In the early 1960s, the shadow of the post-war boom cast a dark shadow upon streets across the United States as the illusion of The American Dream was shattered by the truth of how it came to be.
Amid the fight for human rights, Andy Warhol emerged with a body of work that celebrated the most superficial mythologies of the time. By appropriating images of famous people and products, Warhol positioned himself as the champion of all that was American, fully embracing its anti-intellectual bent. With the establishment of The Factory, his quasi-bohemian Manhattan studio filled with self-titled Superstars, Warhol created an alternate universe to rival Hollywood while simultaneously infiltrating the posh art world.
In 1965, Warhol announced his retirement from painting in order to focus on filmmaking. With a coterie that included Edie Sedgwick, Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground, Ingrid Superstar, Susanna Campbell, and Gerard Malanga, the media could not get enough of these apolitical characters driven by a lust for fame and wealth.
At the same time, photographer Larry Fink was honing his skills, making pictures that embraced the proletariat and rebuked the haute-bourgeoisie. A self-described “revolutionary communist,” Fink worked as a journalist, creating images for the cause. In 1966, his friend Khadeja Mccall, who sold African prints on St. Mark’s Place, invited Fink to photograph a fashion shoot she was styling for a new publication titled The Eastside Review. The kicker was: the models were Warhol and his Superstars.
Fink took the assignment, adding his own twist. He brought Warhol and his coterie down to the streets of the Lower East Side, a working-class neighborhood infused with poverty – the very antithesis of Warhol’s Pop Art fantasies. The Eastside Review folded before the issue was published, and the photographs were shelved for fifty years, no further thought given to the work…until now.
On April 25, Damiani will publish Fink on Warhol: New York Photographs of the 1960s, which combines these never-before-seen photographs alongside Fink’s photographs taken on the streets of New York throughout the decade. Below, Fink speaks with Dazed Digital about how his rediscovery of this unlikely shoot was transformed into a beautiful and compelling photography book.
“He was a guy who floated on top of the feted crust of what was supposed to be hipness and wealth. My politics were entirely different” – Larry Fink
How did the shoot with Warhol come about?
Larry Fink: It was really quite happenstance. Khadeja was my friend and she said, “Hey Larry, do you want to do this with me? It’s going to be in The Eastside Review.” I said sure. I wasn’t doing any fashion at that time in my life. The fact that Warhol and those characters came along …I couldn’t care less about them but they were given to me, so to speak, as the props.
I think the idea originated from The Eastside Review, from (editor) Shepard Sherbell – I think probably trying to match up the influence of the Afro-American and African fabric as a style motif for these characters, and then matching up Andy who was all over town, the rich part of town anyways. That was his cause celebre: to be on the cutting edge.
I thought it was interesting, you and Andy having such different politics. What were your thoughts on him on what he represented?
Larry Fink: He represented nothing to me except the commercialisation of art and his personality was also this kind of…he was skirting the scam, skating the lam. He was a guy who floated on top of the feted crust of what was supposed to be hipness and wealth. My politics were entirely different.
I loved looking at these two bodies of work together in the book: the photos of Warhol juxtaposed with your street photography from the 1960s. How did you come up with this idea?
Larry Fink: I had just discovered the pictures of Warhol. We’ve been doing archiving out here for five years and they just turned up. Marcello Marvelli, my dealer, came around and was like, “Whoa! What’s this?” and he showed it to Kevin Moore. Then Kevin went over to Andrea Albertini at Damiani and all of a sudden it was a book. The street stuff was not necessarily a consideration because it was all about Andy because Andy is now the crème de la crème – again.
I said, “No I’m not going to do this book. I don’t want to glorify that asshole. I don’t give a shit about this guy,” but nevertheless, I said, “If I’m going to do it, let’s do it this way and inculcate him with the context of the times.” That’s where my thinking came to and I brought it to the table and said, “Let’s do this,” and that’s what we did. (Laughs).
You shot Warhol in the Factory as well as on the street. What was his response to being asked to go on the street?
Larry Fink: He was always in the Factory or in somebody’s wealthy house. He’s a funny dude. He was always in a state of discomfort. He didn’t like to be touched. He was always floating above the thing and I think he was probably just ironically involved, knowing that it was good for him.
Andy and I had no relationship after that except every time he saw me, he remembered me because I had put him in a place where he was on a level of discomfort and that’s what I intended to do: to make him uncomfortable – because that’s what he deserved.
It’s so telling because it made me think about the street The street is the antithesis of Warhol. The street is about truth and reality. What are your thoughts about the street and what it represents to you.
Larry Fink: The street was fabulous. New York was a place where, if you had the courage and the heart, you could probably conquer the world. It was an exciting place to be. It was funky. It was ethnographic. It was amazingly vital. It wasn’t so much like the town is today, which is much more wealthy and much more gentrified. Not entirely, New York is still an exciting place – but it’s not like it was. It was a real congruent melting pot.
As far as street photography is concerned, that’s what I did; just trying to think about portraying the excitement of he dignity of man and what it meant to be alive. I never hung out with photographers in those days and I still don’t. In those days I was probably a little competitive, maybe frightened, and I hunkered myself down to the Left Wing revolutionaries and was much more into the jazz scene. Then I would hit the streets and photograph. I didn’t think about street photography or still life photography – I looked at it all, but I just thought, “This is my obsession, if you will. My moral responsibility is to report.”
“I had put him in a place where he was on a level of discomfort and that’s what I intended to do: to make him uncomfortable – because that’s what he deserved” – Larry Fink
I love that you call Andy and The Factory the “arriere garde.” When did that occur to you? Is that something you realised at the time?
Larry Fink: At the time I didn’t give a shit so I thought nothing about him. In retrospect, in reference to this particular book, I thought about it that way.
Fink on Warhol does so much to tell the truth of the time. It creates a historical context so that we can see Warhol in the period and recognise where it fits in relationship between the left and the right.
Larry Fink: I’m hoping that’s the case. On the other hand, an interesting fact is that at Christie’s the other day, there was an auction and Elton John was getting rid of some pictures, one of them being mine, the picture on the cover of the Social Graces book, “The Great Eighth,” we call it. It went off in the auction house for $4,800. (Laughs). It’s probably stronger than any piece Andy Warhol ever did except his work is out for $50 million. It doesn’t upset me because it’s just ironic. My retail prices are far beyond that.
I have to think about all these things now because I’m an adult. I’m 76 and I’ve been around for a while, so I’m archiving and all that crap that you do. When I was a kid, I never thought about any of that junk. I thought about the revolution. I thought about the hope of mankind. I think that I still have hope because I’m a hopeful person but if you look at it objectively, it’s delusional.
That’s where I’ve gotten to: It’s a constant struggle. You can’t stop because the minute you stop they come back.
Larry Fink: Marx was interesting because he came up with an analysis of the circumstances very accurately. His solutions were based on things that came out of the Age of Reason that meant that people were essentially good and reasonable. They are not. (Laughs). We’re in a desperate balance for parity and that’s where we are. The struggle is to balance, not to be victorious.
Fink on Warhol: New York Photographs of the 1960s by Larry Fink – published by Damiani – is available April 25 2017