Adventures with Andy: Christopher Makos Recalls his Friendship With Andy Warhol
Photographer Christopher Makos accompanied Andy Warhol on trips around New York and also internationally, as the artist’s close friend and associate.
Altered Image was a collaborative project between Warhol and Makos, for which the famous Pop artist wore a variety of wigs and make-up to create portraits that play with ideas of beauty, gender, and the tension between our inner and outer selves. You can view a selection of these portraits in our current New York exhibition Warhol Women.
We spoke with Makos to learn how the series of portraits came about, and what the photographer remembers most fondly about his friendship and adventures with Warhol.
What was Warhol’s reaction when you first proposed the Altered Image series to him?
We were both talking about what we could do together. So then he reminded me of the Man Ray–Marcel Duchamp Rrose Sélavy collaboration. You know, Man Ray the photographer / Duchamp the painter; Makos the photographer / Warhol the painter! We thought, “that’s perfect!” One: we have our historical context, and then the second part was like: “how do we do this, like hair and makeup and all that?”
There’s something that a lot of people don’t know about these shoots; we did them in a couple of days but we used two different hair and make-up people, and they’re different insofar as—if you look at some of the pictures—we used a theatrical make-up person. The theater person came in, and they just took Andy’s face and they just white-washed it: in other words they took spirit gum and took his eyebrows and pressed them down—got rid of all the features—and we had a blank, white canvas. And then the makeup artist painted the eybrows on and paints the face. And then the other shoot was—we didn’t do that! We just took Andy, and took his face, and we sort of went and we glammed it up.
Did one of those approaches ultimately feel more appropriate to you?
Well, in retrospect, I always thought that the theatrical makeup was more successful, as far as that idea of altering somebody’s image. That said, they both have value in a different way, and they both speak to the same thing about altering image, and clearly some people are more successful at altering their image than others. And so throughout this photo shoot we have five different wigs and 365 pictures—one picture for every day.
Yeah isn’t that sort of a crazy notion?
Fantastic. So it evolved organically?
It evolved, yeah, I mean part of the fun was to go up to 57th Street and to go to the same hair piece person that Andy used. The name was Darcel–up at 57th Street, and it was kind of funny because I had never been to that kind of a place, and he took us into the back room area that was more discreet and we tried on different wigs, and because we couldn’t decide—I’m so happy we couldn’t decide, because we came away with five looks!
Do you feel the works were about portraying Andy specifically? Or was it about gender in a broader sense?
I think it was more about gender in a broader sense.
I mean, Andy always ultimately wanted to look beautiful. We all want to look great-looking. And he never got to do that. I mean, Andy has been quoted as referring to one of my black and white portraits of him as his favorite portrait. As a photographer wanting to do people’s portraits I always feel like a psychologist or a therapist because, I always want to give people back their best versions of themselves that they can possibly be and […] I often can find that spot to make you look the best of who you are. And with Andy we got to know each other well. It’s when a person can touch you as a photographer so that you can be vulnerable in front of them—or they can be vulnerable in front of you and in so many of my pictures of Andy, he was ok with being vulnerable in front of me.
Was Warhol as comfortable being a subject as he was standing behind the lens?
Absolutely, I mean, he didn’t want to look like beautiful women, he wanted to show the way he looked to be beautiful. Which is a different idea.
And that is very much, as you say, the way most people want to feel.
Right! And it’s not a big reach to understand that. We all want to look like a picture […] but in pictures we are frozen—we are frozen—and none of us in real life is frozen. We move, we’re animated, and so if you’re frozen in a really bad light that’s not really you. Often photography doesn’t really tell the truth, so we have to be careful about how we let our images go out and that’s what so much of this is about, with the Altered Image [series].
There must have been so much trust between you both.
Well, I mean we knew each other so well, we traveled a lot—we’d go back and forth to Europe on the Concorde a lot. I mean, you know how a mother can take the most unbelievable portrait of her kids, and…she’s not a photographer! […] It’s because they know each other and they allow their vulnerable moments…to let that person take that picture.
Do you have a favorite memory of traveling with Andy?
All my favorite memories are of the Concorde going to Paris. The Concorde was just the coolest thing in the world because it was just 100 of you, and—usually it wasn’t full—so there were 60 or 70 of you, going someplace at almost twice the speed of sound, then getting to one of the chicest places on the planet and you know: me, a young photographer; Andy, one of the most famous pop artists of the time! And then going to Les Bains Douches and then all these cool clubs. I always looked forward to those trips; those were some of my most favorite memories of doing stuff with Andy.
Raymond Loewy designed all the flatware on the Concorde, and so Andy would try to steal as much flatware and silverware as he could. And he would get me—I actually have a large collection of silverware from the Concorde, I have it from the Air France one, it’s some beautiful stainless steel stuff. Andy used to do it every time he could.
You’ve said that Warhol taught you how to be a businessman in the big city. What sort of lessons did Warhol teach you about business?
Well he taught me about discipline. We both are Catholic kids that grew up in Catholic schools, and so we both had that work ethic about working hard and going to class—in this case going to your studio and working and being diligent at it.
Andy would also introduce me to people that had those life lessons about how to be an artist or a photographer and how to make money at that.
[…] Andy introduced me to Luciano Anselmino which was Man Ray’s art dealer, and I remember visiting him and Man Ray. There were two things: he told me that when you’re looking at your contact sheet, just look at your pictures and whatever jumps out at you—that’s your first impression and obey that first impression. And the second thing Man Ray taught me is that when people ask you about what photo [to use]—keep giving them the same photo over and over again because that makes that photograph famous. You decide what you’re going to be famous for.
Do you feel like Andy was a natural mentor?
Yeah because he always loved to surround himself—I mean […] to this day in my studio I’m surrounded by people that are creative people, interesting people to be around, and he was that same way.
It sounds like he was cultivating a very fertile atmosphere around him.
Yeah, and he had four opportunities to do it—I mean, the factory was broken down into four factories—I wasn’t part of the first two, I was part of the last two: which is the one on Broadway and the one on 33rd Street.
So I was part of those last two factories, at 17th Street and Broadway—860 Broadway—the same offices that were Andy’s offices and studio are now a Petco. Isn’t that crazy? And I don’t know what 33rd Street is [Makos asks a friend what was at this location] 33rd Street was the old Con Edison building, so it doesn’t exist anymore.
Editor’s note: This transcript has been edited for clarity and length.
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