Harold ‘Doc’ Edgerton, Andy Warhol, Lucian Perkins, and the Govinda Girls

by Chris Murray on October 25, 2020

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Lucian Perkins shared with me some words and photos about two historic photo sessions of his at Govinda Gallery. I was knocked out by what he wrote and photographed, and which is now presented here.

“I continue to find little gems as I go through boxes of negatives and prints during this pandemic, including 4×5 negatives (Polaroid 545 positive/negative film) that I shot of Andy Warhol, tucked away in an envelope and never published or used.

Chris Murray and Andy Warhol in The Back Room at Govinda Gallery, 1985, Photo by Lucian Perkins.

There is a reason for this. Photographing Warhol with a 4×5 camera was not the smartest idea I ever had, and I remember thinking just that back in 1985. I was standing inside Govinda Gallery on assignment for The Washington Post. A whirlwind of activity rocked the space while Warhol and his minions prepared for a book signing of AMERICA. The large camera I was using requires patience: your subject needs to remain perfectly motionless as you carefully focus him/her on the camera’s ground glass and pop in a 4×5 film holder into the back of the camera, all along hoping that your subject doesn’t move even the slightest bit when making the exposure. Then to take the second shot, you have to pull the film out, and restart the process beginning with refocusing.

Govinda Gallery assistant Karen Anderson holding up Warhol’s photography book “America” while Lucian Perkins photographs Warhol. Polaroid photograph by Chris Murray.

After the first few minutes, Warhol and his entourage were getting restless. Since I couldn’t keep him still and attend to what I was doing, I quickly went to plan B by pulling out my 35mm camera to finish the shoot, ensuring that I had something for the newspaper.

Larry Morris, Lucian Perkins, Doc Edgerton, and Fred Sweets at Govinda Gallery. Polaroid photograph by Chris Murray.

When I returned to The Post, I didn’t even bother checking the 4x5s. I was under a deadline, so I quickly processed the 35mm film, printed, captioned, and turned in a selection of images. The Post ran a large photo of Warhol the next day on the front of the Style section. As for the 4×5 negatives— I glanced at them and stuck them in an envelope.

Govinda Gallery assistant Laura Harney in The Back Room with Andy Warhol. Photo by Lucian Perkins.

Looking at them now, my favorite image is not of Andy, but of a young teenager I had asked to stand in and do a test shot before I brought Andy into the photo. Moments earlier, I had reached out to a member of Andy’s entourage, who resembled him, to see if he wouldn’t mind helping, but he snidely replied, ‘I don’t do test shots.’ Last week, with the help of the Govinda’s Founding Director Chris Murray, I tracked down that former teenager who turned out to be Susanna Bernstein. At 16 she was volunteering at the Gallery as a Govinda Girl: ‘Andy spoke at almost a whisper and didn’t say much,’ she wrote me. ‘I have a small stack of postcards that he signed for me plus a piece of paper that he wrote ‘Roli Zoli’ on. I still have them all.’

Govinda Gallery assistant Susannah Bernstein. Photo by Lucian Perkins.

At the time, Govinda Gallery was becoming a familiar haunt for me, then the hotspot in Georgetown, and for decades to come. Earlier that year, I had an assignment there to photograph Dr. Harold Edgerton, who at 82 was a bundle of energy and a joy to hang out with. If you don’t know who he is, you probably have seen his image of a splashing drop of milk caught in mid-air frozen at 50,000 of a second or the one of a speeding bullet frozen in time after exiting an apple. When I explained to Murray that I wanted to photograph Edgerton with objects suspended in motion behind him, Chris told me he could help because he knew how to juggle, and juggle he did, behind Edgerton with an apple, an orange, and two books as I shot away. That ended up being another lead for the Style section.

Doc Edgerton in the back room of Govinda Gallery. Photo by Lucian Perkins.

The following year, at another packed gallery opening, he pulled me toward a very attractive woman, and said, ‘You two should meet.’ I don’t have any photos of that evening, but that’s okay, because Sarah is still here with me.”

Sarah and Lucian Perkins around the time they met at Govinda Gallery. Photo by Bill O’Leary.

Thanks to my friend and photographer Chris Makos and Harper Collins editor Craig Nelson who were also at Govinda Gallery that day.

Category: Blog, The Back Room   
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