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August 22, 2022

Polaroids of Marsha P. Johnson Taken by Andy Warhol, 1974

These Polaroid portraits of Marsha P. Johnson by Andy Warhol derive from his series Ladies and Gentlemen, which focuses on drag queens and trans women, primarily of color. At the time (and still today), transgender communities were at severe risk of various forms of discrimination, poverty, and violence. Significantly, when Warhol’s series was first shown, he did not identify his subjects by their names, effectively objectifying them as “other.”


As a trans star, Marsha experienced “so much violence-from the police, the outside world, and often from lesbian and gay activists and artists.” She first came to Warhol’s studio space, the Factory—then located on Union Square—at his invitation in the summer of 1974.

Working on commission for Luciano Anselmino, an art dealer based in Turin, from Warhol made 105 paintings in four sizes depicting trans women. Marsha did not attract much of Warhol’s attention: in Ladies and Gentlemen, “a mere two canvases out of the hundreds [sic] Warhol produced” are portraits of her. Neil Printz, the editor of Warhol’s catalogue raisonné, wrote that the artist may have felt that “she was not charismatic enough as a model.”

Andy Warhol photographing Marsha P. Johnson with a Polaroid camera.

Despite Warhol’s evident indifference, Marsha’s glamour and generosity of spirit clearly shine through in his portrait of her. In 1970, she joined her friend, the trans activist Silvia Rivera, in founding Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) to fight for the rights of transgender and queer youth. She was also an HIV-positive organizer with ACT UP, and an important figure in the Stonewall Riots. That same year, she helped organize the first-ever Gay Pride March. Throughout her life, Marsha pushed for greater visibility and acceptance of the trans community, inspiring the generation of activists who came after her.










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