intimate photos of nyc's creative icons by peter hujar
Opening tomorrow, Peter Hujar’s new exhibition ‘Lost Downtown’ transports us to a time when drag queens, artists, and penniless writers ruled the lawless Lower East Side.
"Pearl Paint? Kim's Video? Max Fish? They're all gone! And what, for this? A yogurt joint?"
That's an infuriated Chloë Sevigny, hilariously berating a Yoogler's frozen yogurt employee in her i-D Guide to Being a New Yorker. The tongue-in-cheek segment laments the loss of the 90s Lower East Side, a time when Washington Square Park was where scuzzy skaters scored dime bags (now, it's where families of tourists test out their selfie sticks). But before Sevigny and the cast of Kids kickflipped through Astor Place, the LES was a thriving hub for outlaw artists, writers, scholars, and drag queens alike. Photographer Peter Hujar captured these misfit mavericks before their Downtown disappeared.
Cutting his teeth as a fashion and commercial photographer for Harper's Bazaar in the 60s, Hujar photographed iconoclasts during a time when Downtown was considered a war zone. Though he published only a single monograph -- Portraits in Life and Death, for which Susan Sontag wrote an introduction -- before his death from AIDS-related complications at 53, Hujar captured intimate but electric portraits of the renegade artists living below 14th Street before gentrification and disease permanently altered the area's landscape.
Tomorrow, New York's Paul Kasmin Gallery will open Lost Downtown, an exhibition featuring Hujar's photographs of the late 70s-early 80s scene. Presented in collaboration with Pace/MacGill Gallery, the exhibition will feature over twenty black-and-white shots of John Waters, David Wojnarowicz, Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, Andy Warhol, Divine, William Burroughs, and more. Trained in photography's classical genres, Hujar created medium format photographs that often feature his dynamic, eccentric subjects in quieter, contemplative spaces. Perhaps the most poignant example is his stirring shot of Candy Darling, Warhol's transgender Factory Superstar and nightlife icon, laying on her deathbed.
Lost Downtown runs from January 28 to February 27. More information here.
Text Emily Manning
Photography Peter Hujar, John Waters (I), 1975. Vintage gelatin silver print. 20 x 16 inches, 50.8 x 40.6 cm.