WWhat are the worst three people in the world? In the mid to late 1960s you had a whole row to choose from. However, when Lou Reed chose his trio, in fact there was only one name on the list. "The three worst people in the world," Reed said in 1967, "are Nat Finkelstein and two quick sellers."
The frustration of Reed with an insufficient supply of amphetamines is understandable. His aversion to one of the most dedicated and talented photographers who shoot the Velvet Underground at their best, as well as Warhol and many other factory luminaries, requires more unpacking.
"It was a good insult," says Elizabeth Finkelstein, the widow of the photographer who helped monitor the in-and-out of Warhol orbit: photos of Nat Finkelstein, a new exhibition of his work this month at Proud Central in London was opened. Nat described the Velvet Underground as "psychopaths rolling stones". He did not mean that as an insult. Lou answered. I think Nat was not offended. "
Some owe Finkelstein's rough Brooklyn style and his connections to world-class photography agencies, which revolve among others for Life, as the qualities that allowed him one day in 1964 more or less walk in Warhol's studio unannounced and remain until 1967, Andy and Co. in exquisite details tell.
"There were three photographers who captured today's silver factory," says Joseph Freeman, who was Andy Warhol's assistant from 1965 to 1967. "Billy Linich, later known as Billy Name, Stephen Shore, and there was Nat Finkelstein."
Today, Name is a true Warhol superstar and synonymous with the fertile years when Andy produced his Marilyn and Elvis screenprints at the Silver Wall Studio on East 47th Street, where the Velvet Underground and Nico came through the doors. Shore is now a renowned fine art photographer and the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art 2017 in New York. But Finkelstein "seems to have lost in the shuffle," says Freeman. In the years leading up to his death in 2009, Nat's profile was rather modest and his archive was in disarray.
This inequality of legacy is all the more unjustified when looking at the pictures. "I think Warhol might have thought that Nats pictures were the best, but he did not really get along," says Freeman. "Stephen Shore was very rich and he looked at me like nothing," he continues. "Billy was very friendly, but Andy gave Billy a camera and told him to take a picture of what was going on. Nat was a Yeoman; He was only there for photography every day. "
One of Finkelstein's main themes was the Velvet Underground, a band he almost got too close to, says Elizabeth. "He loved her as an individual," she explains. "He felt very connected to them as his friends. He was a bit older than the band [Finkelstein was born in 1933; Cale and Reed were both born in ’42]and I believe that later on he also felt excluded. "
The band's guitarist, Sterling Morrison, was particularly close. "Sterling was a historian and a doctorate in medieval literature," says Elizabeth. "He was someone Nat could talk to. He loved people who were funny and smart. "
The photographer also had a penchant for Edie Sedgwick, the celebrity and superstar of the factory, who was fatally overdosed in 1971 at the age of 28. "He really liked her," says Elizabeth. "There is a certain tenderness in the photos of Edie."
Finkelstein's relationship with Warhol seems cooler. Elizabeth is much younger than her late husband, whom she met in the early 2000s, but she believes Andy left the photographer in his studio because Finkelstein won Warhol for good press coverage. Finkelstein, however, was politically inconsistent with Warhol's conservatism. "He was very fond of the glamor in the factory," she says, "but he had a conflict with himself, how detached it was from what was going on in the United States."
Finkelstein's machismo, which served him well in the early days, may also have led to his alienation from the high table of pop art "The factory was mostly gay and Nat was a kind of macho," says Freeman. "I think he was a presence they tolerated because his imagery was so good." Elizabeth agrees. "He felt excluded from the story," she says. "There were so many incredible cultural landmarks from that time. There were many cooks in the kitchen. "
Finkelstein was in favor when the factory hands prepared an early pop-up book. Andy Warhol's index recalls Freeman: "But then they tried to turn it off." Half a century later, this step could be considered one of the very few of Warhol's aesthetic missteps. Freeman says, "I think Nat's pictures are up there."
In and Out of Warhol's Orbit: Photos of Nat Finkelstein are in Proud Central, WC2 on June 9th