October 7, 2009
Lemme tell you about my man Nat Finkelstein the kinkiest kid Brooklyn has ever seen. I met him in 2000, he called the office one day to talk with the bosses about his new book for Fall, a Warhol book about the Factory’s earliest days, when the original King of Pop still made his own paintings. Days of desultory decadence that Nat cuts to shreds in his book, The Factory Years, which is now out of print. He signed my book: Heed the cry of the mutant “I need others like me”.
Born in Coney Island, Brooklyn in 1933, Nat Finkelstein was a graduate of Stuyvesant High School and attended Brooklyn College. He blew me away when he dropped this gem on me: homeboy studied photography and design under Alexey Brodovitch, the legendary art director of Harper’s Bazaar. What was this crazy BK boy up to anyway ? How did he connect with Warhol ?
Turns out Nat worked as a photojournalist for the PIX and Black Star photo agencies. In 1964, he got an assignment to enter Andy Warhol’s Factory as a journalist. He didn’t leave for three years. Not until he left his mark, with the first photos of the Velvet Underground, who he called “The Psychopath’s Rolling Stones,” then with shots of Edie Sedgwick, and then finally for being the dude who introduced Valerie Solanis to Andy Warhol. A big mark indeed.
Finkelstein abruptly retired from photography in 1969, when a federal warrant was issued for his arrest, due to the incendiary nature of his civil rights activity. He left the United States, and lived as a fugitive for fifteen years, following the Silk Road through the Middle East. I’ve read some of the stories: Morocco in the late 60s, Kandahar in 71; the sort of things you’d never believe, except Nat had proof. He had his photos.
Eventually, all charges against Finkelstein were dismissed, and he returned to New York City in 1982, resuming his photographic career in galleries worldwide. While best known for his images of Warhol’s Factory, Finkelstein’s documented stories as wide ranging as civil rights protests for Life Magazine in the 1960s to the “club kid” scene of the 1990s. His monographs include The Andy Warhol Index (with Warhol, 1968), Girlfriends (1991), Merry Monsters (1993), Andy Warhol: The Factory Years (2000) and Edie Factory Girl (2006).
Finkelstein’s photographs are in the permanent collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York; the Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; The Victoria & Albert Museum, London; The Ludwig Museum, Cologne; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; and the Smithsonian Institute, National Portrait Gallery, Washington DC, among many other public and private collections. His work can be seen in upcoming exhibitions, including “Who Shot Rock” at the Brooklyn Museum this Fall, and a retrospective at Idea Generation, London in December 2009.
Nat Finkelstein passed peacefully at his home in Upstate New York on Friday October 2, 2009. He was 76. Rest in Peace, Nat. You were a true original. A rebel and a renegade, an artist and a ladies man, a brilliant thinker, a crazed Tasmanian devil, and one of the funniest, most on-point people I have ever had the pleasure to know. And I am so glad you had the good sense to marry Elizabeth, as she will carry the torch and torch the flag. Whatever it takes to make things happen.