Peter Hujar’s Sublime Portraits Of Downtown New York’s Misbegotten Community In The 1970s

Peter Hujar (1934-87) photographed the faces who made New York’s Lower East Side fun and bohemian in the 1970s: David Wojnarowicz, Paul Thek, John Waters, Divine, Edwin Denby, Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, William Burroughs and more.

Stephen Koch writes:

“It’s a vanished world, and Peter Hujar was right there in it. The Lower East Side between 1972 and 1985 – filled with artists, wannabe artists and hangers-on – was a community of the misbegotten gathered from every town in America and relocated in the mean streets between Broadway and the Bowery. That Downtown is forever gone. Time, gentrification, disease and death took their toll. But before it vanished, its extravagant cast sat for Peter Hujar’s camera – and is now alive again in front of our eyes.”

Hugar’s portraits are sublime, each subject appears relaxed, pensive and accepting, trusting Hujar’s empathy and light touch to do what he will with them. Hugar’s subjects take on an almost ethereal glow, as if at any moment, and before our every eyes, they will no longer be there. Gone. But not forgotten.

 

John Waters,1975

John Waters,1975

Peter Hujar - Candy Darling on her Deathbed,1973

Peter Hujar – Candy Darling on her Deathbed,1973

Divine 1975

Divine 1975

Peter Hujar "Susan Sontag," 1975.

Peter Hujar “Susan Sontag,” 1975.

Paul Thek,1975

Paul Thek,1975

Peter Hujar (1934 – 1987) was born in New Jersey and moved to Manhattan as a teenager. He studied at the High School of Art and Design, and shortly thereafter worked as a photographer’s assistant. Throughout the 1960s he served as an apprentice for a number of commercial photographers and did a large amount of fashion work for Harpers Bazaar. A single monograph, the arresting Portraits in Life and Death with an introduction by Susan Sontag, was the only book of his work published during his lifetime. Hujar died of AIDS at the age of 53.

Vince Aletti,1975

Vince Aletti,1975

Larry Ree Backstage, c. 1973

Larry Ree Backstage, c. 1973

John Heys in Lana Turner Dress #1,1979

John Heys in Lana Turner Dress #1,1979

Fran Lebowitz [at Home in Morristown],1974

Fran Lebowitz [at Home in Morristown],1974

Peter Hujar Andy Warhol (III),1975

Peter Hujar Andy Warhol (III),1975

David Wojnarowicz,1981

David Wojnarowicz,1981

 

To mark the occasion of the current Hugar exhibition at The Paul Kassim Gallery, Steidl is publishing Lost Downtown, with contributions by Vince Aletti and Stephen Koch, Director of the Peter Hujar Archive. All pictures © The Peter Hujar Archive LLC.