Lost Downtown – Peter Hujar

 

This modest volume (just 15 photographs) of Peter Hujar’s portraits of his Lower East Side celebrity friends is a soft-spoken, unpretentious gem. 

The book was a perfect companion to my Sunday morning cup of tea.

Peter’s portraits capture his group of friends in a very gentle manner. Many of the personalities are known for being, – shall we say – over the top. Not here. Peter’s photos show their quiet side. It is as if Peter said “relax, let me take a couple of quick shots”.

Even the heartbreaking, minimally staged portrait of Candy Darling near death, in full makeup, has a hushed quality.

The understated design by Duncan Whyte compliments perfectly the tranquil quality of Peter’s portraits.

In a time when so many photo books are calculated to shock, it is refreshing to have this book to turn to.

From the Steidl website:
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. Nothing but their talent, their flamboyance, their rank gender-bending mockery and their arch irony supported them. Some made their names. Many came to grief. A few made art. In those days, the gutted streets of the Lower East Side looked like a war zone. Everyone lived and worked on the extreme outer margins of money and art, penniless and unknown. As a community, Downtown was a counterstatement to the rich New York of the banks, museums, media, corporations … and the art world itself.

That Downtown is forever gone. Time, gentrification, disease and death have taken their toll and turned this vibrant epoch into a chapter of art history. But before it vanished, its extravagant cast sat for Peter Hujar’s camera — and is now alive again in front of our eyes.

Featured among others: Joe Brainard, William Burroughs, Remy Charlip, Edwin Denby, Divine, Ray Johnson, Fran Lebowitz, Charles Ludlum, Susan Sontag, Paul Thek, John Waters, Robert Wilson, David Wojnarowicz.

 

The facts:
Lost Downtown
 by Peter Hujar
40 pages, 20 images
Hardbound/Clothbound
29.5 x 32 cm
ISBN 978-3-95829-106-5
1. Edition 09/2016
Available here.