vrijdag 28 juli 2017

Views & Reviews My Work Comes out of my Life Speed of Life Peter Hujar Photography

American photographer Peter Hujar (1934-1987) started his career in the 1950s as an assistant to commercial photographers, but became a part of the group of underground artists, poets and musicians who formed the downtown New York art scene of the 1970s and 80s. His portraits of the often outrageous characters who formed the Manhattan art and entertainment scene at that period, as well as his animal and landscape photographs, are meticulously shot and soberly composed. Peter Hujar – Speed of Life, a major retrospective presented by the Hague Museum of Photography in cooperation with the Morgan Library & Museum in New York and Fundación MAPFRE in Madrid, includes over a hundred vintage photographs made by Peter Hujar in the period between the mid-1950s and his premature death in 1987.

Nan Goldin said she believes that Peter Hujar deserves to be as famous as Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1989), a younger photographer whose photos share similarities with Hujar’s work. However, Mapplethorpe fixated upon outward beauty, celebrity, sensation, shock, and self-promotion, while Hujar focused on character, experience, and the mental life of his subjects, who he encountered in intimate settings. Mapplethorpe’s commercial instincts were much stronger than Hujar’s. Many witnesses describe Hujar as a difficult man and well-known photography critic Vince Aletti – one of his best friends – reports that “he could never sell himself”. But despite his horror of commerce and regular quarrels with major galleries, Hujar spent his life fighting for wider public recognition of his work.
Like artist Alice Neel (1900-1984), the subject of a recent large-scale retrospective at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, Hujar was among the people who hung out at Andy Warhol’s Factory. It was there that he met flamboyant figures and transgender individuals like Jackie Curtis and Candy Darling – stars of Lou Reed’s song Walk on the Wild Side. Hujar himself also displayed the courage it took to be openly gay at that time – one of his most important love affairs was with American artist Paul Thek (1933-1988).
Hujar always established a relationship with the subjects of his portraits. He believed it to be a portraitist’s task to elicit the sitter’s singularity. Thus the subjects of his photos always are extraordinary and eye-catching characters, like himself. “My work comes out of my life. The people I photograph are not freaks or curiosities to me. I like people who dare. (…) I photograph those who push themselves to any extreme. That´s what interests me, and people who cling to the freedom to be themselves.” Apart from making portraits of the people around him, Hujar also made photographs of animals and landscapes. These too he approached as a portraitist. A Hujar photograph of a dog is never just any dog; it is a portrait of a genuine individual.
In the 1970s, Hujar acquired a measure of public recognition with his only book, Portraits in Life and Death (1976), for which Susan Sontag wrote the introduction. In Hujar’s work, death is a constantly recurring theme. One of his most celebrated photographs is that of Candy Darling calmly posing for him on her deathbed. His focus on mortality intensified in the 1980s as the AIDS epidemic tore through the New York gay scene. Peter Hujar was only 53 years old when he himself died of the disease on Thanksgiving Day 1987.
After leaving The Hague, Peter Hujar – Speed of Life will go on show at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York (from January to late May 2018). The exhibition is accompanied by an English-language catalogue containing texts by Joel Smith, Philip Gefter, Steve Turtell and Martha Scott Burton (Aperture, €50).
Peter Hujar – Speed of Life is organized by the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, and Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid in cooperation with the Hague Museum of Photography. It has been made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Aperture presents “Speed of Life,” the first major survey of Peter Hujar, a seminal figure on the downtown New York scene during the 1970s and 1980s.

Miss Rosen Apr 10th, 2017

Photo: (l.): Peter Hujar, Self-Portrait Jumping (1), 1974; from Peter Hujar: Speed of Life (Aperture, 2017.  (r): Peter Hujar, New York: Sixth Avenue (1), 1976. Both photos; The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection. Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund,(l):  2013.108:1.37, (r); 2013.108:1.58.

The Man. The Myth. The Mystery. Photographer Peter Hujar (1934-1987) was a fixture in the downtown New York scene during the 1970s and ‘80s, creating a seminal body of work that was quietly captivating. He was a fixture in the East Village, where he lived and worked, when it was a magnet for bohemian artists, writers, performers, musicians, and iconoclasts. Back in the days, the neighborhood was rough and raw, in a perpetual state of poverty that bred the avant-garde.

Perhaps the most telling word in the neighborhood was the word “village”—it was truly a community of friends, families, comrades who were constantly in the mix. Much of New York had been abandoned throughout the decade, leaving the bold and the daring with the run of the place. There was overlap and interplay between the arts as personalities mingled freely in an ongoing dialogue of the times.

Peter Hujar, David Wojnarowcz Reclining (2), 1981; The Morgan Library & Museum, The Peter Hujar Collection. Purchased on the Charina Endowment Fund, 2013.108:1.28.

Hujar began his career in the 1950s as a commercial photographer but soon left the market behind, preferring to focus his energies on the creation of art. In an era when the cost of living was cheap, Hujar was able to set up a studio in his Twelfth Street loft and go from there. Best known for his portraits of some of the most iconic figures of the times, from Susan Sontag, William S. Burroughs, and Gary Indiana to Candy Darling, Rene Ricard, and David Wojnarowicz, Hujar also created nudes, landscapes, cityscapes, photographs of animals, and documentary scenes.

But Hujar was not one for self-promotion. It didn’t suit him at all. Where others like Warhol invented branding strategies way ahead of Madison Avenue, Hujar simply kept to himself, doing his work. “One thing I won’t answer is anything about why I do what I do,” Peter Hujar told David Wojnarowicz in 1983.

This aversion to explaining himself envelops Hujar and his work in an air of mystery, in simply a series of facts and artifacts through which we know his work and his name. Now Aperture introduces Peter Hujar: Speed of Life, the first major photographic survey of his famous and lesser-known photographs. With essays by Joel Smith, Steve Turtell, Philip Gefter, and Martha Scott, the book brings the life of Hujar together in between two covers.

Featuring 160 photographs from Hujar’s archive, the book presents a stunning collection of disparate works that, when taken together, tell a powerful history of a time, while invoking a curious sensibility of autobiography. Hujar’s gift for the classic formal techniques of photography is underscored by his taste for the unexpected, the unconventional, and the compelling beauty of that which is not always the traditional subject of art. There’s a quiet tension between the attractive and the grotesque, continually compelling us to look. A Hujar photograph is striking in more ways than one, perhaps above all for his ability to lay life bare without a sense of judgment. It simply is: alluring, disconcerting, or simply just uncomfortable, but he always seems to make you want more.

Before he decided to cease explaining himself, he took a stab at verbalizing his motivations in an untitled typed paragraph from 1976 in which he wrote, “PETER HUJAR makes uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects.” He further illuminated this in an entry for an unidentified directory of photographers in the late 1970s, revealing, “My work comes out of my life. The people I photograph are not freaks or curiosities. I like people who dare.”

And this is what comes across—a deep affinity and empathy for the subject, as though the two speak as one. Perhaps it is in the creation of the photograph that Hujar gives voice to that which words fail to convey, creating a timeless series of moments that equal parts ephemeral and eternal.

All photos: From Peter Hujar: Speed of Life (Aperture, 2017). © The Peter Hujar Archive, LLC. Courtesy Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York, and Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco

Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.

Tot in de dood zit briljante fotograaf Peter Hujar zichzelf dwars
Fotografie Fotograaf Peter Hujar was net als Robert Mapplethorpe een centrale figuur in de underground van New York in de jaren zeventig en tachtig. Hij zocht met iedereen ruzie.
Tracy Metz
30 juni 2017

Peter Hujar, Gary, 1979.
Peter Hujar, ‘Speed of Life’ T/m 15 okt. in Fotomuseum Den Haag, Inl. www.fotomuseumdenhaag.nl.
Boek € 39,90.


Hij leed aan depressies en woede-aanvallen en maakte met iedereen ruzie, ook met de conservatoren en galeriehouders die hem in zijn carrière hadden kunnen helpen. Hij wilde nooit zijn werk uitleggen maar voelde zich miskend omdat hij, anders dan zijn tijd- en stadgenoot Robert Mapplethorpe, nooit bij het grote publiek doorbrak. Maar bij de undergroundscene in het New York van de jaren zeventig en tachtig werd fotograaf Peter Hujar wel een centrale figuur. Bij hem vielen tijdsbeeld en zelfbeeld naadloos samen.

Voor het eerst is er nu een groot retrospectief van zijn werk, een samenwerking van vier jaar van het Morgan Library & Museum in New York, de Fundación Mapfre in Madrid en het Fotomuseum Den Haag. Je zou kunnen zeggen dat Hujar nu eindelijk – hij stierf in 1987 op 53-jarige leeftijd aan aids – de erkenning krijgt die hij verdient.

Maar zelfs deze ambitieus opgezette tentoonstelling van bijna honderd vintage zwart-wit prints en het fraaie boek kunnen niet verhullen dat zijn oeuvre, net als zijn temperament, onevenwichtig was.

Dieren en landschappen

Zijn beelden van dieren en landschappen bereiken zelden de diepgang van zijn portretten. En zijn groepsportretten mogen als genre bijzonder zijn voor die tijd, ook die missen de zeggingskracht van zijn up close and personal-portretten. De portretten van zijn naasten, en ook zijn zelfportretten, behoren tot zijn beste werk. ‘Ethyl’ Eichelberger als Minnie the Maid in drag maar ook, ontwapenend, als man, zonder een spoortje makeup en met kort stekeltjeshaar. Een van de beroemdheden uit de New Yorkse scene die Hujar voor zijn lens kreeg was Susan Sontag, die hij achteroverliggend op bed fotografeerde. Van zijn geliefde David Wojnarowicz maakte hij een intens portret, liggend, met een sterk clair-obscureffect. Het had zomaar een Mapplethorpe kunnen zijn.

Soms kon Hujar zijn homoseksualiteit uitbundig vieren, zoals met de foto van een jongeman die met filosofische blik naar zijn eigen indrukwekkend stijf lid kijkt. Maar juist de noodzaak om in het verborgene te leven bracht hem ertoe de geportretteerde voor de foto op een of andere manier te versluieren. ‘Gary Indiana’ draagt op de foto een sjaal met glitters strak over zijn gezicht getrokken als een sluier getrokken. De schone jongeling Beauregard houdt een hondje vast en samen zijn ze in plastic verpakt.

Rand van de samenleving

Als homoseksueel in een tijd waarin die geaardheid niet werd geaccepteerd bewogen Hujar en de zijnen zich letterlijk langs de rand van de samenleving. Een paar jaar geleden toonde het Reina Sofia in Madrid een reusachtige tentoonstelling van foto’s van Peter Hujar van de bouwvallige kades en havengebouwen bij New York die zij als ontmoetingsplekken gebruikten. Ze tonen een ruige, gesloten, geheel eigen wereld, waarin je moest oppassen niet door de vloeren te zakken.

Geheel in Hujars geest, die een aversie had tegen het uitleggen van zijn werk, is er geen toelichting bij de foto’s behalve de thematische teksten waarmee het werk in hoofdstukken wordt verdeeld – maar voor de bezoeker is dat een groot gemis. Tot in de dood blijft deze bij vlagen briljante, eeuwige misfit zichzelf dwars zitten.

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