The Photographers Who Captured the Misfits, Drag Queens, and Starlets of Warhol’s Factory
Andy Warhol’s Factory is the stuff of New York lore, symbolizing a lost post-war period when a group of counterculture misfits came together in a bastion of artistic experimentation and debauchery. First located on East 47th Street, it began in 1963 as the Pop artist’s studio space, taking its name from the employees who produced Warhol’s silkscreens and lithographs (as though working on a factory assembly line). But it came to generate and signify much more: There are Warhol’s films and screen tests, and their Andy-anointed superstars, Baby Jane Holzer and Edie Sedgwick among them; the legendary parties and nights out at Studio 54 and Max’s Kansas City; and Warhol’s seeming magnetic pull over a rotating cast of visual artists, musicians, drag queens, and writers alike. The Factory survived three location changes and a failed murder attempt against its leader, and in the end came to a close in 1987, the year of Warhol’s untimely death.
While there’s criticism to be lodged against the Factory’s definition of inclusivity—despite its embrace of gay and trans artists, the community was largely white, and most of the photographers who documented it were male—we still find ourselves drawn to the images and artists who got caught up in the whirlwind that was Warhol.
Hervé Gloaguen is one of the few foreign photographers who documented Warhol and his Factory compatriots, and the artist’s distance from his subjects shows. He first traveled to New York from Paris in 1965 while on assignment for the French publication Réalités, and regularly returned to photograph over the ensuing six years. His dispatches lovingly captured the city’s experimental artists, including a spotted Yayoi Kusama on the streets of downtown New York and the Factory clique. When Gloaguen lensed Warhol, it was the quintessential “cool” Warhol: He’s seen posing with The Velvet Underground; on the set of one of his films, nonchalantly draped over a tripod; and alone, dutifully making his well-known banana works. This is Warhol at his most idyllic, depicted as a sought-after creator.
When Nat Finkelstein walked into the Factory in 1964, it was to party, not to shoot. Finkelstein was a young, New York-bred photographer documenting his city’s counterculture. But upon meeting Warhol, who had seen a Claes Oldenburg story that Finkelstein shot for Pageant magazine, he became the informal house photographer of the Factory until 1967. His raw photojournalistic style—honed while shooting political figures, civil rights protests, and anti-war rallies—took on a snapshot aesthetic. “These unposed images were made when Andy Warhol et al. were people, not products; young artists, not celebratees [sic],” Finkelstein once wrote of the three years that, in large part, came to define his career. He also offered a warning: “Enjoy, but don’t venerate.”
Stephen Shore’s career started simply: by asking for what he wanted. At age 14, he put in a call into Edward Steichen, the photography director of the Museum of Modern Art, and convinced him to purchase three of his photographs for the museum’s permanent collection. And at age 17, in 1965, he strolled up to Warhol and asked if he could photograph the Factory. A month later, he was shooting black-and-white 35mm photographs on the set of a Warhol film, Restaurant. Like Finkelstein, Shore continued to visit the Factory for three years, from 1965 to 1968. His largely routine depictions of its happenings are more personal than that of other documentarians; he was less interested in glamour than in the daily reality of this particular set of artists, including Sedgwick, Lou Reed, Yoko Ono, and Nico. Shore credits Warhol’s use of serial imagery with informing his own sense of sequence—a critical skill for an artist whose format is often the photobook.
Brigid Berlin, who famously appeared in Warhol’s 1969 film Chelsea Girls shooting up amphetamines (and was dubbed Brigid “Polk” for that very needle-poking habit), was one of Warhol’s closest confidantes. She also worked as the receptionist at the Factory. Her father, the then-CEO of Hearst, and her mother, a New York socialite, raised her to be a polite society girl, but she found a home for her rebellious nature as a Warhol superstar. Although Berlin appeared in multiple films of Warhol’s (and later, those of John Waters), she never considered herself an artist. She routinely logged her milieu at the Factory with a tape recorder (she transcribed many of Interview magazine’s Q&As after its launch in 1969) and a Polaroid 360, experimenting with close-ups, double exposure, and self-portraiture—frequently in the nude. In the introduction to her 2015 book Brigid Berlin: Polaroids, Bob Colacello, the one-time editor of Interview, ascribed Berlin’s desire to capture her untamed lifestyle to a revolt against her parents. “Brigid’s need to rebel has always been matched by her need to document her rebelliousness, and the overlapping of these two compulsions is what gives her work meaning beyond its curiosity value,” he wrote. “In recording life, she captured our times.”
The famed silvery aesthetic of Warhol’s first Factory (fittingly known as the Silver Factory) was the work of Billy Name. Born William Linich Jr., Name was a waiter at Manhattan’s Serendipity 3 in 1959 when he met Warhol, a regular, and the two struck up a friendship. The son of a barber, Name was known for his talent with scissors, and invited Warhol to a hair-cutting soirée at his Lower Manhattan apartment, which he had coated in silver aluminum foil and paint. Warhol, enamored with the décor—and with Name, who became his lover—invited the artist to give his studio the same visual treatment.
Name was perhaps the steadiest fixture at the Factory alongside artist Brigid Berlin, and lived there from 1964 to 1970. He once described himself as “the foreman of the Factory,” and acted as its in-house photographer after Warhol gifted him a Pentax camera in 1963. Name’s high-contrast images of The Velvet Underground, Sedgwick, Susan Bottomly, and other stars were that of an insider with full access—capturing both work and play. He was even present in 1968 when Warhol was shot by writer Valerie Solanas; Name emerged from the in-house darkroom to find Warhol bleeding on the Factory’s floor. Name departed the Factory only two years later in 1970. He left a note on the darkroom door that read: “Dear Andy, I am not here any more, but I am fine. Really. With love, Billy.”
Progressive Architecture magazine first commissioned Timothy Hursley to shoot the Factory when Warhol purchased its final location, a former Con Edison factory on East 33rd Street and Madison Avenue. The move was an effort to accommodate Interview magazine’s growing offices and Warhol’s own storage requirements. Warhol moved into the vast space in 1984 after renovating it, and Hursley, an architectural photographer, shot its dynamic rooms and guests, which included actress Bianca Jagger and artist Keith Haring. Hursley returned to photograph the Factory until Warhol’s death in 1987, which makes one photo he shot that final year—of Warhol’s wig tucked inside an open storage box in his East 66th Street townhouse—all the more solemn.
A native New Yorker, Fred W. McDarrah was a true documentarian of the city’s downtown art scene. He joined the Village Voice as a staff photographer in the mid-1950s, and later became its first picture editor, remaining with the paper until his death in 2007. He photographed Alice Neel; Bob Dylan; Allen Ginsberg; Yoko Ono and John Lennon; Jack Kerouac; Willem and Elaine de Kooning; and Greenwich Village at large, keeping his camera on the pulse of burgeoning art—and in turn, Warhol and his band of off-kilter collaborators. His admiration for the vibrant culture he recorded is palpable in his black-and-white photojournalistic images; he offers a lively post-war vision of New York that celebrates the potential for art-making in the ’60s, a time when the cost of living more easily enabled an artist’s lifestyle.
In 1969, Richard Avedon plucked Andy Warhol and his luminaries from their studio in favor of his own. From a solo portrait of Warhol photographed while lifting his shirt to reveal the scars from his attempted murder, to a triptych depicting Paul Morrissey, Joe Dallesandro, Candy Darling, Eric Emerson, Jay Johnson, Tom Hompertz, Gerard Malanga, Viva, Brigid Berlin, and Warhol—Avedon’s spare style conveys the Factory’s clout in its simplicity. The studio was no longer about the physical space, but the cult of personality that preceded it. These figures didn’t need their setting; they were the Factory.
Andy Warhol himself, of course, also photographed his studio and the friends he filled it with. Beyond christening his screen actors as “superstars” and making prints, paintings, and sculptures, he took many portraits with his Polaroid Big Shot camera and on black-and-white 35mm film—with subjects from Debbie Harry to Jean-Michel Basquiat. Ever the expert in celebrity, it’s through images that Warhol built a cult-like culture around his community, the ripples of which can still be seen today.
In preparation for “600 Faces,” his five decade-spanning exhibition at Museum of the City of New York in the fall of 1969, Cecil Beaton paid a visit to the Factory in May of the same year. In his diaries, he described the experience less than favorably: “Most curious and indescribable, the haunted world presided over by the zombie, more dead than alive since he was shot, of Andy Warhol.” The resulting images depict a no-frills shoot with the exception of Berlin’s partial nudity throughout, which became a recurring theme over the years. Warhol is wearing his signature stripes, flanked by studio staples like superstar Candy Darling. The subjects, photographed a year after Warhol was shot, seem to be acting out the characters expected of them—edgy, quirky artists in an impenetrable circle—but the images also possess a calmness, and the eerie vacancy noted by Beaton.