Thursday, August 21, 2008

Peter Hujar

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular. In order to do that I investigate the lives and careers of many photographers.

Born in Trenton New Jersey in 1934, Peter Hujar died in New York City in 1987. I’m saddened that I cannot find much more than these two biographical tidbits about Peter Hujar. There are many reviews written that speak to his photography as presented at various venues including The Mathew Marks Gallery, New York City, The ICA in the UK, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, among others. There is the oft-sited fact that he and David Wojnarowicz were lovers, but nothing more about their lives together. There is, however, once again reference to photographs, this time created by Wojnarowicz, of Hujar as he lay dead from AIDS in the hospital corridor, a transcendent smile fixed upon his face.

The living Hujar had sharpened his photographer’s wits as a fashion and advertising artist in New York City during the 1950’s and 1960’s. At the same time he perfected a discerning technique and eye with which he was able to pierce the psychic aura of the living, find the hidden seat of humanity beneath the surface, as well as demonstrate the omni-present but invisible arm of the grim reaper. Most reviewers seem to agree that Peter was a master of composition and a technical perfectionist who influenced other more famous photographers such as Nan Golden and Robert Mapplethorpe. However, at the same time they do not discuss his work in relation to the diurnal facts of his existence. It is almost as though this portrait photographer was himself a spectral being moving among the denizens of the night, and the demimonde of a city immediately before all were decimated by the plague.

As of today, I have not been able to obtain permission from the Mathew Marks Gallery for use of any of Peter Hujar’s images, so the following link will take the viewer/reader to the New York Times Website and a portrait of David Wajnarowicz, Peter’s lover, “lighting up.” *


Hegarty, Antony. “The Outsiders.” The Guardian Weekend (December 1, 2007): pp. 42-50.

*Hujar, Peter, “David Wajnarowicz” (1981) New York Times on line, August 10, 2006, viewed 9:43 AM EDT, August 21, 2008.

Hujar, Peter, “The Frankel Gallery, January 3 - March 2, 2002,” The Culture Vulture, Viewed 8:19 AM EDT, Monday, August 18, 2008.

Lazere, Arthur, “Peter Hujar,”, January 8, 2002. Viewed 8:47 AM EDT, Tuesday, August 19, 2008.

Pitman, Joanna, “Peter Hujar’s Love for the Lonely, The London Times on Line,, viewed 9:21 AM EDT, Thursday, August 21, 2008.

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