In Pictures: The Illicit 1980s Nudes of Christopher Makos

Pin It
Keven Kendall Red Bikini Polaroid, 1986© Christopher Makos, courtesy of Daniel Cooney Fine Art

American photographer Christopher Makos speaks on his “dirty” images, which will soon be on display at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York

At the outset of his artistic career in 1976, May Ray imparted upon American photographer Christopher Makos a simple ethos to make great work: “obey your instinct” – a directive that has served him well over the years.

Infused with a delectable mix of confidence, charisma, and striking beauty, Makos returned to New York ready to take the city by storm. The following year he published his first monograph, White Trash, a bold and beguiling collection of photos documenting the punk scene that effortlessly mixed high and low society with all the verve of a bright young thing.

Andy Warhol took notice and soon the two became friends and collaborators. When editor Bob Colacello departed Interview magazine in 1983, leaving his ‘Out’ column behind, Warhol suggested Makos start a column called ‘In’. Soon New York’s finest found their way to Makos’ studio, ready to bare it all.

“I remember at the time, if I had a model in front of me and if I didn’t ask him or her to undress they were so disappointed like, ‘Did I not make the grade?’” Makos tells AnOther. “When I look at some of these pictures now, I think about TikTok and Instagram, I was way ahead of the curve there because so many of these pictures of these sexy boys and girls; they’re of the moment now.”

On September 17, Makos’ sultry, seductive, and sumptuous nudes will be on view in the new exhibition Dirty, along with photos of Warhol, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Debbie Harry, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, Richard Hell, Liza Minnelli, and John Lennon.

“There’s a picture of a hard on, there’s some tits and ass. I started thinking, what’s one word that comes to mind?” Makos recalls. “All of my titles for things, I don’t belabour it because if you overthink it, it’s not the real deal. I thought of everything that’s going on right now and said, ‘Let’s call it Dirty.’”

The exhibition, curated by gallerist Daniel Cooney, includes vintage prints from every decade of Makos’ storied career, including a new series of handmade assemblages. “During the highest moment of the pandemic, I bought a sewing machine, pulled vintage photographs out of the archive, and sewed them together,” Makos says.

“When I was a kid growing up my mom had a sewing machine. I wanted to play with it so I would get pieces of paper and sew them together. I loved doing that because it was so immediate. When I was at the Factory, Andy was always looking for some kind of new sculpture or assemblage. I told him, ‘Why don’t we sew your photographs together?’ I gave this idea to Warhol, he did them, and then I went back and did them myself.”

At a time when the male nude was still largely a provenance of the sexual underground, a new wave of photographers including Makos, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein brought it into the mainstream.

“When Bruce started taking romanticised homoerotic pictures of guys in Calvin Klein underwear for GQ, it became mainstream and elevated to art. It was always about desire. Mapplethorpe was about hardcore sex and beautiful pictures of flowers. When museums showed both, it brought that conversation to the forefront: ‘Is this art or is this pornography?’” Makos says.

“My pictures of men were not about desire and not about hardcore sex. Male models that came to my studio, I just let them do whatever they wanted. I didn’t want to project into my pictures; I just wanted to have a conversation with them. You have to talk to your subjects and get them to relax. Once they are calm, they open up and will do almost anything in front of the camera.”

Christopher Makos: Dirty is on view at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in New York September 17 – November 7, 2020.