Warhol Photograph Machine

541 – Photography


Andy Warhol’s opaque projector
Collection of James Warhola

Norman Rockwell’s Bausch and Lomb Balopticon (black)
Norman Rockwell Museum Collection

Audio commentary by Stephanie Plunkett, Deputy Director/Chief Curator of Norman Rockwell Museum and
Jesse Kowalski, Curator of Exhibitions of Norman Rockwell Museum

Speaker 1: Photography, in certain ways, in different ways, was central for both artists. And Jesse I wonder if you could say a little bit about the way in which photography was employed by Andy Warhol in his work.

Speaker 2: Sure, I mean Warhol first learned about photography as a child, he had a kind of a makeshift darkroom in his basement in Pittsburgh. So he would experiment with that somewhat. And his brother John had one of the first photo booth machines in Pittsburgh, which would come back to Warhol in the early 1960s when he would experiment with photography in some of his paintings. He would go into the photo booth machine in Times Square and have one of his friends, Bobby Short the singer, or celebrity subjects, sit in the photo booth machine. And Warhol would put a nickel or a dime in the machine and wait for the photo booth picture to come out. And then he would have that developed into a silkscreen, and then he would paint the image onto a 20 by 16 inch canvas. Then he would go on to use that very same format for the Jackie paintings, which were all done in the 20 by 16 format, which all kind of have the same photo booth look.

But then in the 1950s Warhol used an opaque projector, that he used throughout the 1960s. He would take an image of a model, or a shoe, and he would place it in the projector and it would be blown up onto the wall. He could trace it, or alter it, however he wanted. And then he would also do that in the early 1960s with Campbell’s Soup Cans. You can see some of his early Campbell’s Soup works, the letters are traced just like they would be off of a Campbell’s Soup label that he would place in the projector.

Photography was really central to Warhol’s career, but how did it play with Norman Rockwell?

Speaker 1: Well Rockwell was never very comfortable in front of the camera. But as a very busy illustrator what he realized at the end of the 1920s, and in the early ’30s, was that rather than having models come in and pose for him, and draw and paint from life, he could actually freeze their poses by using photography. In fact, he generally was not the taker of his own pictures, but he was the director of his own pictures. He would have a very clear idea of how he wanted his models to pose, what he wanted them to express, sometimes even acting out parts himself. He was a little bit of a frustrated actor I think. And then his studio assistant would actually take the picture, capturing hopefully the expressions or poses that Rockwell was seeking. Fortunately the museum has a vast archive of Norman Rockwell’s reference photographs, which he used to create his finished illustrations.

The exhibition actually has the projection devices of both artists, Andy Warhol and Norman Rockwell. Rockwell’s was a balopticon, which was produced by Bausch and Lomb. And in a method that was used by many, many commercial illustrators, photographs were actually projected onto Rockwell’s drawing paper. Large scale drawing paper, about the same size as his finished artwork. And then manipulated in terms of scale and placement, so that he could actually trace the outlines of the important aspects of the photographs he was creating. And from there, he would go on to create a highly finished charcoal drawing that would then be transferred to his finished painting, and he would finally begin to paint. So there were many steps in Rockwell’s work. But photography, starting in the early 1930s was a very important element of his creative process.