Andy Warhol: model
Photographer Chris Makos shares rare stories from his fabled photoshoots with Andy Warhol
By J.L. Sirisuk | Art | 29 March 2022
Artist, publisher, filmmaker… model. A new photo book is set for release this month spotlighting the only collection of images featuring Andy Warhol as a model, captured by the trusted lens of his collaborator and close friend of a decade, the world-renowned photographer Chris Makos.
It was after Makos moved to New York from Southern California that he found himself in Warhol’s inner circle – in a world of figures who would shape culture and emblazon it with their own distinct mark – and from David Bowie to Salvador Dali, Makos immortalised an era with each photo he took. But his muse and confidante, the individual who spoke a shared creative language, was Andy Warhol.
Collating together for the first time as part of a special new publication titled Andy Modeling Portfolio Makos, through eight different periods – ‘76 to ‘86 – we see various iterations of Warhol as he models for Makos, gradually becoming more secure with his movement and sense of self. “I let Andy express himself and be who he wanted to be and who he was,” Makos tells us below. Arranged in chronological order from particular contact sheets, we’re able to follow the progression of Warhol’s attitude and body language: from American and British preppy looks to wearing turtlenecks in the 80s – his hair and confidence growing in tandem.
Reflected in the photos is a deep trust, an openness to be captured outside of social settings and in a private space. The more time spent with someone, the more likely subtleties in behaviour are captured, and with Warhol and Makos we see the unique visual expression of a private language developed over the course of a decade.
J.L. Sirisuk: You have a lot of exciting things coming up, and congratulations on the book. I know you’ve recounted this previously but what can you share about meeting Andy?
Christopher Makos: I wasn’t really impressed. I know that sounds crazy, I was just fresh off the boat from Southern California and Andy [Warhol] asked me if I wanted to come to Max’s Kansas City to hang out, but I didn’t want to. It just wasn’t my scene. I came here from Southern California, so for me if he said, “Would you like to go to the beach or go to Montauk or something,” I probably would have said fine. But it didn’t appeal to me go to go Max’s. Dotson Rader the writer, he took me to a Whitney event for a Warhol show and that’s how I met him. Then I had a show in 1976 at a gallery on Broome Street where all the photographs were on the floor. It was covered in plexiglass and there was nothing on the walls, the show was called Step On It. I called up to see if Andy wanted to come and see it but he sent Bob Colacello who was then editor of Interview Magazine. Bob really liked the show and said, “Why don’t you come and see The Factory and meet Andy there, maybe you can do some shoots for Interview.” That’s how we ultimately met and became good friends up until he went to the other side.
JLS: You spent a lot of time with Andy and he obviously trusted you very much. What can you share about the conception of the photoshoots?
CM: It’s really a fashion book because it’s about Andy. There are basically eight photoshoots here. The Sony Corporation came to Andy when they were promoting a brand of TV or a Beta Max system and the business manager didn’t know how to price it. There were a lot of snapshots of Andy out there, but no dedicated photoshoots so we said, “Let’s put together some photoshoots.”
So these eight photoshoots are to get a serious portfolio of Andy modelling. They became two things at the time, a collaboration between me and Warhol and also his modelling portfolio. Some of these pictures have never been seen before, especially the ones from the very first shoot which is called The Model, and it’s with people like actor John Samuels. If you look at the different chapters, whenever I could get Andy with someone, it was like, “How are you going to get Andy to act with somebody else in a modelling setting?” If you look very closely at the book, you need to see the body language and look at Andy’s hands. He didn’t know what to do with his hands, so there’s always something going on with them. At the very beginning of the book, there’s a picture of his hands and I didn’t realise how beautifully manicured they were – revisiting these pictures, I didn’t remember his hands being that perfect. Every chapter begins with an outtake from the contact sheet where it’s marked up. You get to see some of the contact sheets from which the pictures were drawn.
JLS: And over what span of time were the photos taken?
CM: The entire ten years I knew him, from ‘76 to ‘86.
“Everyone knows Andy as a painter, as an author, as a filmmaker as an artist – he had all these different careers, but no one ever saw this side of him as a model.”
JLS: Why do you think Andy trusted you so much?
CM: We just had this rapport, and we’re both Catholic boys so we understood every element of where we came from and who we were. When he saw the kind of pictures I took, he saw insightfulness in what I did with the pictures. He wanted to participate in a collaborative sense. That led him to trust, and I usually portrayed Andy in the best light. If you look at the way the lighting is in most of his pictures, they’re kind of half-lit, simply lit, very clean and to the point. I let Andy express himself and be who he wanted to be – who he was.
JLS: You mention his hands and how he didn’t know what to do with them. Did you feel him become comfortable with you over time?
CM: The trust level gets better and better over time when you shoot with the same person a lot. When you’re a professional model you know exactly how to be in front of the camera but Andy wasn’t, so he was kind of learning on the job. Everyone knows Andy as a painter, as an author, as a filmmaker as an artist – he had all these different careers, but no one ever saw this side of him as a model. That’s why this book is unique and special. People have seen bits and pieces of these pictures throughout the last twenty years, but a lot of this material they haven’t seen.
JLS: Do you have any special stories you want to share, any moments on set?
CM: There are some photos in the chapter called The Sprouse Look where [you can see the] evolution of Andy’s hairstyles, at the very beginning they’re quite subdued. If you look closely you’ll see he’s wearing a crystal, I was asking Andy, “What’s that crystal?” At the time that was all the rage, the energy from crystals and stuff. He had several crystals he felt he was getting energy from and I remember he asked for some of the crystals when he was boiling the water for his oatmeal and different things. He’d put the crystals in the water to see if they could get energy. I said, “Wow, is this what happens when you get older and you don’t know what to do with things – do you take things like this and boil them?” I was so surprised, I didn’t want to call it irrational, but it just wasn’t what I thought of Andy. It was just so different. Not that I think that stuff is hocus pocus, it isn’t. I believe in a lot of that stuff, but he seemed so much more pragmatic to me than that, so I was a little surprised.
What I see is the body language I completely forgot about. Andy’s public appearance and his public persona were so key to the way he looked. He didn’t smile much, but it was all just a play on what was going on, so doing this book was a reminder of that. I wasn’t planning on doing this book but then I started working with Andrew Rossi who is the director of the Netflix documentary [The Andy Warhol Diaries] and Stacey Reiss who is the Executive Producer. Working with them reminded me that this is the perfect time to do another book of Andy. I was kind of done with doing books – not done, but I didn’t see a new take on the subject. Of course they reminded me that I had these images because I licensed a lot of material for the documentary, so you will see some of these pictures in the documentary, which I am really happy about.
“I let Andy express himself and be who he wanted to be and who he was.”
JLS: Over the course of your friendship, what do you think you and Andy learned from each other?
CM: I learned how to be a businessman around him, and I think he learned more about how to be a photographer. And in this case, maybe he learned how to be a model.
JLS: How do you feel when you look through the book?
CM: I really love the book. When you get the book, it’s shrink-wrapped with a red belly band around it. I didn’t want to put any text on the book at all because once you take the wapping off and the belly band, which has the information and the barcodes, you just have the picture of Andy. You can just leave the book sitting around anywhere and it’s a piece of movable art, like a thick photograph. My language is photography, I speak through my photographs, and this is one of those things where I’m really making a big speech. I’m making a big remark about what I’m doing with my pictures, especially these pictures of Warhol.
JLS: What do you hope the people take from the book?
CM: Look at this artist. There are exhibitions of Andy’s work happening almost all the time, anywhere in the world and it’s this idea of consistency. Especially if you’re an artist or a wannabe artist or just want to learn how to express yourself. The idea of consistency is so important. Believe in yourself in the way that Warhol did and the way I absolutely did. If you believe in yourself, how to love yourself, you will be free to love others. You’ll be free to be the person that you really need to be, and who you believe you are.