The Famed Photographer and Warhol Confidante Talks Netflix’s New Limited Series ‘The Andy Warhol Diaries,’ Andy and the Diaries Themselves, His New Book, and Then Some…
Christopher Makos is really busy. The internationally acclaimed photographer perhaps best known for his longtime friendship and frequent collaborations with the late Andy Warhol has had a good bit to do with Netflix’s latest limited series The Andy Warhol Diaries, which premieres this week, and is spending a lot of time talking to people like me about it. Makos not only consulted on the hotly anticipated series, he and his work appear in it throughout. Inspired partly by that experience, he’s also put together a new book of his Warhol modeling portraits (indeed, Andy was a working model) to compliment it. Throw in preparations for two upcoming major exhibitions and Lord knows what else, and you get my point about busy.
After a bit of a chase I caught up with Makos on the eve of The Warhol Diaries premiere to discuss the limited series, the book, a little of this and a little of that. As always, he delivered.
CJ: Christopher! Where are you now and what are you doing?
MAKOS: I’m in New York City doing interviews for the Netflix series, the new book, prepping for upcoming shows in New York at the Daniel Cooney Gallery on May 5th and Los Angeles at David Fahey on September 29th…and in fact preparing to go to L.A. at the end of this week for Steven Tyler’s annual Grammy party for his charity, Janie’s Fund. So I’m pretty busy.
CJ: I’m rather familiar with your background because we know each other a bit, but I read something whilst prepping for this piece that I did not know — something about young you having apprenticed with Man Ray in Paris?
MAKOS: (laughs) Well, I met Man Ray later on because of Andy Warhol. Luciano Anselmino was Andy’s Italian art dealer, and Luciano had come to New York to do some business with Andy. So we met and he liked my photos and then became my Italian art dealer. Subsequently, I went to Italy and was invited to a birthday party for Man Ray and Paolo Pasolini. And so that’s how that happened.
CJ: And you ended up apprenticing with Man Ray?
MAKOS: No, I hung out with him for three days. He taught me a bunch of stuff and I learned a lot. But it eventually it became like folklore. A similar example would be; I went back and forth to Paris a lot in my twenties. I looked at the architecture there and I studied it very closely. At some point someone then asks, “did you study architecture in Paris?” And I reply “yes.” And so it goes on to become “oh, Makos studied architecture in Paris,” you know…you have to be careful with the words you use.
CJ: Three days hanging out with Man Ray in Paris morphs into a Paris apprenticeship with Man Ray on your Wikipedia page.
CJ: So you met Man Ray through Andy. How did you and Andy meet?
MAKOS: Dotson Rader, the writer. I knew him in New York when I first came here and he introduced me to people like Tennessee Williams, Gore Vidal, and got me into the writing world. And then he had taken me to a big Warhol thing up at the Whitney. And that’s when I first met Andy. At the time, I was surprised because I didn’t even know he was still alive. I thought he had died during the whole Valerie Solanas thing. Anyway, he asked me if I wanted to go hang out at Max’s Kansas City. Remember I was just fresh from California, and I was all about sunshine, going to the beach, and hanging out like that. So I didn’t go because I just thought it was too grimy or something. I don’t know. It just wasn’t my scene…
CJ: Having grown up myself in California and moved to New York City as a young adult, I understand that.
MAKOS: Yes. So I never went. Then I had this exhibition down at, I think it was 472 Broad Street, called Step On It. I took all my photographs and put them on the floor and then covered it with plexiglass so that when the people came into the exhibition, there was nothing on the walls. It was all just on the floor. I thought that would be a perfect time to get Warhol to come to see my work, but he was busy that night. So he sent Bob Colacello, and Bob loved it, saying I should come to the Factory and so forth and that’s how we really met. I finally got with Andy, but in the way that I wanted to, which was…
MAKOS: Right. Through work, not through just being another pretty blonde kid from Southern California.
CJ: A lot of people assume that you were some sort of protege of Andy’s, perhaps because of the 20 year age difference, but it was you who got him deeper into photography. You introduced him to the work of Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the latter of course whom ended up being one of the central figures in Andy’s later life. So, then, one could almost say that you were each other’s proteges? Muses?
MAKOS: Yeah. Well he was my muse, I would say.
CJ: And what were you to him?
MAKOS: I was his mentor as far as photography goes.
MAKOS: It was very much me who taught Andy how to take pictures, and I art directed his book Exposures. He saw my book, White Trash, and he loved the way it looked with all the rough edges and this and that. When you look at Exposures, you see all those rough edges, because I brought my take with that look to it. From then on we sort of worked together in so far as, you know, we’re really cool as friends, traveled a lot back and forth to Europe, and so forth. He taught me the art of business and I taught him the art of photography.
CJ: Nice. So the stated reason for our little tele-gathering is the arrival of the long-awaited Netflix limited series, The Andy Warhol Diaries, adapted from Pat Hackett’s 807 page book of the same name that came out in 1989. Before we get into your participation and your role in the series, did you know back in the day that Andy was calling Pat every morning, keeping a diary?
MAKOS: Oh, I knew that was going on. Part of that started because Andy was audited by the tax department. And so after he got audited, he wanted to just record what he did every day, like “Went uptown $5 and 50 cents taxi ride,” “Had lunch with Bianca Jagger, $55,” “Went to McDonald’s and had hamburgers, $10…”. It’s funny that they don’t mention that in the Netflix series, because it’s an interesting fact that it started that way. I mean, Andy was always documenting the world around him with either video cameras or still cameras, but he never was really writing anything down.
MAKOS: So anyway that’s how it started and then it grew into “Bianca Jagger brought Mick with her and we had dinner at Le Cirque and then I bumped into Nan Kempner and we had a nice talk and she’s going to come to the Factory and I found out she’s hanging out with…” you know what I mean? And so on.
CJ: It evolved basically from a ledger into…
MAKOS: The Diaries could be called Warhol’s ledger.
CJ: Talk about your impressions of the diaries when they first came out. When you first read it. Any surprises? Good? Bad?
MAKOS: Well, a lot of us just went to our section and read our sections and that’s it. So I haven’t read it all the way through. I have to say part of that is because when you’re part of history, you don’t want to go back and reread it or read someone else’s impression of that history. Also, Andy embellished a lot of what he did.
CJ: Do you keep a diary?
MAKOS: Well, I keep a photographic diary and I write everything down that goes on. So I have my version of a ledger.
CJ: Who would play you in a docuseries?
MAKOS: I don’t know…some handsome stud, you know what I mean?
CJ: Some handsome stud. Noted. So moving from the Diaries themselves to the new series based on them, give us a sense of your involvement. I remember first hearing you talking about participating in it a few years ago when we were working together on a music project in New York.
MAKOS: Well, my involvement was twofold. One, I licensed my entire 10-year catalog of pictures of Warhol to Netflix. So you see lots of my pictures in it and some of my videos. And as for on-camera involvement, I did a couple of days worth of interviews, talking about my experiences, and gave a sort of insight into the personal side of Andy. Myself, Bob Colacello and Vincent Fremont…we were like core family members. We were very close to Andy in that way. We’re all in it, along with a lot of others who were there and part of the Factory scene.
CJ: I’m assuming you’ve seen the entire finished product?
MAKOS: I’ve seen all six episodes, yeah.
CJ: What was it like for you at the end of the sixth episode? How did you feel? You talked earlier about how you don’t love to revisit stuff, but just in general, in terms of the crafting and the accuracy, the visuals, were you pleased with that?
MAKOS: Visually, it’s very well done. I’ve seen it once. I don’t think I’ll see it again because as I mentioned to Andrew Rossi who did a lot of the interviews, I’m such a right here right now person, not this person that wants to go back and revisit my past or history, though I have a great respect for it. I mean these documentaries and such, they serve a great purpose. Someone who doesn’t know a lot about Warhol, for example, will see this thing and learn a lot of truth. And of course the particular bent of this, Ryan Murphy, he’s a gay man, he’s done these shows like Pose. He does a lot of stuff that has sort of a gay slant to it including last year’s Netflix series about Halston. So they pretty much focused in on Andy’s personal thing — his relationships, who he was, why didn’t he come out, questions like this which really don’t have much relevance to me because none of us ever felt a compulsion to come out or to go in. I mean, we were just the people we were.
CJ: Well to that point, I think your quote that’s featured in the trailer, when they asked if Andy wanted to “come out,” you said, “Come out? He was never in!” Which kind of summarizes a lot of what you just said. It seems the key value of The Warhol Diaries is that it is the most personal glimpse that we’ve had, people who weren’t there I mean, into Andy. Sounds like you agree.
MAKOS: For sure. It’s a side of him that they’ve never seen. The side of him that it wasn’t all roses and pop art. It was everything. It was ups. It was downs. It was fun. It wasn’t fun. It was relationships. It was being in love. It wasn’t being in love. It was everything. It’s like what we all experience in our lives. It’ll be fun for fans to see. I think they’ll enjoy it because yes the focus is Andy Warhol, but it’s also a good reminder of what was going on during that ten year period in American culture in general.
CJ: I’m going to hit you with one more question about at the documentary, and then we’ll talk a little bit about your new book, which is related, but what do you think Andy’s reaction would be to the series? Would it be sort of like yours — no particular interest in looking back — or what?
MAKOS: He would like that somebody had done something on him. He might have disputed some of the things but remember as I said earlier Andy loved to make up stories too. So in many ways, parts of this are conjecture. So it all fits into his playbook. He would’ve certainly liked it overall because it would’ve just taken his brand to the next level.
CJ: And that at the end of the day was what mattered. Correct?
MAKOS: Right. Absolutely.
CJ: So let’s move to the new book. As I understand it, you were inspired to put it together — and by the way, all of your books are extraordinarily beautiful and I’m sure this one is as well — but you were inspired as I understand it, by working with Murphy and company on the series?
MAKOS: Well, I never thought I would do another Warhol book because I just thought I had covered the subject matter enough. But then I thought to myself, this Netflix production presents a great opportunity to share something new about what I have done with Andy. And of course that new thing is that I had done these six or seven different photo shoots that were based on Andy modeling. Around that time, companies like Sony would come to him and ask him if he would endorse products, and Andy’s business manager Fred Hughes didn’t know how to price these things…so we thought the better thing to do would be to just sign with a major modeling agency.
MAKOS: So as for this book we realized that while there were plenty of pictures of Warhol out there, there were none really dedicated to the modeling. As I mentioned, we had a lot of them in the archive, so we put the book, Andy Modeling Portfolio Makos, together with different chapters based on different looks we shot. David Fahey wrote the introduction. David is one of the most important photography dealers in America. My longtime associate and dear friend Peter Wise, who knows my archives even better than I do, wrote the preface.
CJ: And it compliments the Netflix series because of the uniqueness of theme.
MAKOS: Netflix shows a little known side of Warhol and what I’ve done with the book is the same thing. So they certainly compliment each other in that regard. It’s a companion piece and along with the production company and the director and the producer…we’re all very excited about it.
CJ: OK, Christopher, you gave me 30 minutes of your busy day, and we’re at 26…
MAKOS: (Laughs) You’ve got 4 more minutes!
CJ: (Laughs) I think we’re good. I cannot thank you enough for taking the time to visit today. Like Andy, you are one-of-a-kind and I am very glad to know you. Congratulations on all of this wonderful busy-ness of yours.
MAKOS: Thank you.