Nearly half a century after the Factory closed, with the sheen of its silver doors still gleaming in our collective consciousness, Gregory Barker spoke to Billy Name of Factory fame about why it still captivates us.
Gregory Barker: How was it that you first got mixed up with Andy Warhol?
Billy Name: About 1960 I was working as a waiter at Serendipity 3, a boutique coffee shop on the Upper East Side. Andy used to come in every afternoon and he would sit at a big table often by himself with his drawings spread out. I remember him with his ink drawing at the table for an hour or two and maybe eating something while he did it.
GB: You were responsible for the “Silverizing” of the Factory, could you talk me through your original idea behind it?
BN: The idea was to create an installation composed of silver foil and silver paint. It was a maximal event, maximal meaning the opposite of minimal, it was a demonstration of covering all surfaces with a single coat of silver. I remember Reynolds Wrap heard about what I was doing and they sent a case of silver foil to the Factory. Surrounded in that space by all the silver, it felt like you were inside of a gem.
GB: How do you equate your approach to lighting design and photography?
BN: Lighting design is about making something visible and photography is recording a state. As mediums they work well simultaneously and I was always aware of the effect of light and shadow in my photos. I like large spaces of black or white with the action kind of inhabiting those spaces.
GB: It’s nearly half a century since you made the work included in the exhibition and we are still fascinated by the characters included in your images. What was it about them and that period of New York history that has given them their enduring appeal?
BN: The energy of the people in the photos, everyone is beautiful and often spaced out. The people in my photos, Edie, Gerard, Andy, Ondine, Nico, Lou… the thing about each of them is their authenticity. At the Factory they felt comfortable and free being exactly who they were. They weren’t pretending or putting on a fake mode of any kind. That’s why the subjects of my photos are so appealing. It's the true-ness...
GB: Over the past few months, there have been quite a few documentaries about the “real” Andy. How much of the public impression of him and the Factory would you say was of his own creation?
BN: Andy is perceived as a sort of a magic man, a wise magic man. As I knew him in real life he was just a regular guy. But when Andy stepped into the Silver Factory, the gem space, and was working on his art I would see him as Andy the magic man. Andy would sometimes try to show an affectionate side with me but it wouldn’t work and we would just laugh at the awkward nature of his gestures. We did have a unique “togetherness” in our relationship that worked well for us.
GB: A number of the prints exhibited are silkscreened, how did you come to the decision to produce them in this way?
BN: The concept was to create a version of my photos in the same way that Andy made his paintings. The high contrast and the halftone brings my photos full circle, back to where they were first captured at the Factory. I also like the feeling of seeing each print handmade with ink on paper, they almost feel like paintings.
GB: You were Billy Linich until you became a fixture at the Factory - where does “Name” come from?
BN: The name came from a day I was sitting at the desk in the Factory. Andy and I had silver desks that faced up against each other, I was sitting at mine and looking at a document I was filling out. There was the line that read “Name” and in that moment I was thinking of an alternate name because Linich didn’t feel like the right name for me anymore. I was feeling a sense of reinvention and when I saw the word “Name” it clicked, “Billy Name”. It sounded perfect. I felt like a different person when I became Billy Name, it was like being a cartoon character. I thought, created, spoke and lived with a greater ease. As Billy Name I felt like I could float between the frames of the cartoon strip that is life.
GB: From what I understand, the Factory was a place that was fuelled by speed and other nefarious substances, which left numerous notable casualties such as Edie Sedgwick in its wake. But to look at your photographs you would not necessarily guess it, with all the figures looking glamorous and very together -- is there a stash of more salacious photographs yet to be unearthed?
BN: That reality was created and maintained by the people who were around and each had their own reality they lived in. When I framed the photographs I thought in angles, the architecture of the space and the architecture of the people, whether they are relaxed or uptight, which had a relationship to the formality of the setting. The relationship of light and shadows and the way they accentuate the room or the people also played a big part in communicating their glamour. There aren’t really any salacious photos but there are probably over a thousand more photos that haven’t been published yet.
GB: As well as photographing at the Factory you worked with the Velvet Underground on their album covers, could you tell me a little about that process?
BN: The first album cover I did for the Velvet Underground was the album White Light/ White Heat. I told Lou to go through my contact sheets and pick a photo and eventually he found a frame he liked and pointed at a tattoo of a skull on Joe Spencer’s shoulder. I had to enlarge that one little section on that frame of film and the skull you see on the cover is the end result. On the album it’s printed black on black and you have to really look for it to notice the photo. For the next album there wasn’t really a formal process. The group came to the Factory and sat on the couch. I studied their positions and had everyone move around and sit in different ways. Lou and I discussed ideas as we went along, it ended up being a short process and we got exactly what we were after.
GB: I’ve read that you lived in a closet at the Factory. How did this come about?
BN: The closet was actually a large bathroom that I converted into a darkroom and living space. I stacked up a couple of mattresses on the floor and when I wasn’t processing film I would put the photo chemicals away.
GB: Why did you finally decide to leave the Factory?
BN: I became too saturated with the energy of the Factory and it was time for me to go into the world and see what was out there. I thought about leaving for a while but never told anyone. One day I tore a page out of a catalogue and with a red magic marker wrote the message: “Dear Andy, I am not here anymore but I am fine. Love, Billy.” And then I walked out and never went back.
GB: In preparation for this exhibition and book you must have spent a great deal of time reliving your experiences at the Factory. How does it all feel to you in retrospect -- are the memories mainly fond ones?
BN: I’m not a sentimental person. The people you see in the photos were my friends and I have a fondness for them all. When I look through the book The Silver Age I don’t necessarily see the photos as fond or not fond memories exactly. It’s more like looking into a window at moments with real people as I knew them, in all their vibrancy and energy. I think anyone today and in the future can feel the energy in the photos, the radiant personalities in their stillness. There is so much that can be absorbed from the energy that will always endure.
All images © Billy Name / Reel Art Press
Billy Name: The Silver Age RRP £60, published by Reel Art Press. www.reelartpress.com
— Gregory Barker