Andy Warhol’s 85 Polaroid Portraits: Mick Jagger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simpson & Many Others (1970–1987)

warhol polaroids

Polaroid pho­tog­ra­phy, which looked about to fade out for­ev­er for a while there, has in recent years made a come­back. Chalk it up, if you must, to a grand revalu­ing wave of the phys­i­cal­ly ana­log in our age of dig­i­tal ephemer­al­i­ty — the same tide on which enthu­si­asm for vinyl, zines, and even VHS tapes has risen again. But we must acknowl­edge that Andy Warhol, in a sense, got there first. It hard­ly counts as the only mat­ter on which the mas­ter­mind of the Fac­to­ry showed pre­science; take, for instance, his quip about every­one in the future get­ting fif­teen min­utes of fame, a pre­dic­tion which, as Jonathan Lethem put it, has in our present hard­ened into “drab pro­ces­sion­al.” Some of these very 21st-cen­tu­ry peo­ple now enjoy­ing (or endur­ing) their own fif­teen min­utes — most of them pre­sum­ably not even born with­in Warhol’s life­time — sure­ly keep a Polaroid cam­era at hand. They acknowl­edge, on some lev­el, what the con­sum­mate 20th-cen­tu­ry “pop artist” sensed: that the osten­si­bly cheap and dis­pos­able, includ­ing self-devel­op­ing film used for untrained vaca­tion snap­shots and mere ref­er­ence mate­r­i­al for “real” works of art, has its own kind of per­ma­nence.

Here we have a selec­tion of Warhol’s own works of Polaroid pho­tog­ra­phy, a medi­um he took up around 1970 and used to fur­ther his inter­est in por­trai­ture. The Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley Art Muse­um, just one of the insti­tu­tions to put them on dis­play, says that “these images often served as the basis for his com­mis­sioned por­traits, silk-screen paint­ings, draw­ings, and prints.” The wide sub­set they showed “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.” Whether of Mick Jag­ger, Yoko Ono, O.J. Simp­son, Deb­bie Har­ry, him­self, a row of bananas, or some­one faint­ly rec­og­niz­able yet ulti­mate­ly unnam­able, each of Warhol’s Polaroids remains “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.”

You can see at least 85 of Warhol’s polaroid por­traits at a site called These Amer­i­cans.

Now what would Warhol, a known ear­ly enthu­si­ast of com­put­er art, have said about the arrival of Insta­gram fil­ters meant to make our instan­ta­neous, high-res­o­lu­tion dig­i­tal pho­tos look like Polaroids again?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Andy Warhol Dig­i­tal­ly Paints Deb­bie Har­ry with the Ami­ga 1000 Com­put­er (1985)

Andy Warhol’s Lost Com­put­er Art Found on 30-Year-Old Flop­py Disks

The Mas­ter­ful Polaroid Pic­tures Tak­en by Film­mak­er Andrei Tarkovsky

Watch Lau­rence Olivi­er, Liv Ull­mann and Christo­pher Plummer’s Clas­sic Polaroid Ads

Ital­ian Pho­tog­ra­ph­er Mau­r­izio Gal­im­ber­ti Cre­ates Cubist Polaroid Col­lages of Artists & Celebri­ties

A Cel­e­bra­tion of Retro Media: Vinyl, Cas­settes, VHS, and Polaroid Too

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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