Journalists record in order to produce an article and substantiate factual assertions, but phonographers record in order to produce an audio recording. In other words, for a journalist, phonography is a means to an end, but for a phonographer, it is an end in itself.

Warhol, Nixon, and Kaufman exemplify three modes of phonography: anthropological, historical, and psychological. Warhol documented the language and self-perception of a subculture that was ignored or pathologized by mass culture. Nixon created the most comprehensive record of a presidential administration that will ever exist. And Kaufman captured moments in which ordinary people responded to violations of social order.

The original phonographers had to choose what to preserve and laboriously record it in shorthand. Unsurprisingly, few recordings of everyday life were preserved. By contrast, modern phonographers can use audio recording equipment to easily record whatever they choose. But few choose to record their conversations, and fewer still choose to preserve them. Warhol, Nixon, and Kaufman are great phonographers because they chose to create and preserve the mundane conversations of their everyday lives. In so doing, they enabled us to better understand the societies in which they lived, even while remaining enigmas themselves.

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2015

Notes/Citation Information

Brian L. Frye, Three Great Phonographers: Warhol, Nixon & Kaufman, Incite J. Experimental Media, no. 6, Fall 2015, at 188.