July 13, 2010

Andy Warhol's cameras


My interest in zone/scale focus compacts and auto focus point and shoot cameras originates from Andy Warhol's casual use of the early auto cameras in the 1970s and 1980s.

A number of misconceptions have arisen over the years regarding this particular part of Warhol's photography.

One prevailingone is the art historical overemphasis of his use of the Polaroid Big Shot and Minox camera. In fact, while the Big Shot was a very important camera in his oeuvre, he also made use of a wide range of early point and shoots from Canon, Chinon, Olympus and many more.

Regarding the often-cited Minox, Glenn O'Brien in his introduction to the photobook, Warhol's World, writes the artist found the camera too complicated to use. When autofocus cameras became available, he abandoned the Minox in favour of AF point and shoots.

Another Warhol essays, reports the artist received a Minox as a gift: "In 1976 Warhol was given a small Minox SLR (single lens reflex) 35mm camera by Thomas Ammann."

Minox never made an SLR.

Another art historian once wrote Warhol used throughout his career an autofocus Minolta SLR. Minolta did not release an AF SLR until 1985. Warhol would have used such a camera in only the last two years in his life (he died in February 1987). And indeed, we see him holding such a camera in his hands two months before his death. But it would have only covered a small period of his image production.

In short, there is a lot of misinformation about Warhol's camera use.

What follows is a small survey of photo-documentation of Warhol using a camera. I also have identified the exact models he holds.

Note, none of these images definitively prove he used the camera in his own work. They do, nevertheless, suggest a far wider range of cameras were available to the artist.



The image above shows Warhol using an early Olympus "weather-proof" compact autofocus. The Olympus AF-1 aka Infinity laid the groundwork for Olympus's classic Infinity Stylus and Infinity Stylus Epic which all featured the ground-breaking clamshell design. The camera was available from 1986 and, like the Minolta, would have been a camera used in his later career.

On his death, I believe it was Evelyn Hofer who was invited to photo-document his home. In the dining room, as shown in the book Obsession Possession, were several blue and white Olympus boxes (I believe they hold Olympus AFLs).

(For an interesting academic work on Warhol's camera use, visit William Ganis's paper on the topic.)

One of the most recent popular images of Warhol with a camera has to be cover image of Ron Galella's book, Warhol by Galella: That's Great (top photo). In the photograph, Warhol is attending the 1985 Annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards Dinner at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The camera is an Olympus AFL or Picasso.


Olympus AFL





The above camera is a Chinon 35F-MA compact with infrared focusing. It appears repeatedly in Chris Makos photobook, Andy Warhol: China 1982: The Photographs of Christopher Makos.

Warhol, in interview, talks about using Konica cameras. Konica was the first company to introduce an onboard flash in the form of the Konica C35 EF or the Pikkari. Below is Warhol holding a Konica C35EF (left) and a Polaroid SX-70 (right, yawn). Also my own C35 below.



Konica C35 EF aka C35 New EF aka Pikkari

This camera can be seen in his hands while standing next to Bianca Jagger in 1978 photo taken by Ron Galella. Warhol said, "I love the new, small, automatic-focus 35mm cameras like Minox and Konica."

Of course, neither of these cameras were autofocus. They were auto-exposure. Konica autofocus camera, the Konica C35 AF, does appear in his hands in later photographs but the AF does not sport the distinct orange "C35" of the 1978 image.

7 comments:

  1. Interesting stuff. It's funny that he found such simple cameras "too complicated". I've got an AF-1 and a C35 EF, natch.

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  2. thanks arty! have you found the chinon yet?

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  3. I remember that Andy Warhol carried an Olympus AF-10 (the 35 / 70 twin-lens camera) too but can't be sure about that. Do you have any ideas / literature / photo links on it too?

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  4. Hi Roger. According to the site, the AF-10 TWIN came out four years after Andy Warhol died in 1987. There was an earlier twin lens camera, the AF-1 TWIN but that too came after Warhol died.

    http://www.olympus-global.com/en/corc/history/camera/auto/#04

    But thanks for you question. I'm certain there's lots of photos of Warhol holding cameras I have yet to catch online. Keep looking! JJ

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    1. I should add this is a chance you may have seen Warhol holding an Olympus AFL-T (for twin). http://www.olympus-global.com/en/corc/history/camera/popup/zoom_afl-t.html

      But I've never seen such an image.

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    2. Dear JJ,

      Thanks so much for your time checking thru'. Really appreciate it!

      Have a great day ahead!

      Roger

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