Every morning around 9 a.m., Andy Warhol would call Brigid Berlin and ask, “Well, gee, what’s happening?” Best friends who called each other Mr. and Mrs. Pork, the two had a lot in common: They were both semi-ashamed of their background — blue-collar for Warhol, and old money for Berlin — and practically addicted to taking photos. Warhol could easily go through a roll of film a day, and Berlin once proclaimed that “running out of film was worse than running out of speed.” Today, their photos act almost like an Instagram feed of ‘60s and ‘70s New York, and while Warhol’s Polaroids may have gotten more play, Berlin was perhaps equally obsessed with documentation, amassing hundreds of off-the-cuff shots of artists like Roy Lichtenstein, Willem de Kooning, and Cy Twombly.
Berlin was used to fame — her father was president of Hearst, and counted the likes of Richard Nixon and Nelson Rockefeller among his friends — but claimed never to want it for herself. When Gerhard Richter painted her portrait, she gave it away, and reportedly spurned Warhol’s gifts of paintings by asking for a dishwasher instead. So having Warhol as her most frequent subject wasn’t the usual calculating move of so many at the Factory, but a result of convenience from spending so much time together. And if Berlin was looking to profit, she was quite transparent: “I would take pictures of Andy’s scars and then go down to Union Square and sell them for five dollars,” she said. “And then I would go back upstairs and take some more.” Few saw those marks on his abdomen left from Valerie Solanas’s assassination attempt, though Alice Neel did render them in Warhol’s shirtless portrait. (Berlin was there when she painted it, too — Warhol asked her to come along because he was afraid to go to Harlem alone.)
Still, as seen in Brigid Berlin Polaroids, a new book of her recently digitized archives, Berlin’s favorite subject was always herself. She was “big, often naked, and ornery as hell,” John Waters says in the foreword, and never afraid to be out there, especially if a camera was involved. (She even injected amphetamines through her jeans in Warhol’s Chelsea Girls.) Click through the slideshow to see some of her self-portraits, plus close-ups of Patti Smith, Nico, Diana Vreeland, Richard Avedon, Lou Reed, and many more.
A selection of Berlin’s polaroids can be seen at Invisible Exports in New York City through November 15.