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Andy Warhol and his Little Red Book: The early days of social photography

November 18, 2014

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In 1971, Andy Warhol took 20 candid Polaroid photographs of Dick Cavett and arranged them in the order that they appear in Little Red Book #133 . The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts donated the album to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2013.

In 1971, Andy Warhol took 20 candid photographs of Dick Cavett and arranged them in Little Red Book #133 .
The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts donated the album to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2013.

 

Television talk show host Dick Cavett is known to audiences for his conversational style and engaging in witty banter with celebrity guests.

But, have you have ever seen him in a wetsuit? How about riding on the back of a horse?

In December 1971, Andy Warhol, one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent modern artists, took 20 candid Polaroid photographs of Cavett and arranged them in the order that they appear in Little Red Book #133 .

The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, as part of its Photographic Legacy Program, donated Little Red Book #133 to The State Museum of Pennsylvania in 2013.

Curator Amy Hammond recommended Little Red Book #133 for this week’s Pennsylvania Treasure. The photo album is representative of Warhol’s interest in immediacy, mass production and celebrity. The book is also significant since Warhol worked with it directly, unlike some of his later creations.

The portraits and photographs in Little Red Book #133 depict Dick Cavett wearing a wetsuit, horseback riding and posing in the stark light – washed and candid close-up portraits that were typical of Warhol. Cavett was a TV personality from the late 1960’s and early 1970’s who interviewed celebrities including John Lennon, James Taylor, Mick Jagger and Bette Davis. Warhol took the photographs with Polacolor Type 108 film while visiting Cavett’s home. Cavett inscribed the first photograph, “T. [To] Andy From D. Cavett”.

From a homebound child fascinated with celebrity culture, Warhol became a major figure in the vivacious celebrity society of the 1960’s and 1970’s. He lived and coined the phrase, “In the future everyone will be famous for 15 minutes.”

Warhol (1928-1987) was born to Carpatho Rusyn immigrants from Eastern Europe. His parents settled in Pittsburgh before his birth. Due to St. Vitus Dance, a nervous disorder, Warhol spent time indoors drawing, reading magazines and taking photographs. He also created albums and scrapbooks that combined celebrity images with his own photographs. Warhol attended college classes at the Carnegie Institute for Technology (now the Carnegie Mellon University of Pittsburgh). From about 1949 to 1959, Warhol worked as a successful illustrator in New York City. The Pop Art that he began creating in 1961 increased the fervor of his famously active social life. He used a camera to capture the people, events and cultural phenomenon that he witnessed.

In the late 1950’s, the Pop Art Movement began to reinterpret commonplace objects and images. Pop artists used this easily accessible imagery in fine art to challenge both traditional and modern rules and values.

Warhol was attracted to Polaroid photography because of the production process and aesthetic result. With a Polaroid camera, he could take a large number of portraits in a short amount of time, which reflected the Pop Art ideals of mass production and immediacy. Some of his famous silkscreen portraits were based on such Polaroid images. The bright exposure of the Polaroid development process transferred nicely to the flatness and vivid colors of his silkscreen portraits. Warhol would meticulously arrange the photographs into red Holson albums, which are the namesake of the “Red Book” series. Portraits were an important source of income for Warhol and his unique vision made his silkscreens desirable among celebrities and socialites.

 

About Pennsylvania Treasures:
In early 2012, The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission launched the Collections Advancement Project (CAP), a program to inventory and catalog our vast and significant holdings of art and artifacts. These efforts are resulting in better stewardship of our collections which represent Pennsylvania arts, culture, history, sciences, business and agriculture. As a component of the project, CAP curators have researched rarely exhibited artifacts and works of art. We are sharing these Pennsylvania Treasures with the public through weekly updates.