You had to be there. Five words that conjure up the joke that’s no longer funny, the anecdote that’s lost its sheen, the party to end all parties. But Brigid Berlin was there – as Andy Warhol’s best friend and muse in New York during the 1960s and 70s. And what’s more, she captured the whole thing using her trusty Polaroid 360.
A collection of her photographs has recently been published by Reel Art Press and they stand as a remarkable record of one the 20th Century’s defining artistic forces. This one-time Manhattan socialite who became a key member of Warhol’s inner circle – and who had a taste for amphetamines and public nudity – took photos not only of Warhol, his allies and his acolytes, but also of the many famous figures who passed through The Factory, like Patti Smith, Dennis Hopper and Lou Reed.
In his introduction to the book, Bob Colacello, a Vanity Fair writer and editor of Warhol’s Interview magazine, says: “Brigid’s need to rebel has always been matched by her need to document her rebelliousness, and the overlapping of these two compulsions is what gives her work meaning beyond its curiosity value. In recording life, she captured our times.”
That last sentence really captures the fact that history is usually made unwittingly and that those in the centre of things – even in a group as self-conscious as Warhol’s entourage – weren’t quite aware of the mark they were making. Berlin herself is refreshingly honest about this and has admitted that despite keeping a great archive of stuff in a storage facility in New York, she never really had plans to do anything with it.
So it’s difficult to say why this book has appeared at all, let alone why it has appeared now. No matter – it’s a beguiling window into a world that feels both familiar and thrillingly alien.
The one thing Berlin is tired of talking about is Andy himself. She told AnOther Magazine: “It’s hard now, the going back. I found it very difficult when Andy died, and I got all these telephone calls from television channels in countries all around the world who wanted to film me…What was Andy Warhol really like? I think I’ll kill the next person who asks me that!”
The clues to that, should you be inclined to look for them, can be found in the photographs.