A Description and Analysis of the Polaroid Photograph in the Torsos Series of Andy Warhol

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Andy Warhol has been called one of the most prolific and popular artists of all time. Dabeing in almost every medium of art, including performance art, filmmaking, writing, painting, drawing, mixed media, and photography, Warhol was a very well-rounded and well-versed artist. Warhol is most well known for his pop art pieces, including the Campbell’s Soup Can paintings and the Marilyn (Monroe) paintings, as well as his photographs of famous persons such as Sylvester Stallone, John Lennon, and Mick Jagger. When looking at a timeline of Warhol’s artworks, and reading about his work in the 70’s, one will discover a series of stunning polaroids that Warhol‘s took, titled Torsos. Although Andy Warhol is not recognized for being an exemplary photographer, his polaroids are notable and worthy of study and critique. Andy Warhol purchased his first polaroid camera in 1971, and immediately started carrying it with him everywhere he went.

He photographed anything and everything, trying to “capture every real moment”, as he put it, Warhol‘s Torsos collection allegedly began as a part of this mentality. In 1978, curator of the San Antonio Museum of Art, David Rubin, asked Warhol how Torsos began in an interview at an art show, Warhol responded, “Well, there was this kid named Victor Hugo who was a friend of Wendy Stark and that’s how it all happened 1 don’t know, he just kept dropping his pants and Wendy kept dropping her pants…” One casual afternoon in 1977, Warhol was in his studio with his friends Wendy Stark and Victor Hugo, and they randomly started undressing The two were just fooling around, but Warhol saw the afternoon as an serendipitous opportunity to not only capture a ‘real moment‘, but also to create art. Warhol immediately began taking polaroids as they posed for him, and so began Torsos.

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This paper will be a visual description and analysis of a polaroid photograph from Andy Warhol’s Torsos series. The entire collection entitled Torsos includes over 400 polaroids, as well as several paintings and drawings that were inspired by the original photographs. Torsos and Sex Ports were two collections of works that Warhol never really kept collected neatly or organized in any sort of way, and therefore individual works from both series were scattered, Because of this, the exact number of artworks in each collection is unknown Regardless, this critique will be focused on a singular polaroid taken in 1977 by Warhol, entitled Torso ofu Nude Mules This artwork shows a slim, naked, caucasian male, hunched over with his backside in the air. The model seems to be tilting over in a backwards ‘C’ shape, is leaning towards the left, and drops out of the frame- the photo only displaying his lower torso, side, buttocks, and upper legs.

The person’s body is lightly swathed in medium brown hair on the lower abdomen, upper buttocks, and thighs. The model seems to have been photographed on a white, or off-white background, It seems that Warhol may have used a flash when photographing this subject, or made use of bright lighting in his studio, as there are harsh shadows that line the body, and a slight glare on the model’s visible butt cheekt The whole image, in color, is primarily composed of mute pastels— pale whites, light pinks, beige tones and soft browns. These colors are contrasted by the stark blue-black hue of the shadow cast by the body‘s lower half, onto the blank white backdrops.  The mix of light and dark colors and shadows, the framing of the model, and the strange positioning of the body, all work together to create a very visually interesting and captivating work of art.

This work is well formed, neatly composed, and overall very aesthetically pleasing to look at, while at the same time leaves the viewer a bit uneasy. It is back and forth— both unsettling and comforting, visually pleasing yet somewhat repulsive, beautiful in content but also explicit in content, This tension is what makes the piece a “good” work of art. I am left with a mind circling through so many questions, I am wondering what the model is doing I am wondering how they got there I am wondering whether or not I should be looking at this naked man. I am thinking about how pleasing I find nudity and the human body completely uncensored I am forming views on what I find to be beautiful and what I find to be displeasing. Overall, this is a successful work of art primarily because it is raw, completely uncensored, and entirely real, In our world today, photographers tend to produce edited, photoshopped, manipulated images.

The polaroid camera was an escape from this. There was no dark room, no editing software, no blemish healing tools or spot remover settings. The object or subject being photographed was what could be seen when the polaroid exited the camera, unedited and real, This piece also is successful because it shows extreme vulnerability and honesty, for both Warhol and his subject. In the making of Torsos and Sex Parts, Warhol got up close and personal with his subjects. The polaroid camera that Warhol used did not come with any sort of zoom lens or attachment piecesr Warhol, therefore, could not rest on the comfort of standing at the back of his studio to photograph models from far away. He was usually less than a foot away from his models and their fully naked bodies This shows that Warhol not only invested himself in these works, but also formed intimate relationships with his subjects.

Lastly, this artwork is successful because of it’s graphic content It resists kitsch, comfort, and dull, boring art by explicitly displaying something that is generally uncomfortable to us- the unclothed human body. Warhol‘s Torsos series went on to inspire another set of his works called Sex Parts, a series of similar, but even more suggestive polaroidsf There are several notable differences, however, between Warhol’s Torsos and Sex Parts. The first difference is focused around the level of graphic content in each set of photographs The second series, Sex Parts, is generally thought to be more explicit, and even verging on pornographic. Another difference between the two series deals with the anonymity of the subjects being photographed Warhol‘s Torsos series is composed of close-up shots of different models’ body parts, including their buttocks, genitalia, abdominal areas, backs, and arms.

In these photos, the model’s face is never shown, and the focus is not on a sexual act or encounter, but the human body itself When looking at Warhol’s next works, Sex Parts, you will see a drastic change. Models are photographed participating in sexual acts with one another, dildos and props are used, and genitalia is photographed in a more provocative manner. One might argue that since the introduction of the camera, gender and sexuality have been significantly represented through photographs. The appearance of the photograph had the power to mediate sexualityf Photographs possessed the capability to deliver (usually accurate, but sometimes distorted) representations of gender, sexuality, and intimacy. In the world that we live in today, images and videos of sexual acts, desires, and bodies are regularly circulated and looked at, despite some people viewing these acts as morally wrong or corrupt. Explicit images, such as Warhol‘s Torsos polaroids give us an intense, and quite literal, picture of the actuality of the human body.

Abigail Solomon-Godeau, a professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, wrote in an essay called Playing in the Fields ofthe Image, that intimacy and nudity in photographs (and video) are often identified as obscene because the photograph makes the naked human bodily parts appear as ‘Lraces of the real’, and are not to be shared with just anyone, According to Terry Barrett in Why Is ThutArt?, photographs of sex and the naked human body are often considered more obscene and graphic because the act or subject behind the photo actually existed or took place, and were notjust a figment of an artist’s imagination Barrett asks the question, “Do photographs grant us unique and privileged access to reality that other media do not?”, While examining and critiquing art, essentialists have argued that photographs and video are “higher forms of reality” than many other representations of this same reality depicted in art.

Whether or not photographs are truly the most realistic of the arts, Warhol’s Torsos photographs give us an uncensored look at the many different forms the human body can take, as well as the many different ways humans display their sexuality. But when do these images become too graphic and inappropriate to be regarded as art? When does this display of nudity and sexuality turn into pornography? Where do we draw the line? Many art critics have nicknamed Warhol’s Terms and Sex Parts “dirty art”. It has been heavily debated between members of the art world, whether or not these works are too explicit to display, and even whether or not these works should be named as pornographic. According to Terry Barrett, is generally agreed upon that pornography in pictures can be described as “any set of images that exist solely for the purpose of sexual arousal, featuring nudity and sexual acts”.

When comparing pornography to Warhol’s Torsas, one can see a clear difference. These photographs do not “exist solely for the purpose of sexual arousal”. It has been documented that Andy Warhol took these photographs to capture moments in his life and people that he had met, and to contribute to his lifetime’s portfolio of beautiful artworks. These works were not created to cause arousal, but rather, to spark conversation and thought. Most of the polaroids in both of these series are photographs of homosexual males. At this time (the 1970s), homosexuality, and sexuality in general, were not very talked about subjects. It can be argued that the visibility of the homosexual at this time exited the closeted private sphere and entered the public sphere Warhol was a gay man himself, and felt very passionately for this community of people. When working on Torsas and Sex Parts, Warhol photographed this lifestyle and the people he was surrounded by, and thus became a large player in the movement towards the acceptance of nudity and sexual acts in art.

The 19705 were a time when the photographic representation of homosexuality and nudity in general became more intense and legitimate in realms where it until then had never been present or accepted. This work and entire series is successful because it has raised, and continues to raise a myriad of questions about nudity and sex in artworks, and pushes the Viewer to debate their personal views on such subjects as well. Another important question that Warhol’s Tarsas polaroids raise deals with whether or not the human body is art in itself, whether or not the human body is beautiful as it stands alone. In the 19705, Warhol said to a news reporter, “I’ve never met a person I couldn’t call a beauty,” Warhol thought the human body to be one of the purest, most beautiful forms to exist in our world, and loved to photograph it. When teaching about biology in his book Parts animals, Aristotle states that “living things (humans, animals, living organisms) reveal beauty because they demonstrate an organization that suits their purpose, and therefore their design is beautiful”.

He asks that his pupils not detest what they might find repulsive, and rest in the beauty of it instead. In Warhol‘s Torsos, the focus is on the beautiful, natural form of the human body. Warhol plays with the different ways that the human body can move, bend, twist, and turn, and displays this in a stunning way, Although Aristotle and Warhol both found the human body to be beautiful both in form and in function, not everyone has this View Many see the naked human body as repulsive, obscene, and disgusting, This may be due to cultural norms and stigmas that we have surrounded ourselves with.

Girls must wear shirts at all times, both sexes must cover their genitalia, Nude beaches and nudist colonies are few and far between, and are looked at by outsiders as strange and immoralr Even though the human body is naturally beautiful and does not need to be covered, our society has said the opposite, Warhol’s Torsos and Sex Parts expose the body for us, and raise questions about the natural beauty of nudity and this uncovered human body, Warhol‘s manager at the time, Bob Colacello, described Torsos and Sex Parts in an interview saying, “It was eleven thirty on a spring morning in 1977 when I arrived at the office, horrendously hung over from the previous night‘s blitz of vodka, coke and Quaaludes, but I wasn‘t seeing things.

There was a hairy arm stuffed up a hairy anus in Andy’s polaroids neatly arranged across the top of my desk., Andy had been at it again It was all for arts sake, of courseh” Many people, such as Colacello, do not see the beauty in the human body, and that is okay. Art will continue to probe questions such as these, and people will continue to be challenged and thrown out of their comfort zones as the art world expands Warhol loved to ask tough questions and make bold claims through his art He was also simply a believer in making art, and lots of itr Warhol once said, “Don’t think about making art, just get it done, Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it, While they are deciding, make even more art.”

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A Description and Analysis of the Polaroid Photograph in the Torsos Series of Andy Warhol. (2023, Apr 18). Retrieved from


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