Resurfaced pictures from Andy Warhol’s modelling portfolio
by Douglas Greenwood
24 February 2022, 4:40am
Photographer Christopher Makos has released a new book that compiles the artist’s modelling pictures for the very first time.
The photographer Christopher Makos and Andy Warhol were prolific collaborators before the latter’s death in 1987. They were close friends and admirers of each other’s work — Warhol learned his skills behind the camera from Christopher, and the two spent a decade or more together, in The Factory taking pictures, crossing continents, and meeting some of the most iconic artists of the era, like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring.
But there was time, amongst this madness, where all that existed was the camera, a studio, and these two people playing pared back games of make believe, leaning into Warhol’s penchant for posing for the camera. Yes, Warhol might be known best as an artist, a prolific publisher and filmmaker, but he was a professional model alongside those things. Christopher’s new book, Andy Modeling Portfolio Makos compiles these images, shot over a 10-year period during Warhol’s creative and cultural peak. Comprising eight different scenarios, each one presented in chronological order of their shooting, we see Warhol in a Chinese Maoist outfit, posing with an archetypal hunk in preppy jeans and a roll neck, and as a geeked out, spikey-haired character.
They act as timestamps in Warhol’s life, his relationship with his own image (hence the ever changing hairstyles), and his relationship with Christopher Makos, who revisited the images while consulting Ryan Murphy on The Warhol Diaries, a Netflix documentary series coming next month. Below, alongside pictures of the so-called ‘Sprouse Look’, Christopher reflects on that time period and the significance of the art they made together.
What was the starting point for this book’s creation?
This book came about because, for one, I found out that Ryan Murphy and Netflix was going to do this documentary on the Warhol diaries. I thought it would be an appropriate time to look at these pictures and see if there’s something that would [be important to] it.
Everybody knows Andy Warhol for his paintings, or his publishing career with his magazine, but I realised nobody knows Andy was a professional model. I thought this would be a good moment to do that, and when I looked at them, this portfolio emerged.
In the book’s introduction, you mention the idea of Andy's "body language and attitude" changing as time progressed with these pictures. When you think of Andy, do you think of him as a constant or metamorphic figure?
The basic core of Andy Warhol was always there. That person, that insecure young man who came from Pittsburgh, that outsider. That was his core. Clearly, coming to New York completely changes you. With Andy, that insecure person was always still there. He got less insecure as time went on, but so much of that body language, when you look at the pictures in the book, it’s like he didn’t know what to do with his hands. And after I was looking at the documentary, I realised I was giving him instructions [on what] to do with his hands.
In one scenario, I said to Andy, ‘Can you make them a little more elegant?’ He was awkward, he wasn't your typical model. So what do you do? For him it wasn’t about a smouldering facial impression. It was about the totality of his body language, and how he was going to look in front of the camera.
The changes in this series are mostly subtle — changes of clothing, hairstyles. When shooting Andy, was the focus always on Andy, or did the garments or props take priority?
Andy was always the focus. It’s like the popsicle that comes in different flavours. He was always the popsicle, we just had to figure out what flavour he was going to be that day. He had a very serious [demeanour] as a model. People always want a famous person endorsing their products, and it’s kind of different today. At one point he said to me, ‘Gee, I hope I'm not taking modelling jobs away from other guys’. Andy was always in that category of Special Bookings. He was quite famous then, so was perfect for special bookings, unlike today. Young people can be on Instagram and TikTok can make themselves a brand.
The world has changed a lot since then, in terms of how celebrity drives commerce, and how an average person now can become a celebrity for not doing much at all. It’s sort of like, in today’s world, if you have two identical models, they might be a great looking boy or a great looking girl, and one of them has over a million followers and the other has none, the corporation is going to go with the person of having a million followers.
In the case of Andy, he didn’t have a million followers but he had a certain kind of recognition that would drive traffic to whatever he was endorsing.
Was there a shoot or an image that didn’t make the final cut for the book?
You know, all models all have portfolios, and so we weren't really going after anything in particular. The thing with me is, I never really try to change people. I like directing them in a way they’re comfortable, because you often get the best imagery from people when you allow them to be themselves. So on all of these different shoots, those things were not done for anything specific.
For the first shoot [in the book], Andy is wearing a bowtie, and in a couple of shots he’s with a female model. In a few others he’s with John Samuels, an actor from Los Angeles. It was to show that he could work with others in the photoshoot. We were never going after specifics, more general pictures that, if a client were looking at them, would see what he was capable of.
Do you have particular images that you consider favourites?
The Sprouse pictures were some of my favourites, because he really was the loosest he’d been in all of the shoots. Some of my others are the portraits, because that’s where he looked best. If you look at the beginning of the book, there’s a shot where he’s holding his hands up. I was so surprised at how perfectly manicured his hands were. Those are the hands of someone who’s changed pop art forever.
If you look at the history of [these images] over 10 years, during which I was his friend and we worked together at The Factory, you can see the history of the haircuts and the different looks as time passes. The first I’d consider quite preppy, and the last ones I would say are much more, um, Tina Turner! In a masculine way. They look very cool. He was finally free enough to be that person. Comfortable enough in his own skin.
When you look at these images now, what feelings do they conjure up?
You know, I would live in the moment back then. I would do [these shoots] and then sometimes I’d publish the images or maybe file them away. It’s been a treat to revisit history, my own personal history, and to realise this was going on and I’d barely realised it. I’m happy to share them now. It’s a little known story.
Andy Modeling Portfolio Makos by Christopher Makos will be released on 29 March 2022 by G Editions. An exhibition of Christopher Makos' work, Money, will take place at the Daniel Cooney Fine Art gallery in New York on 5 May, and in Los Angeles at the Fahey Klein Gallery on 29 September.