“I sound a bit Pollyanna, don’t I,” says photographer Christopher Makos. That was probably the last word I would use to categorize the renowned artist with a photographic pedigree impossible to match. Makos apprenticed under Man Ray and was a close friend and personal photographer to Andy Warhol for the last fourteen years of the pop-artist’s life. He introduced the work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring to Warhol. He was an assistant to Tennessee Williams. He has photographed the top stars from Mick Jagger to John Lennon, and has been the eye behind the lens capturing countless young men with six pack abs and haunting eyes. Pollyanna? A photographer who has documented Andy Warhol in drag and put out a book called White Trash? Never.
But a purist in portraiture, yes, and that include his dog portraiture. “I don’t see any difference between my human work and animal portraits. I bring out who they are. I never try to change them. I don’t put them in costumes and don’t make them do human things,” says Makos. He points out to a coupling of photo in his Chelsea studio. “I had this photo of Andy and the other of the dog – and they look so strikingly the same – the hair, you know?” The dog and the artist did seem to give of themselves in the same way to the camera, and, of course, the jaggedly cut platinum bangs were dead-ringers.
The dog photography started when Makos worked at Interview magazine. “I had a column called In, and had been watching David Letterman’s stupid pet tricks. I asked friends if they had dogs and would pose them and put them in my column.” This clearly was the start of something. He hands me a box of his animal photography and there are hundreds. What’s incredible is that each dog is looking longingly into the camera, as if bedazzled by Makos’ lens. How does he do it? We’ve all tried to take photos of our furry loved ones, but more often than not, that rambunctious Rover would sooner be scratching his ear, chasing his tail, or the cat or something. So what is Makos’ secret? “I tell the owner to feed the dog beforehand and when I take the photos, I get to the dog’s level and look ir in the eye. The eyes are the windows of the soul.” Blonde and floppy haired Makos’ own eyes fit about the room as he tells about his work. He is hyper-engaged, multi-tasking, and pushing ahead to the next moment.
His seemingly ceaseless energy is confirmed when he tells of one of his latest projects completed for the Spanish government. He took no less than 60,000 photos of the state of Valencia for a book project he was commissioned to do, and is returning to Valencia to open an exhibit of this work and launch the book called “La Comunitat Valenciana”. Forts, festivals, stretches of landscape and even the occasional Euro-dog are amongst his photos in this collection. “It was the most intense sustained photographic experience of my life,” says Makos who calls the project his “excellent adventure”. That kind of captures him – young at heart with a ‘Bill and ted’ kind of fresh , wide-eyed vision, yet at the same time with a talent that bespeaks his life and photographic experience. This was an entirely digital project, a medium that he said he likes very much. “With digital photography, you learn to be a better photographer more quickly. It is about content, not about technology. About how one frames the shot.” His more recent works are large abstract digital photographs, dense in their content and interesting in the eye.
The self-proclaimed citizen of Europe and New York says he notices a difference between dogs home and abroad. Makos laughs, “It’s different in Spain, and Europe in general – the dogs like the people tend to be a bit better behaved.”
Because of his huge travel schedule (he estimates that travels six months of the year), Makos is not a pet-owner himself, although he grew up with two standard poodles. With his background and his extensive work in dog portraiture, he knows about the bond between people and pets. “You see someone love and be loved back unconditionally. That is wonderful today. All the information out there gets in the way and confuses people. I think the world is having an even bigger love affair with animals now, as they provide simplicity, relief, and complication-free relationship.”
To find out more about Christopher Makos, or to get information about upcoming exhibitions and projects, visit his website, http://www.makostudio.com/
By Jennifer Cattaui
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