New York Photobooks

About photobooks – old and new.

David Wojnarowicz – Rimbaud in New York

Title: Rimbaud in New York

Author: David Wojnarowicz

Published in 2004 by PPP editions, first edition of 1000 copies.

Hardcover, 4to, no dust jacket as issued.

David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) was an American painter, photographer, writer, filmmaker, performance artist, songwriter/recording artist and AIDS activist prominent in the New York City art world.

In the 1970s, David Wojnarowicz took a series of photographs of a man wearing a paper mask bearing the face of Arthur Rimbaud, the French poet. Wojnarowicz was 24 when he shot most of the Rimbaud in New York series. A few pictures from the series were published in the Soho Weekly News in 1980, but it wasn’t until 1990 that he printed a small portfolio of twenty-five images for an exhibition at PPOW gallery in New York. However, there were an abundance of other negatives from the series that were left unprinted, languishing in his archive at the Fales Library at NYU since his untimely death in 1992.

This photobook, edited by Andrew Roth, reproduces for the first time, the series in its entirety. Each photograph from the Rimbaud in New York series presents a lone figure, presumably Wojnarowicz himself, in and around New York City – 42nd Street, the Meat Market, Coney Island – wearing a mask portraying the visage of the young Romantic poet, Arthur Rimbaud. The Rimbaud portrait comes from the only known photograph of him made by the renown Nineteenth Century French portrait photographer Etienne Carjat.

As stated in the original essay by Jim Lewis “…The figures are posed, on the fly and in verité style, in various situations of public and semi-private urban life. They represent a very specific moment in history, a brief period of both innocence and raunch the City after Stonewall but before AIDS, a wonderland of sex and drugs, of art and love, of material poverty and overwhelming emotional richness. That was the world Wojnarowicz was formed in, and, as we know too well, it was followed by an era almost opposite in every regard, years when Manhattan became dominated by money and death, a sleek wealthy city rising, while an entire generation of gay men, drug users, and others were being buried.”

Wojnarowicz wrote of these images that he was playing with ideas of compression of ‘historical time and activity’ and fusing the French poet’s identity with modern New York urban activities, mostly illegal in nature.” The anonymous masked figures highlight the powerful resonance between Rimbaud and Wojnarowicz, who both fled broken homes, fled to the anonymity of big-city life, were gay and alienated, and died in their mid-thirties. 

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