"Nadar/warhol: Paris/new York"

By Hainley, Bruce | Artforum International, November 1999 | Go to article overview

"Nadar/warhol: Paris/new York"


Hainley, Bruce, Artforum International


Warhol and Nadar each preferred blank backgrounds for their portraits, a blankness Warhol often found reflected in his sitter's eyes. Both trafficked in portraits of performers, artistic peers, and other objects of affection. Handsomely hung in two adjacent galleries and represented by about forty works each--Warhol's taken from his entire career, Nadar's mostly from the late 1850s and '60s--the photographers' pictures were seen together only in a small antechamber. Because of the graphic power of the images, many correspondences could be found among the sitters, despite their being largely kept apart in the show. The similarities were highlighted in the elegant catalogue: Inside the front and back covers are pages juxtaposing and revealing the eerie transhistorical likenesses between Rolling Stone Mick Jagger and nineteenth-century singer and actor Jean-Francois-Philibert Berthelier, among others. The most provocative question raised by the pairing of Nadar and Warhol, however, involves the radical dissimilarity of their investigations of fame/celebrity.

Unlike celebrity, fame has no need of photography, even if it consents to sit for a portrait. For example, we know who Maurice Blanchot and Thomas Pynchon are, not what they look like. Celebrity depends on, and at times becomes, a kind of photography--an advertisement (proliferation) of the self. It is not only the glare of the immediate that makes Nadar's consideration of celebrity pale beside Warhol's; it is also the brute accident of the time of his birth. Celebrity may have been, in part, created by early photography and by Nadar as one of its savviest proponents, but it became an entirely different thing because of movies and television. Nadar's look was learned in the hot sweating presence of theater, its living breathing actors. Warhol's lessons were learned by studying the stills of Photoplay and Hollywood scandal rags; by mediation.

It is strange that the curators nowhere discuss the extent of Warhol's knowledge of the history of photography. …

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