Search Results

Search using the field above
Back to top
Loading previous position
Scroll to previous position
Andy Warhol
Unidentified Woman, 1980
Polaroid photograph

While many artists experimented with the potential of Polaroid as an artistic medium (including Robert Heinecken, whose Iconographic Art Lunches I wrote about in August), Warhol was particularly interested in the commercial use of the media, utilizing the BigShot camera, a rigid-body model produced in 1971 exclusively for portraiture. The BigShot was a clunky model with a fixed focal distance of only a few feet, a single-speed mechanized shutter, flash diffuser, and a fixed-focus rangefinder. This all means that Warhol was forced to move his own body in relation to the sitter to achieve focus, a physical and intimate act that disrupts the mechanized methodology so often associated with both Warhol’s process and with the Polaroid medium.

Many of Warhol’s Polaroid portraits depict famous faces from Blondie, to Caroline, Princess of Monaco, Muhammad Ali, or tennis legend John McEnroe in a family portrait with Tatum O’Neil and their newborn baby. Beyond celebrity, he often photographed wealthy socialites for commissioned silkscreens costing upwards of $25,000 (in 1970s dollars!). The work I have pulled today, unidentified woman, is representative of another large group of portraits that depict everyday people that he found interesting or beautiful. In fact, Warhol is said to have loved people— their mystery, ability to transcend, and vulnerability.

Warhol was particularly fascinated with the idea of social equality, he is famous for saying “Now it doesn’t matter if you came over on the Mayflower, so long as you can get into Studio 54… Anyone rich, powerful, beautiful, or famous can get into Society.” [2] Indeed, Pop Art in general tended toward the idea of obliterating social boundaries and the camera functioned as a leveling device. Yet as inclined toward sociality as he was, Warhol also wore his BigShot constantly, allowing it to function as intermediary and so that he wouldn’t be confronted personally by the hoi polloi.