Author Topic: In Search of an Archive of Warhol’s Era  (Read 826 times)

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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In Search of an Archive of Warhol’s Era
« on: January 10, 2010, 12:20:00 am »

In Search of an Archive of Warhol’s Era

Billy Name, the resident photographer of the Factory for seven years, is trying to retrieve his missing archive of
negatives. "My negatives are in ghost land, man," Mr. Name said.

Edie Sedgwick, during her screen test at Andy Warhol's
Silver Factory, in 1965.

Ray Johnson, left, and Andy Warhol in a photograph by
Billy Name.

Warhol with, clockwise from top, Mary Woronov, Nico and International
Velvet, in 1966.

Published: January 8, 2010

POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. — In the nearly 23 years since Andy Warhol’s death, a veritable Factory’s worth of people have claimed that they worked by his side during the glory years of the 1960s, when he was revolutionizing art with his silk-screens and surface-luster vision of life.

Billy Name, who lives in a neatly kept apartment in a run-down house near the train station here, has never had to make that case for himself because his photographs have always done it for him. For seven years, beginning in late 1963, when Warhol gave him a 35-millimeter Honeywell Pentax camera, Mr. Name was the resident photographer of the Factory, capturing the perpetual swirl of superstars, celebrities and hangers-on.

He left in 1970, traumatized by the shooting of Warhol by Valerie Solanas two years earlier and disillusioned by the increasingly businesslike direction of Warhol’s career. And in the years since, Mr. Name’s income, such as it is — he describes himself as an anarchic Buddhist who has never cared much about money — has mostly come from magazine editors, curators, filmmakers and others who pay him for the use of his 1960s images, produced from several thousand negatives. The pictures provide rare documentation of nearly every aspect of Warhol’s world at the so-called Silver Factory on East 47th Street in Manhattan and at the studio’s later incarnation near Union Square.

But sometime in the last two years, Mr. Name’s archive of negatives went missing. Mr. Name left it in the care of a photography agent, Kevin Kushel, a former director of The Associated Press’s photo archive who went on to form his own stock-photography company, and whom Mr. Name said he had not been able to contact for months. The disappearance of the negatives has alarmed not just Mr. Name and his circle of friends and supporters but also scholars, who describe the images as an important historical record of a pivotal time in art history.

“His documentation of that era is really irreplaceable,” said Callie Angell, the adjunct curator of the Whitney Museum of American Art’s Andy Warhol Film Project. “There were really only four photographers around the Factory for any length of time in the 1960s, and Billy Name was the only one of them who lived there. His pictures were Warhol’s press photos. They were his chosen representation of his work.”

In 2006 Ms. Angell completed the first volume of the catalogue raisonné of Warhol’s films, a book that includes many of Mr. Name’s pictures. She is now at work on the second volume, and she said that she worried that she would be unable to find crucial photographs that she needed for it.

Mr. Name (who was born William Linich) grew up in Poughkeepsie and in the 1950s moved to New York City, where he became a theatrical lighting designer and had a brief romantic relationship with Warhol, before moving into the Factory. In an interview at his home, he described a chaotic chain of events that leaves many questions about what has become of his negatives, which he kept with him for years in several ring-binder notebooks.

He said that Mr. Kushel, who became his agent more than a decade ago — though the two never had a written contract — took the negatives in several batches from Poughkeepsie to his own apartment in Manhattan, to scan them. For many years, Mr. Kushel struck agreements with magazines, publishers and others to provide images when they were requested, and Mr. Name said he was happy with his work, trusted him and felt that the negatives were in good hands.

But in 2007 Mr. Kushel left New York and moved to Palm Springs, Calif., and later to Hawaii, where he lives now. After months of what Mr. Name said was erratic behavior that included Mr. Kushel’s not responding to requests for images, Mr. Name severed their relationship and asked for his negatives back. But none have been returned.

“I never really had an agent before Kevin and I was not well during much of the time period when all this was happening,” said Mr. Name, 69, who has diabetes and arthritis. “And I didn’t know — I still don’t know — how to deal with something like this.”

Mr. Name said that Mr. Kushel had not responded to other requests to provide him, at the very least, with scans he made of the negatives, so that Mr. Name could begin to earn an income from them again. But in a brief telephone interview on Friday, Mr. Kushel denied this accusation, saying he had made all of the scans available to Mr. Name.

Mr. Kushel declined to comment further about the negatives, citing advice from his lawyers, whom he would not name. But he said that he was working to ensure that the archive was returned to Mr. Name.

“I’m moving as fast as possible to rectify a situation in which I was basically sabotaged,” he said, declining to elaborate. Asked about the whereabouts of the negatives, he said only: “They are not missing. They’re just sort of being held captive.” When he was asked by whom they were being held, he added, “By people who want money.”

Kymara Lonergan, a gallery owner in Maine who befriended Mr. Name several years ago and now works as his manager and agent, said that Mr. Kushel had not replied to numerous requests from her for the negatives or for an explanation.

She said that she and Mr. Name had gotten high-resolution scans of several dozen pictures from magazines and other places that had them in their computer files. Prints had also been made from some negatives over the years, and Mr. Name has sold those to collectors and museums. But he does not know how many of the 3,000 negatives were ever scanned by Mr. Kushel, and he said he worried that some of his photographs could be lost for good if negatives that were never scanned or printed were lost.

“My negatives are in ghost land, man,” said Mr. Name, whose flowing gray beard and ever-present sunglasses now make him look more like Billy Gibbons from the band ZZ Top than like the skinny Factory regular he once was.

Ms. Lonergan said that she was contacted last year by a veteran Chelsea photography dealer, Steven Kasher, who was interested in representing Mr. Name, and that Mr. Kasher told her that he had been approached by two antiques dealers, whose names he did not divulge, who said they had bought the negatives at an auction for an unclaimed lot of material left in a Lower Manhattan mini-storage warehouse.

Asked about Ms. Lonergan’s account, Mr. Kasher, who has represented sales of vintage prints from several important archives, including that of The New York Times  and the National Geographic Society,  would say only, “I’d prefer not to comment because I don’t know all the facts.”

Ms. Lonergan said that she and Mr. Name were exploring the possibility of pursuing a lawsuit against Mr. Kushel and that she had met with Sally Pritchard of the Special Prosecutions Bureau of the Manhattan district attorney’s office. A spokeswoman for the office would not comment on whether prosecutors were looking into the issue.

Photographic negatives, even historically important ones like Mr. Name’s, generally do not have value in the art market the way prints do. And because Mr. Name owns the copyright to the images, giving him control over their publication or reproduction, he and others like Ms. Angell, who have been aware of the archive’s disappearance for several months now, said they were bewildered by the thought that someone might have them and be trying to sell them.

“Billy told me one time when he was talking about Andy getting shot that Andy was always getting involved in these ‘tacky tragedies,’ ” Ms. Angell said. “And you might say it’s happened again. This is a pretty tacky tragedy, but it’s one I really hope has a happy outcome.”
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