Half-a-lifetime after the portraits of pop art's leading man were taken, they're finally being shown for the first time.
Edmunds, then still a young arts photographer in his early 30s, was “riding high” off the success of his exhibition CITIZEN at the then-new Madison Art Center. It featured more than 90 portraits of Madison residents “from the governor to merchants to cab drivers to the literal drunk on the street.”
He spent the next six years establishing himself as a commercial photographer, for which he’s become more well-known, while working on his next project: the National Portrait Series. It was supposed to be an exhibition similar to “Citizen,” but on a national scale.
But getting to sit down with the often reclusive Andy was no simple matter. After photographing Henry Geldzahler, who had been the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s curator, Geldzahler asked, “How would you like to photograph Andy Warhol?”
15 Minutes with Andy
Photographs by Doug Edmunds
On display at Deerwood Studios, 8655 N. Deerwood Drive just off of Highway 100
Through Oct. 11
“That would be great,” Edmunds remembers replying, “but I forgot to ask him for a phone number or a written introduction.”
So, Edmunds calls the phone number listed in Interview Magazine, the mag Warhol founded in 1969. By name-dropping Geldzahler, Warhol’s receptionist said that Andy himself had agreed to be photographed, surprisingly.
Edmunds asks: “Did he say when?”
The guy on the other end replies: “No.”
So, every time Edmunds was back in NYC over the next few months, he’d call and get told, “Oh Andy is busy right now,” or “Andy is on vacation.”
After four months of getting deflected, Edmunds was done waiting. He called on April 23, 1981, and said he and his wife were going to camp out in front the Factory — Warhol’s famed studio, then located near Union Square in Manhattan — and wait.
The threat of having a loitering photographer and his spouse out front got Edmunds into the Factory.
They set up a portable studio and Andy walks out from the back of the studio. He barely talks, only saying “OK” three times, Edmunds remembers, as Edmunds gives directions to the ultra-famous pop artist — telling him to lean forward, lean back, stand up, hold a plant, put down the plant, etc.
“I photographed him every which way,” Edmunds recalls.
Then, without saying a word, after posing for more than 90 photos, Warhol stands up and walks away.
“We waited, and we waited, and we turned to the guy at the desk at the other end of the studio. I asked him, ‘Is he coming back?’ and the guy just shrugged his shoulders,” Edmunds remembers.
Edmunds looks at his watch. He realizes almost exactly 15 minutes had passed. Warhol had been wearing a watch, but Edmunds doesn’t remember him looking at it.
“I’m not sure if it was serendipity or what,” Edmunds says of how his 15 minutes with Warhol just-so-happened to match up with Warhol’s most famous saying.
The two men never saw each other again after that day. Warhol died almost six years later in February 1987, after complications following a supposedly routine surgery, at the age of 58.
And as Edmunds professional photography career grew, had three kids and moved to Milwaukee, the National Portrait Series was shelved — despite the 90-plus photographs of Andy, to go along with portraits of other stars like Poet Allen Ginsberg, Composer Aaron Copland, Actress Lily Tomlin, Journalist Andy Rooney, Black Panther Party leader Eldridge Cleaver, Drag Queen Divine and Brewer greats Bob Uecker and Robin Yount.
Now, almost four decades after the photos of Andy were taken, they’re finally being shared.
Edmunds, now 72, has been tabbed as one of only a handful of Americans who have been invited to the 2020 La Biennale di Venezia — translation from Italian: “The Venice Biennial.”
“This is considered the Olympics of art exhibitions,” Edmunds says of the monthslong art exhibition held every other year. “This is the top of the top. If you’re invited to this, you don’t get any prestigious than this.”
He’ll be showing his architectural photos, along with video, of personal residences in Venice next year, but first he needs to raise $80,000 to fund the trip and purchase gallery space.
That’s where Andy comes in.
To fund the trip and connect with potential sponsors, Edmunds has been pushing to promote and sell his past photography. That’s why he finally got the 35mm film developed from the Warhol shoot and why they’re going on display starting Thursday, Sept. 12, through Oct. 11 at Deerwood Studios, 8655 N. Deerwood Drive just off of Highway 100.
Brett Waterhouse — who runs the Grove Gallery, 832 S. Fifth Street, and is sponsoring Edmunds — says that, if the photographer “was a sports figure, and he was invited to do something like this, he could raise $80,000 in a New York minute. But because he’s an artist: well, it’s hard to raise $80,000 for anything, but it’s really hard for an artist.”
As of this past weekend, they’d raised about half that.
A couple of the Andy prints have already sold, and the prestige of the gallery and more potential sales could close the gap and get Edmunds to Venice.
“I think this is taking the end of his career in a very interesting path,” Waterhouse says of Edmunds. “He’s got a second wind.”