recurring motif in Warhol’s paintings, plays both a conceptual and practical role in his photography. By making several Polaroids, he had more material from which to work. By shooting at length, more about the sitter was exposed. Seen all together, the Polaroids destabilize the iconic status that a Warhol image assumes when displayed singly. On its own, a Polaroid image is fully identified with the artwork that ultimately grew out of it; the face depicted becomes a kind of signifier for larger cultural concepts of beauty, power, and worth.