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Warhol Photography Captures Diversity and Depth of American Culture

Alex Kasten
By Alex Kasten
Kareem Abdul Jabbar, 1978

What strikes the viewer of a certain generation almost immediately upon entering the new photography exhibition at University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) is a Polaroid image of NBA legend Kareem Abdul Jabbar (Kareem Abdul Jabbar, 1978). In it, the towering sports figure, half shielded by a basketball, appears vulnerable, almost childlike, as he peers out at the camera.

The Abdul-Jabbar image is among 74 Warhol works in the exhibit and it—like others—offer the viewer glimpses into intimate interactions. As a group, the works in the new photography exhibit, Social Angles and Interactions: The Photography of Andy Warhol, William J. Anderson, and A. Aubrey Bodine, push boundaries and comfort levels.

“These images present struggles that still feel contemporary,” said Treston Sanders, curator of the Arts Program at UMGC. Sanders selected the 98 images for this exhibition, which represent a portion of the works by Warhol, Anderson and Bodine in UMGC’s permanent collection.

“We’re proud to provide a glimpse into the social environments of three brilliant American artists,” said Eric Key, director of the Arts Program.  

Enlightenment, 2006

The Warhol photos highlight his interrelationship with art, marketing, culture and celebrity. His portraits of ordinary people, partygoers and celebrities are sometimes posed but often candid and playful and intimate. Throughout, the viewer gains a peek into the impromptu moments of private parties, intimate conversations and formal photo sessions, all of which capture the essence of Warhol as an observer and chronicler of a culture of celebrity that blossomed in the 1960s and continued into the 1980s.

In contrast, William J. Anderson, an African American photographer, sculptor and professor of art who died in 2019, was a chronicler of a completely different America. Born in Selma, Alabama, during the Great Depression, his images primarily capture the struggles, living conditions and lives of Black American children, families and elders.

A photograph of an older woman (Enlightenment, 2006)) stands out by contrasting the serene and engaged expression on her face while she reads a book against the visible fact that she is missing a leg. One is left to wonder about her personal history and what she may have experienced.. Another photo (Gonna Walk All Over, 1975) offers a close-up of two weathered feet, albeit at rest, also suggesting a story of struggle.

In many of Anderson’s images, the viewer is left to ponder the story behind the photo. 

Gonna Walk All Over, 1975

Like Warhol later in the 20th century, A. Aubrey Bodine, who died in 1970, was ahead of his time, especially in the ways he manipulated his images to capture a particular mood. A newspaperman by profession, Bodine got his start at age 14, working as a messenger for the Baltimore Sun before transferred to the newspaper’s commercial art department. Using images that capture Baltimore and Maryland’s landscapes, building interiors, facades and industry, he was one of the first news photographers to elevate his images to an artform.

Bodine was particularly well known for his photograph enhancements, essentially employing the effects of Photoshop decades before its invention. He developed a technique to enhance his images with clouds, using negatives that he would add to prints of landscapes and water scenes. Using this technique, he could alter the mood or time of day of an image. He also added silhouettes of birds, manipulated the size and the moon and sun, and slipped in flecks that appeared as snow or rain.

Polytechnic Institute

His photograph, Polytechnic Institute, suggests this technique. Its building facades, deep in shadow, are framed by brilliant, well-defined clouds.

UMGC has cultivated and grown its permanent art collections since 1978. The Maryland Artist Collection is one of the largest compilations of work by artists in the state. The International Collection includes works by some of the nation’s leading art figures, while The Asian Collection comprises centuries of Asian art, including Chinese ceramics and traditional scrolls that date as far back at the Tang Dynasty, as well as contemporary Japanese prints.

Social Angles and Interactions: The Photography of Andy Warhol, William J. Anderson, and A. Aubrey Bodine, on display at the UMGC Arts Program Gallery, Lower Level, College Park Marriott Hotel & Conference Center, runs until July 30.