Life & Culture

Inside Warhol’s Photographic Diaries: Basquiat, Debbie Harry, and More

A new exhibition reveals Warhol as an obsessive photographer who shot over 3,600 rolls of film on his trusty Minox 35EL camera

In 1976, Andy Warhol began using a Minox 35EL camera to document his world – much in the same way he would call Pat Hackett every morning to report and record the previous day’s activities. Taking his camera wherever he went, Warhol shot over 3,600 rolls of film for an impressive total of 130,000 exposures over the following years, creating a meticulous record of New York City during its most decadent era. Through these images, we encounter the luminaries of the day including Jean-Michel Basquiat, Grace Jones, Debbie Harry, Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Halston, Elizabeth Taylor, and Diane Von Furstenberg, with whom he seamlessly blended work and play.

In 2014, the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University was chosen as the permanent home for the Andy Warhol Photography Archive, selections from which are currently on view in the new exhibition Contact Warhol: Photography Without End and its accompanying catalogue from The MIT Press. Here, project archivist Amy DiPasquale takes us on a deep dive inside the days and nights of Andy Warhol during the last 11 years of his life.

“This is a visual counterpoint to The Andy Warhol Diaries. There was often no information on the photographs, just the dates, so I used The Diaries a lot; I could often match up what he was seeing with what he talked about on that day. The kind of knowledge I needed to know was to identify Pia Zadora [laughs]. It’s a different kind of knowledge that you need than in a usual museum cataloguing job.

When Warhol left his townhouse in the morning on the Upper East Side, he immediately started photographing on the street and in the cab ride down to Union Square. From there, he went to 860 Broadway, the third Factory, and photographed the people who worked there, like Brigid Berlin, Fred Hughes, and Rupert Smith, his printer – as well as people who stopped by like Jessica Lange or The Rolling Stones.

The archive is also a time capsule for New York City at that time. Andy was in the West Village in a convertible and he took a great shot right outside the Ramrod on Christopher Street, and guys hanging out outside. We have the burlesque shows in Times Square and street performers outside the New York Public Library. He would go to Area in the 80s and photograph people like John Sex, Bernard Zette, and Jean-Paul Gaultier.

One of my favourite things is the behind the scenes portrait photo shoots. We have a contact sheet of Liza Minnelli and Victor Hugo, who was Halston’s boyfriend and one of Warhol’s companions; at some point during the shoot, John Lennon just happens to stop by. It really captures the behind the scenes crazy daily life at the Factory.”

Contact Warhol: Photography Without End is on view at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University, California, through January 6, 2019