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Andy with Truman Capote, Southampton, 1979

Andy with Truman Capote, Southampton, 1979

Bob Colacello recorded the hedonism of the late seventies like no other in his pictures – though he wasn’t even a professional photographer. What is his secret?

It was matte black and barely bigger than a pack of cigarettes – the first mini camera that one could take photos with on 35 millimeter film. In his most glamorous times, Bob Colacello always wore his Minox in his jacket pocket, and he rarely missed an opportunity to use it. As the long- time editor-in-chief of the society magazine Interview, founded by Andy Warhol, he had access to domains that were reserved for the rich, the beautiful, and the powerful – from the VIP area of the famous disco “Studio 54” to the inauguration of US president Carter. Colacello never missed a party. He sat in the back of a limousine with Bianca Jagger, attended the actress Marisa Berenson’s wedding with Liza Minelli, and traveled to Europe for exhibition openings as Warhol’s close confidant, where he also met the former German Chancellor Willy Brandt.

150 of his photos from 1976 to 1982 are currently being exhibited at Vito Schnabel’s gallery in New York. Some appeared in Interview at the time, others slumbered in Colacello’s private archive and are being shown publicly for the first time. The exhibition is accurately titled Pictures From Another Time, evoking an era when the presence of a camera was rather an exception than a rule – a time when the pictured subjects didn’t always throw themselves into the same poses. Unlike the paparazzi who lined the red carpets those days, Bob Colacello didn’t photograph as an intruder, but rather as a member of the inner circle of New York’s high society. He was a man in whom celebrities confided their secrets, and that is why nobody was really bothered when he got out his Minox at dinner parties and pestered the guests with it. Colacello was not interested in the rules of image composition and photographed from the weirdest angles, often the people in his shots are cut off. “I never saw myself as a photographer,” he once said. In retrospect however, it is precisely this offhandedness from which his pictures resulted that gives them their particular allure. His protagonists encounter him with a surprising carelessness and spontaneity. The hedonistic spirit of a time in which cocaine prevailed as a harmless pick-me-up and Aids was still unknown is reflected in their unselfconsciousness.

Colacello, who is now 72 years old and sees himself as a survivor of those excessive years, was not always sober himself when he took his photos. That too may have contributed to their immediacy.

Caption 1: Many of Colacello’s photos arose from travels. Top left: with Andy Warhol and Truman Capote in Southampton. Above: John Paul Getty III in Los Angeles. Right: Dagny Corcoran and Wendy Stark in Los Angeles.

Caption 2: Bob Colacello photographed the unknown woman with the cigarette (l.) in 1979. The year after he drove through New York City with Bianca Jagger and Diane de Beauvau-Craon (r).