Photographer Christopher Makos Isn’t Afraid to Get His (or Your) Hands Dirty

Willie Gault by Christopher Makos.

“It’s just five letters, and the word just means so many different things to so many people. I don’t want to say it’s controversial, but it’s a word that has so many people asking, “What the hell is [Chris] going to be showing?” The word which photographer Christopher Makos is alluding to is Dirty, the title he gave to his forthcoming exhibition at Daniel Cooney Fine Art. In the age of Covid-19, adjectives such as “dirty,” “filthy,” or “contaminated,” often correlate to a negative connotation, especially in a germy city like New York. Yet when it came to figuring out what to call his latest show, the word “dirty” presented itself to Makos as an ingenious marketing opportunity, like a drop of Purell in the palm of his hand. “It was effective in the way that I wanted it to be effective,” he says.

Despite its polarizing namesake, the former Interview staffer is tickled with anticipation at the prospect of bringing patrons together to view his latest exhibition in a safe and soundly manner starting Thursday, September 17. Makos, along with Daniel Cooney, the gallery’s owner and the curator of the show, will welcome guests in small groups of 8-10 people at a time at the West 26th Street hub. Reservations will be required and so are face masks. “I like the idea [of smaller viewings] because in the past, a hundred people show up [at exhibitions] and it’s chaotic and you don’t actually get to speak to anyone,” he says. “It’s brand new territory for all of us, but I’m confident it will be great. If you’re here in [New York City], everybody’s so polite. We all care for each other. It’s baked into the cake as New Yorkers. We’ve had to live in tight quarters with each other forever, so this is just an extension of what’s already part of us.”

The close encounters gallery-goers will experience will certainly parallel the intimacy presented within the artworks in the show. After months of social-distancing, some visitors may even consider the collection positively claustrophobic. With its survey of shots featuring stolen kisses and tight embraces between the likes of Liza Minelli and John Lennon, it’s evident that Cooney wanted to create an air of affection in his curation. After all, isn’t that we’ve all been craving for? In a city shuttering its doors left and right, Dirty is a reminder that there was once glamour and grit, and a closeness amongst friends and strangers in New York, and beyond. With Makos still walking these streets, perhaps Dirty is also a glimmer that these things will be attainable once again and the photographer will be there to capture our future moments of tenderness. Until then, the artist shares some exclusive anecdotes on his works from the exhibition below.


Kevin Kendall in red bikini, 1986

“This [picture was] from one of my Interview assignments. It was taken in Mallorca in Deià; Richard Branson had a resort there, and Kevin was part of the crew. If you’re anywhere in Spain, nobody wears big underwear. Kevin wore this red bikini and I thought, ‘Well, this is so in the spirit of being in Spain.” When [Dirty curator] Daniel saw this picture, he thought, ‘This would be a good Polaroid for the show.’ And I thought, ‘This is not only a good Polaroid, this would be a great invite.’ The color red really sticks out on a newsstand or on a website. On top of that, it’s somebody’s crotch. I thought it was a perfect invite. It’s right in your face.”


Johnny Germain

“This picture of this guy [Johnny Germain] flexing, you could see this on Instagram or TikTok today. I mean, these pictures are considered thirty years old, but they still look contemporary and they speak the same language as the language that people look at on Instagram or TikTok. It’s about being there in the moment. It’s about showing off. And one of the key elements of any social media, it’s either showing off or bragging or talking about yourself.”


Christopher Reeves and Andy Warhol, 1982 


“I went out with Andy [Warhol] because he was doing an interview with Christopher Reeves when his movie Superman came out. And it looks like a hotel room. This is just me photographing Andy being an interviewer for his own magazine. This is one piece of photographic paper with two images exposed on them. I used to love making assemblages or collages and this is one of those things.”


Andy Massage, 1983

“I love the contradiction between the totally buffed blonde masseuse and Andy just lying there just like a blow-up doll. I mean, [Andy]  doesn’t even look human there. This is up at my studio at the time, which was on 15th street. And I thought let’s just do a picture of Andy getting a massage and he was up for it. And if you look closely, you can see Andy was wearing a brace around his stomach, which is that brace [he wore after] he was shot by Valerie Solanas. He really didn’t have stomach muscles after he was being shot. It’s a historic picture.”


Craig Sheffer, 1980’s

“I remember just seeing [the actor] Craig Sheffer on the street in the West Village. He was so handsome. When I used to do my [Interview] column, if I saw somebody interesting that had some kind of presence, I would just go up and say, ‘Hey, I want to take your picture.’  Craig was one of those people. This might’ve been photographed at The Factory because I didn’t have a studio with weights. Andy [Warhol] took a lot of the same pictures that I did. If I took pictures at The Factory, he would always take [his own] over my shoulder.”


Willie Gault, early 80’s

“This is Willie Gault. I think he was a football player. I’d gone to Chicago and usually, when I was there, I’d put my feelers out [for models] like who’s available, who’s around [to be photographed]. Willie Gault was available and he was a very handsome guy and I just thought let’s get him in the studio. These are three different exposures that were done on one piece of paper.”



Randall Booty, 1993

“Randall was a gymnast who worked in my studio for a while. Randall was just game for anything, and used to love to pose for the camera. If you look at TikTok everybody is doing these booty call videos. If you were to animate this picture, you could see him shaking this booty. He would do these somersaults in the studio. Like I would say, ‘go get that thing.’ And he would just do somersaults because he was always wanted to keep practicing.”


Keith Haring and Juan Dubose at the piers, 1980s

“I probably was biking down to the piers and I bumped into [Haring and Dubose] there because I didn’t go down there with them. And so they were just out at the pier hanging out. It’s a shame because this is when the piers were much more funky. It was just the piers, it wasn’t all fancified. People would just hang out and this was one of those moments between Keith and Juan that I caught. It’s a tender moment because you often don’t see people that you know that are famous being sweet with each other. It was just a nice moment that I captured at the time.”


Debbie Harry at my Apartment, West Village, 1977

“This [was taken] before I had a studio and sometimes I would do my shoots in my apartment. And this was when I did my book White Trash in 1977. And I shot Debbie Harry in my apartment and I just took a piece of a backdrop and just ripped the paper across the back and this is the picture I got. Still to this day she’s so cool, and she’s still working, and still doing stuff.”


White Bikini, Miami, 1993

“This is down in Miami beach. This is the way I often did Polaroids like these. I call them ‘standup portraits.’ I first would do test strips or test shots of people, and then I’d just stapled them together. This is when South Beach was still South Beach.”


Straight Eyes, 2020

“This was the New York State Fair butter girl that I shot for my [Interview] column. She had beautiful eyes and a beautiful smile. And I photographed her, but I took her eyes and her smile and did them into these shots that you see. I had sewn this together. Could her eyes be any clearer? These were actually lost photos that [Daniel] found and I actually sewed these together. So the prints are vintage, but the sewing was done this year actually during the pandemic.”


Makos is a New York City-based photographer whose work will be featured in Dirty at Daniel Cooney Fine Art running from September 17 through November 7th. Makos’ work is also currently exhibited in From A New Yorker’s Perspective at Amerikahaus München until January 31, 2021.