Behind Andy Warhol's Poker Face
By Brett Sokol
William John Kennedy’s photos capture Andy Warhol alongside his signature artworks, such as (here) Flowers.
I really thought they were all stark raving mad,” marvels William John Kennedy. It’s been nearly five decades since Kennedy photographed Andy Warhol and his notorious crew at the Factory—the Manhattan studio-cum-playhouse that drew together drag queens and debutantes, street kids and socialites, serving as the creative laboratory for so much of today’s contemporary art world. Yet the memory of that experience still summons a visceral reaction. “I don’t know how they collected that group of people in one place,” he says, shaking his head.
In late 1963, Warhol was on the cusp of serious fame. Kennedy, then a struggling commercial photographer based in a fifth-floor walk-up (“I was eating a lot of tuna fish sandwiches”), thought he’d found the perfect subject for a book project, one which would catapult his own name into the newspapers. Still, over the course of several photo shoots during the following year, Kennedy’s fascination with the Factory had its limits. “They would always invite me over for parties, but I didn’t fit in with the group. I’d hear about this person who’d just committed suicide, or that person who’d overdosed on drugs. I was a country boy from Garden City—I wasn’t interested in dope!” he laughs.
photographs courtesy of william john kennedy and kiwi arts group (warhol); jim arbogast (kennedy)