There is nothing smooth in Peter Hujar‘s work, aside from the surface of the gelatin silver prints currently on view at the Musée du Jeu de Paume in Paris. Like Diane Arbus and Robert Mapplethorpe, between whom his body of work is often situated, his hunting ground was New York. Trained in fashion and studio photography (he was an assistant for Richard Avedon, amongst others), he began a freelance career in 1967. But his heart was really in his art. Influenced by the tight cropping of Lisette Model, he deployed his talent as a portrait photographer, capturing the fauna of the East Village underground with strength and deftness. While Arbus chose her subjects randomly and Mapplethorpe, already established, was busy chasing celebrity commissions, Hujar photographed people “who dared” : from Susan Sontag (who wrote the introduction to the only monograph published during his lifetime : “Pictures in Life and Death”, 1976), to his lover, the artist David Wojnarowicz, as well as drag queens and other marginals from his entourage. Each subject was treated with empathy and respect. Through his composition,...
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