Fred W. McDarrah is the kind of man I would give my right arm to have a pint and a chat with. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1926, he first started photographing artists at the age of 23 when he met painter William Littlefield, who inducted him into a heady world of informal artist get-togethers named The Club in Greenwich Village in the early 1950s.
Over the years The Club grew to form an intrinsic part in the Abstract Expressionist movement and the New York School, hosting the likes of Robert Rauschenberg, Willem de Kooning and Lee Krasner. An occasional appearance from other contemporary intellectuals wasn’t uncommon either – Jack Kerouac “ did a cameo on the drums at the 1958 New Year’s Eve party,” the Steven Kasher Gallery explains.
Starting out as a doorman and keeper of the mailing list, Fred quickly became familiar with many of the artists who frequented the gatherings. “Often, he would have his camera and unobtrusively document the world of artists he had become a part of,” the gallery continues. “Sensing the cultural importance of the moment, McDarrah then decided to capture all he could with his camera, which resulted in the seminal 1961 book The Artist’s World in Pictures.” Fred was soon being sought out by up-and-coming artists Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein, who were hoping to make their way into publications like The Village Voice.
Sadly Fred died in 2007, so exhibitions of his photographs are the closest I’ll get to probing him about Andy Warhol’s pursuit of fame or Alex and Ada Katz’ marriage, but they’re a rewarding and powerfully insightful archive.
Fred W. McDarrah: The Artist’s World runs until 6 June at the Steven Kasher Gallery in New York.