Chester B Simpson
"Are they afraid of me?"
Meeting Andy Warhol in 1977
I read in the newspaper that one of my favorite artists, Andy Warhol, was having a gallery opening of his prints at the Gallery Marc in San Francisco. I always enjoyed Andy's films and artwork and I knew I had to be there. I grabbed my cameras and hopped on a cable car, arriving in time to see him.
I made my way into the gallery, observing larger-than-life silkscreen printed images of artist Mark Leibovitz and Mao Zedong. I noticed Andy was standing all alone on one side of the gallery while about 25 to 30 people stood across from him. They seemed to be admiring him without talking to him, just staring at him. Andy looked like a wax figure from Madame Tussaud’s Wax Museum with his very pale complexion and a straw wig.
No one was talking to him, so I went straight up to him, said hello, and introduced myself.
He was wondering why no one else was talking to him. "Are they afraid of me?", he asked. I reassured him that they were probably just shy.
I knew Andy used a MINOX EL, a tiny 35mm 'James Bond'-like camera that was one of the first "pocket cameras" available on the market. I knew we had something to talk about and pulled out my old Olympus Pen Half Frame 35 mm camera, made in 1959, and proceeded to show him my own "pocket camera".
I asked him if I could take his portrait with his favorite silkscreen prints in the gallery.
Andy replied, I really like my Mark Leibovitz and Mao Zedong prints, so I got him to pose with them.
He was curious to know more about my Olympus Pen Half Frame 35 mm camera, so I explained. A half-frame camera uses 35mm film, but you get twice as many pictures per roll because the film format is 1/2 the standard size. This makes a roll of 36 frames become a roll of 72 frames. There’s no light meter or focus on the camera so you have to guess your distance from your subject and manually set the distance and shutter speed.
I thanked him for posing and he asked me to send him a photo. Later, I printed a wonderful black and white postcard of him and sent a copy of it in the mail to him.
People finally came up to him, asking questions about his art and asking for his autograph. He smiled at me as I melted into the crowd, allowing him to have his 15 minutes of fame.
Almost a decade later, in 1986, living in the Washington, DC area, I read that Andy Warhol would be at a gallery signing for his book. I went down to the gallery and waited in line. When my time came, I opened my portfolio, took out a print of Andy, and asked him to sign it. He said that the photographer sent him a copy and asked where I had gotten mine from. I told him that I was the photographer and he thanked me, saying he really liked it.
He turned the photo over to sign, but I requested that he sign it on the front, just under the image of him.
That signed portrait of Andy Warhol still hangs framed on my wall to this day.
Check out photographs by the artist: Rock-n-roll Photography