Richard Hamilton: 1922-2011


Richard Hamilton, the British artist widely considered to be the father of Pop art, died yesterday, September 13, 2011. Today, with numerous obituaries appearing in newspapers throughout the world, it is worth remembering the autobiography he himself wrote, with a Polaroid camera and a little help from 128 of his friends:
HAMILTON, Richard. Polaroid Portraits. Vol. 1, 2, 3 and 4. London/Stuttgart: Edition Hansjorg Mayer, n.d. [1972, 1977, 1983, 2002].

12mos; fully illustrated in b&w and color; cloth boards; printed dust-jackets. Near fine.

First Edition. Started in 1968, finished in 2001, Richard Hamilton’s “self-portrait” project spanned five decades and eventually comprised four volumes. The concept was simple: when Hamilton visited another artist (or an artist came to see him) he asked them to take his picture with a Polaroid camera. When he had collected 32 such Polaroid portraits he published a volume in the series and listed the artists names on the cover. All together these books contain a very effective self-portrait of Hamilton, encompassing his life and travels, the way he aged, and the people that he knew…

After even the briefest perusal of these books it becomes clear that Richard Hamilton knew just about everyone. Roy Lichtenstein took the first picture; Toronto-based designer Bruce Mau, took the last. Artists in between included Andy Warhol, John Baldessari, Man Ray, Francis Bacon, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Joseph Beuys, and Gerhard Richter (not to mention, on separate occasions, John Lennon and Paul McCartney).

In conception these books recall Lewitt’s Autobiography, Hans-Peter Feldmann’s All the Clothes of a Woman, and other conceptual photobooks in which an individual’s identity is conveyed obliquely, through an inventory of images. In this case, though, the outlook is quintessentially Pop: it is the inventory of bold-face names that forms identity.