Exhibition review: Andy Warhol – The Photographers Gallery

“I told them I didn’t believe in art, that I believed in photography.”

Photography was a persuasive force for Andy Warhol. Almost every artwork made during his unparalleled career stemmed from a photographic source. He amassed an enormous picture collection of advertisements, news clippings and press photographs, and the photo-booth and Polaroid camera were important tools in the creation of his work.

Warhol began using a miniature Minox 35EL camera in 1976 at which point he shifted from making photographs primarily in the service of his canvases to producing them in their own right. Thereafter, he was rarely without a compact camera, shooting upwards of 36 frames of black and white film a day.

AW1This first photograph is a comment on consumerism; the world has become flooded with advertising and there is too much choice so we get into habits of buying the same products, week in, week out. It is interesting to see the change in item design trends from then to now, although there is not much change in the more popular products, for example Hellmann’s mayonnaise, in order to aid brand recognition. The way that these images have been stitched together makes them look disjointed which compliments the unorganised products in the pantry.AW3The collection of images above have been put together as a grid to form something quite abstract. The subject is only just identifiable as a vehicle, this reading is helped by its personal identification number; its number plate. The use of repetition here is quite hypnotic, the diagonal lines in the photograph contradict the straight horizontal and vertical lines of the frame. My personal interpretation of this grid is a portrayal of a traffic jam.AW2Similar to the previous grid, the subject in these photographs barely resembles a van; the focus is on the branding plastered all over it. It is interesting to explore the movement of the food trade from ice-cream vans and market stalls to superstores, the convenience is not always healthy. Purchasing an ice-cream from a van is much more exciting than choosing one in the supermarket.AW4I like how this grid layout imitates test strip; it is intriguing to see how underexposed and overexposed shots can have different effects on their audience. I prefer the mysterious, second brightest photograph which shows what appears to be an attractive model without revealing the face.

Below, Warhol has captured the perfect moment in a shot that any usual photographer and subject would prefer to avoid. This series captures something really personal about the human race; how and what we eat. This piece has inspired me to do a project documenting the way people eat across different cultures. I think Warhol has used repetition here to say something about the greed of our nation.AW5The idea of ‘artist as machine’ was at the core of Warhol’s artistic process, and the increased auto-function of the new ‘point and shoot’ technology suited his detached approach to image making. Although Warhol also referred to these later photographs as his ‘visual diary’, with subjects including everyday details; people and crowds; street scenes; events; interiors; buildings and signage.

From the singular images, Warhol also created a series of ‘stitched photographs’, commissioning a seamstress to machine-sew multiple copies of photographs into grids of varying sizes. These works emphasise both photography’s inherent reproducibility, but also draw our attention to its material nature.

The works included in this exhibition form part of Warhol’s obsessive recording habit that also included tape recording, diary dictating and the making of time capsules. They also show emerging tendencies and patterns that reveal photography as a persistent influence the artist’s thinking, looking and making.

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