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August 6, 2021

30 Amazing Polaroid Portraits of Andy Warhol in Drag in the Early 1980s

Photography was central to the work of Andy Warhol. Photographs dominated the mass-mediated American culture in which Warhol operated, and served as his image bank. While the artist most famously used found commercial photographs as source material for silkscreen paintings of celebrities, disasters, and other subjects, he also worked from his own images.

From the 1970s until his death, Warhol made tens of thousands of Polaroid prints, a method that appealed to him because of its speed, ease, and flattening effects. Polaroids served as working studies for his commissioned society portraits; however, many were never adapted into silkscreens, but remained experimental, intimate prints that the artist preserved in his files. Among these was a series of self-portraits in drag, on which Warhol collaborated with photographer Christopher Makos in the early 1980s.

Andy Warhol enjoyed dressing for parties in drag, sometimes in dresses of his own design. He admired “the boys who spend their lives trying to be complete girls,” so in 1981 he and a photographic assistant, Christopher Makos, agreed to collaborate on a session portraying Warhol in drag. In many ways, they modeled the series on Man Ray’s 1920s work with the French artist Marcel Duchamp, in which the two artists created a female alter ego name Rrose S√©lavy for Duchamp.

Warhol and Makos made a number of pictures, both black and white prints and color Polaroids, of their first attempt. For the second round of pictures, they hired a theatre makeup person. This stage professional better understood the challenge of transforming a man’s face into that of a woman. After the makeup, Warhol tried on curled, straight, long, short, dark, and blonde wigs.


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