In tandem with the exhibition Andy Warhol: Prints from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and his Family Foundation, the museum will present a new exhibition of work by Michael Childers. During the 1970s, Childers was a photographer for Andy Warhols’ Interview Magazine, giving him access to the artist and his famous New York studio, The Factory. Childers’ photographs of Warhol from the 1970s use subtle strategies of gesture, props, and doubling devises to go beyond the inscrutable icon that the artist cultivated, bringing to light his complicated personality below the surface persona. Similarly, Childers photographed the avant-garde artists and other creative, often flamboyant, performers who were cast in Warhol’s films and encouraged to use his studio as a living experiment in alternative values. Childers captured The Factory’s infamous denizens in photographs that uncover the multiple identities at play when gender, personality, persona, and performing roles combine.
In 1976 Michael Childers photographed participants at a Los Angeles Drag Ball. Dubbed “Flaming Creatures,” this group of thirty-eight revealing portraits captures the amusing gender play during an earlier, more innocent time. They reflect an era before the AIDS epidemic, when non-conforming sexuality was a performative gesture of mischievous defiance rather than a political act of survival. Although more known for his images of famous actors, writers, visual artists, and performers, Childers has produced other works that take their inspiration directly from the body. In these photographs of unknown merrymakers, he brings the same sensitivity to his subjects as in his more recognizable sitters, capturing both persona and personality through gestures and telling details.
As did Warhol’s artwork, Childers’ portraits from the drag ball in Los Angeles and The Factory in New York anticipate our present era of transgender awareness. These images provide insight into a history that precedes the public visibility of lives and identities crossing traditional gender definitions. As a participant in both The Factory and the entertainment culture of Los Angeles, Childers developed a photographic language to capture the radical potential of those who dared to use their own bodies as a way to reinvent our understanding of gender. He enlarges our understanding of the cultural revolution Warhol promoted through photographs that inform and delight as they remind us of the history behind our current moment.