About photobooks – old and new.
Author: Peter Hujar
Published in 2005 by Fraenkel Gallery and Matthew Marks Gallery to accompany the exhibition of Peter Hujar’s photos.
Hardcover with photographically illustrated dust jacket, 4to, with 43 reproductions of Hujar’s photos and an essay from Bob Nickas.
Peter Hujar (1931-1987) was a central figure in New York’s art scene in 1970s and 1980s. He used to live and work in the East Village from the age of sixteen until the time of this death.
Hujar’s work is often associated to portraiture and the theme of mortality or the fragility of life. That was quite evident in his photobook – the only one published during this lifetime – “Portraits in Life and Death” published in 1976. These 43 pictures included in “Night”, most of them taken in the 1970s, place Hujar in a different photography category – street photography – closer to the work of Atget, Brassai, or Weegee.
Most of his urban landscape photos – such as “Leroy street”, “Bar. Brooklyn” and “Gas Station at Night” – depict lonely, at times magical, places at night, but often imbued with a nostalgic feeling. The parallel with Brassai’s “Paris de Nuit” is inevitable, as both photographers were capable of capturing the ambivalence of mundane street corners that can be at the same time beautiful and haunting.
In contrast with those inhabited and lonely streets, Hujar was also photographing the late-night demimonde, as did Weegee in the 1940s and 1950s. The party gores, transvestites, and other eccentric characters – such as “Boys in Car, Halloween” or “Boy in Plastic Pants” – populate and reveal a more vibrant city at night. As Bob Nickas rightly observed in the essay for this phtotobook, streets at night provide “a stage for characters who may not usually appear and events that may not unfold in the light of the day”.
In this series, there are also a number of portraits of young men that seem wonder about their own existence or waiting for a casual encounter in deserted parks, while the city sleeps. “Boy on Park Bench” for instance seems to have been taken in Stuyvesant Square, a park that Hujar frequented regularly.
Despite being a posthumous publication – to accompany the exhibitions at Matthew Marks Gallery and Fraenkel Gallery in 2005 – this photobook gained importance by the fact that it reproduces and gathers an important set of Hujar’s photographs that had never been published before. These pictures also provide us a glimpse of Hujar’s street photography work and of New York City itself, before AIDS and gentrification changed its social and urban landscapes.