The man who silvered The Factory


Billy Name was the man who turned Andy Warhol’s Factory silver. He was also its in-house documentary photographer and archivist. Name lived and worked at The Factory, sleeping in a closet – which he had converted into a darkroom – at the back of Warhol’s studio at 231 East 47th Street. His unique style captured the “Silver Years” of the Factory in New York City, from 1963-1970. We interviewed him in London, at the Groucho Club, where he wore shades and drank chocolate milk.

Billy Name Andy Warhol Factory silver

Billy Name by Civilian London

“I’ve been Billy Name and filled my pockets with sand. I’ve seen everything…” – “Cut Me Down” by Lloyd Cole

Civilian: Tell us how you came to turn The Factory silver.

Billy Name: I was working as a lighting designer with avant-garde dance companies Off Broadway, and I was doing a lot of collage work. I had a nice apartment on the Lower East Side. I went into a hardware store, saw a range of Krylon spray paints and got a bunch of different coloured cans. I wasn’t using it in a graffiti style, it was in a minimal, sculptural, installation way. I covered whole spaces with a single colour. The silver one turned me on the most. I did my whole apartment with silver chrome, and wrapped the pipes with aluminium foil. I covered the phone and refrigerator too. It had a singular, amazing aura. Andy came over one time when I was having a party, and he asked me to do an installation at The Factory. I guess I’m a minimalist; or perhaps a maximalist, depending on your point of view.

And then he gave you a camera?

I moved in, and he gave me the stills camera that he was using – a Pentax SLR. I read the manual and then taught myself how to develop my own negatives. I have a recognisable style because no one taught me. It came out of experimentation.

According to The Andy Warhol Diaries there was a period when you lived in The Factory, but were never seen outside of the darkroom.

I only ever let Ondine and Lou Reed into the darkroom, because we were all interested in astrology and the occult

That was in the second Factory. It was much larger, and I had a living space in the darkroom. It was after Warhol had been shot, which was a whole big trauma. It was very painful for all of us. We loved Andy and he loved us. The whole mood of The Factory changed. I didn’t come out to the front much. People would ask Andy where I was, and he would tell them I was in the darkroom out back, and Paul Morrissey would joke “oh yeah, he hasn’t been out of there for two years now”. I did come out during the day though. I only ever let Ondine and Lou Reed into the darkroom, because we were all interested in astrology and the occult, so we talked a lot.

So that was a weird time – at the later Factory?

The art world was moving away from the avant-garde and towards marketed art. I was less interested in that. When I moved out of The Factory, I left the darkroom door open with a note on the table: “Dear Andy, I’m not here anymore, but I’m fine. Love, Billy”. I went and lived on the streets. I lived in a mall with demonstrators in Washington DC and made my way to San Francisco. I was saturated with The Factory. I felt I had to go out and see if I could deal with what was going on in the rest of the planet. I found a hotel room and worked on poetry.

The Velvet Underground by Billy Name

The Velvet Underground by Billy Name

Some people from The Factory – particularly the filmmaker Paul Morrissey, who made Chelsea Girls, Flesh, Trash, Blood for Dracula and Flesh for Frankenstein – went on to become very Conservative. How did that happen, when The Factory had been so radical and liberal?

Well, Andy became Conservative when he became wealthy. And Paul Morrissey is a parody of Conservatism. He is actually a very radical thinker. He knows everything there is to know about filmmaking. He has a degree in social sciences from Fordham University. Paul was Conservative in his Irish neighbourhood thinking. You could never say he was Conservative in terms of philosophy. His films are social parodies. They are satire. To quote Holly Woodlawn in one of his films: “I want to get back on welfare and be respectable again”. When Andy was shot, Paul started directing because we had a contract with the Hudson Theatre in Times Square to supply a new soft porn art film every month.

What do you think about how Andy has been represented on film since his death?

I think I Shot Andy Warhol is a black comedy. I was an artistic consultant on the film, and they did a great job in recreating The Factory. When I walked on set, it was like I was back there again, and I gravitated towards where my old work space would have been. I thought Jared Harris oozed Andy. Bowie in Basquiat is very professional. He really captures Andy in the 1980s. But if he wasn’t so recognisable as Bowie, you’d read it differently. Lou Reed wouldn’t have anything to do with the film. A lot of people found it an affront – like when Andy was made the villain over Edie. People thought they were exploiting The Factory as a leverage point for publicity. Andy was very vulnerable. It was easy to hurt him – like kids at kindergarten picking on someone to make them cry, just because it was easy to do.

What relevance do you think your photographs of the Warhol Factory have today?

The greatest gatherings imaginable were at The Factory. We had parties for Judy Garland. Montgomery Clift, Tennessee Williams and Nureyev were there. We were the hot spot. We were a prime force in the art world

Firstly, they record the great Factory Warhol scene in the 1960s, which was such a dynamic era for the arts and culture. And as Andy passed away, he can’t be a spokesman for it. Secondly, they are relevant in terms of my art as a photographer. Nan Goldin and a lot of other art photographers have been exhibited at the Whitney, but my work wasn’t shown or published outside of the context of the Factory for a very long time. Then I met people like Gavin Brown, who asked to exhibit my vintage prints, which had been made in The Factory.

I have printed colour negatives that I had shot but didn’t actually print back in the 60s – the Velvet Underground album covers were shot in colour, but printed in black and white, because I didn’t have a colour enlarger. I was shooting experimentally indoors with film that was colour balanced for daylight. You can do a lot of bizarre work with negatives afterwards, but this was actually in the shooting. I did a lot of things that photographers weren’t doing. The 60s was a great period for photographic innovation.

And of course so much modern fashion photography chimes with your work – you can see elements of it in the likes of Mark Borthwick and Wolfgang Tillmans.

The underground style has surfaced. It has become a legitimate part of our culture. It didn’t have to remain a subculture; it is raw, unpretentious and created outside of the studio. It is intended as art but can be used for promotion, advertising and fashion. It has found its place. At one time, there was no surrealism – it had to fight its way into being recognised with Man Ray.

When certain imagemakers ape the 60s, it can look pretentious. But I wonder – was there an element of pretension to begin with?

A lot of things were breaking down back then. Paris had been the centre of the art world. Then all of a sudden it moved to New York City. It was new turf, without rigidities. Things were almost totally open; it was a free for all. There were Rauschenberg’s “Combines”, which were on canvas, and which included a stuffed goat with a tyre around its neck. And Warhol jumped from canvas onto film. We were all so into our work that there was no time for pretension.

There was a whole new world. Art became less of a museum piece and more of an experiential event. It was a democratisation. Andy’s use of Monroe, Elvis and the Campbell’s Soup can made it accessible to the populace in a way that it hadn’t been since the 19th century, with pastoral scenes. People knew it was part of their world. Impressionism and Cubism were ugly. It was a stroke of genius to use the Campbell’s image for a fine art painting. It is like the jokes from the Dutch Renaissance, with Vermeer and the reflections of reflections.

It’s the stuff of legend now, but did The Factory really feel like such a big deal at the time, when you were inside it and it was happening around you?

Oh yeah! From 1965 to 1967 the greatest gatherings imaginable were at The Factory. We had parties for Judy Garland. Montgomery Clift, Tennessee Williams and Nureyev were there. We were the hot spot. We were a prime force in the art world. There were the drugs and there was the sexuality. It was the time of the gay revolution, and within the arts culture that’s where the gay world came out. Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns were lovers, but in the closet. They didn’t want anyone to know.

Did the dynamic work because it was a very closed arena – a clique?

Absolutely. It was a specific arena, without inhibitions. It wasn’t just “the gay world”. It was the straight and bi worlds too. We had a space that allowed people to express their true nature. We encouraged people to give us their beauty, and record it on film.

And was Warhol a sexual entity within this, or just a voyeur?

He was an essential sexual entity. He was the essence of sexuality. It permeated everything. Andy exuded it, along with his great artistic creativity. Sexuality was part of the glamour – we expressed it like teenagers. It brought a joy to the whole art world in New York. C