Photographer discusses Warhol, industry

Courtesy Rockaway PR

As part of the 2011 Miami Beach Art Basel, renowned photographer William John Kennedy will be displaying his unique and personal photography of iconic contemporary artists Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana.

The exhibit, “Before They Were Famous: Behind the Lens of William John Kennedy,” is part of SCOPE, a satellite showing of Art Basel in Wynwood. Kennedy’s photographs capture the little-known personalities of both Warhol and Indiana, and stand as a historic tribute in each of the three artists’ emerging careers. The Miami Hurricane caught up with William John Kennedy at SCOPE’s Art Show in Wynwood.

The Miami Hurricane: How did you get your start in photography?

William John Kennedy: I was studying at the Pratt Institute when I met Clifford Coffin, a tremendously talented and famous photographer for Vogue magazine. I was looking for an assistant job at the time and got a call from Coffin shortly after. And the rest is history. But really from the beginning, it was my aunt, who treated me like her own son and truly nurtured me in the arts. I began as a painter, but was really introduced to the entire art spectrum by my aunt and was able to get my start in photography. I was incredibly fortunate.

TMH: When did photography become more of a career and less of a hobby?
WJK: Working with Clifford Coffin was the real start of my career in photography. I grew increasingly involved with commercial photography through my work with magazines and advertising. A career in photography was all about being able to eat; commercial photography gave me enormous freedom with a steady income. Coming from my ideal and affluent childhood, adjusting to life was an awakening to put it mildly, a culture shock.

TMH: Who is the most interesting person you have ever had the opportunity to photograph?
WJK: Probably Clifford Coffin.

TMH: The most difficult person to photograph?
WJK: I’ve worked with some top models. At some point, I’ve had to say, “I’m the photographer, we’re going to do it this way.” I’ve learned that going along with their tantrums just completely destroys what we’re trying to create.

TMH: What was it like interacting with people like Andy Warhol and Robert Indiana, people that we don’t see featured as art, but rather the beyond -the-frame artist?
WJK: Andy Warhol was totally unique – he had a fertile mind and was always innovating. As soon as we began working together, he recognized my objectives and was akin to what he was doing. I had this idea for a photo shoot in a random lot in Astoria in Queens, with these tall, tall flowers. His only response to my proposal was, “Pick me up.” Some things you really have to drag out, but, in working with Andy, they just happened. Our careers grew side by side. Andy had a perfectly beige personality, unless an idea was injected that he loved. With Robert Indiana, we hit it off right away. He was all about work, work, work, he was smart and was always honing his skills.

TMH: Tell me about your photograph of Warhol holding his iconic Marilyn Monroe work.
WJK: This was taken in the factory. I walked into his studio and there were just rows and rows of work. I was calling his name and could hear him calling back. I walked through to find Andy up on a 15-foot ladder. We started shooting and everything just flowed with such ease; he loved my ideas. We had a lot of laughs. In this photograph, we were by the open fire escape to get away from the ugly lighting effects of the spotlights. I asked Andy to hold up one of his fifty or so rolled up acetate proofs of his silk screens. The chances of him pulling out the Marilyn Monroe were one in a million, but it just happened.

TMH: Who would you most like to photograph today?
WJK: I’d like to work with some contemporary American artists, and a few, maybe three to four foreign artists too. Put them together in a nice large-format book. Yes, that would be nice.

TMH: Who were your favorite subjects to shoot?
WJK: Probably overall, the artists – they are fun to shoot. Some famous, some on their way up. You can see it in their work and you get that feeling that something big is happening.

TMH: Any advice for aspiring photographers?
WJK: Never give up. Keeping going, keep working and boom, something is bound to happen. Continue working and improving your portfolio, make yourself something different, preserve your vision in a world of mundane copies.

For more information on the exhibit visit