The beauty – and danger – of photography is that it renders complex subjects into the simple, contained space of a screen or print. The more we make a habit of scrolling through Instagram, the easier it is to forget the moments before and after the one caught on film. Photographer Peter Hujar (1934–1987) idolized such intricate terrain and devoted his career to “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects.” The misfits, the punks, the drag queens, the underbellies of the East Village all captivated him, and now through May 20, you can absorb his work in person at the Morgan Library and Museum in New York.
Peter Hujar: Speed of Life encapsulates an artist who was “private by nature, combative in manner, well-read, and widely connected,” according to museum curators. “[He] inhabited a world of avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance. His mature career paralleled the public unfolding of gay life between the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.”
The show includes 140 photographs taken between the mid-1950s and his death in 1987 from AIDS. In the piece, “Candy Darling On Her Deathbed,” he captures the patient and prolonged brutality of AIDS as it rips the life from one of its victims, slowly, like a mile-long hangnail soaked in salt. Other pieces are more playful, showing the cheeky side of a few choice New Yorkers. Regardless of mood, his work is a crystalline pin drop in an endless feed of selfies and self-proclaimed influencers; he was a pure drop of rebellion in a time of American lemmings.