Andy Warhol

(American, 1928-87)

Collection of ninety-nine Polariods, ca. 1975-85

Polacolor; 3¼ x 4¼ inches

Gift of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc., Photographic Legacy Project, 2008

© The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. 

Among Public Art’s collection is a set of ninety-nine Polaroids by Andy Warhol. The Polaroid camera provided Andy Warhol with one more technology that placed distance between him and the subject. By the 1980s, Warhol was churning out painted commissioned portraits of celebrities, socialites and wealthy businessmen. Yet the initial step in the portrait process was a studio visit to be photographed by Warhol with one of his Polaroid cameras. He referred to this initial photography session as his “pen and pencil,” similar to traditional sketches that would begin his artistic process. Typically, Warhol would shoot multiple portraits, a series of staged, similar yet slightly different images. Ultimately, these studio shots would result in finished silkscreens or painted portraits of his sitters, seen here in the likes of artist Julian Schnabel—a University of Houston alumnus—, actress Pia Zadora and model Apollonia.

The Polaroid camera encapsulated exactly what Warhol was seeking to achieve: factory-like efficiency, hands-off mass-production, and with an unusually bright and unreliable flash, a bleached tone, rendering the sitter a blank canvas. Warhol used two Polaroid cameras: the large, cumbersome Big Shot and the popular, origami-esque SX-70. The Big Shot was designed especially for portrait-taking at close range, while the highly portable SX-70 comfortably hid in his jacket pocket and accompanied him to every social engagement. Both camera’s speed and efficiency enabled him to become the machine he wanted to be. 

With this body of well-known Polaroid portraits we are able to witness Warhol’s “sketches” as a vital step in his artistic process. However, we are also able to view them as remarkable objects unto themselves. Unique specimens such as still lifes of houseplants and shoes complement the Polaroids and provide a more prismatic view of Warhol’s artistic production. This intermingling of genres, cameras, and inspirations provide a fresh way in which to view the artist’s work. 

All Andy Warhol Artworks © The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.


Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries

Instantaneous Beauty: Andy Warhol and the Photographic Process | Exhibition

Spring 2022 exhibition presented at the O’Kane Gallery, UHD and the UCHL Art Gallery.

Andy Warhol | Process and Memory

March 9, 2022 | Virtual conversation featuring artist Jamie Wyeth and filmmaker and art promoter Vincent Fremont, moderated by María C. Gaztambide, PhD, Director and Chief Curator of Public Art UHS.

Warhol Photos | Access

Public Art UHS’ collection of Andy Warhol photographs is held at the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Learn about access here.

Andy Warhol | Research

Access a variety of resources related to Public Art UHS’ collection of Andy Warhol photographs.

Spotlight | Andy Warhol

July 2021 | Read about the man and the machine, Andy Warhol, photography and everyday life. 

Other Artworks by this Artist

Andy Warhol | Photographic Prints

Collection of fifty gelatin silver prints, ca. 1975-85.