Art

From New York To Paris: Peter Hujar And Christer Strömholm Look At Their Lost Downtowns

Installation view of Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown at Paul Kasmin Gallery

Installation view of Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown at Paul Kasmin Gallery (all photos by author)

“To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt,” says Susan Sontag in On Photography, who was one of many Downtown fixtures captured by photographer Peter Hujar.

Peter Hujar, Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973

Peter Hujar, Candy Darling on her Deathbed, 1973

Present in Lost Downtown, an exhibition commemorating the devastatingly impressive oeuvre of the late photographer, is this now-emblematic photograph of Sontag, alongside the likes of a very young-yet-already-mischievous John Waters, a make up-free-yet-still-glowing Divine and Fran Lebowitz in her most exposed and intimate pose to this date, lounging on her own bed.

Installation view of Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown at Paul Kasmin Gallery

Installation view of Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown at Paul Kasmin Gallery

The body of work Hujar left behind does not require any introduction or clarification, but it sure needs to be stressed. Akin to many artists of his generation–a generation that was swept away by the destruction of AIDS, Hujar must be contextualized and articulated, and this small scale exhibition at Paul Kasmin Gallery, in conjunction with the publication of a namesake catalog by Steidl, does a fairly good job.

Fran Lebowitz [at Home in Morristwon], 1974

Peter Hujar, Fran Lebowitz [at Home in Morristwon], 1974

Some boldly staring at Hujar’s affable camera and some demurely gazing afar, Hujar’s sitters, among which are artists Paul Thek, Rene Ricard and Hujar’s longterm lover David Wojnarowicz, burgeon and unfold, bursting with exuberance. Black and white photography only elevates such buoyancy that does not necessitate a larger color spectrum.

Christer Strömholm, Untitled, 1962

Christer Strömholm, Untitled, 1962

Coinciding with Lost Downtown is Christer Strömholm’s photographic series of the transgender community in Paris during the ‘60s on view uptown at Pace/MacGill Gallery. Place Blanche, where many city dwellers and outsiders inhabited in mid-20th century Paris, is subject to the Swedish photographer’s lens.

Christer Strömholm, Untitled, 1964

Christer Strömholm, Untitled, 1964

Laden with gesture and briskness, posers in this exhibition flirt with the camera, uttering, whispering and flowing. Proven by blurs around their arms and legs, they burst out vivacity and motion that stem from spontaneity and aspiration. En route to stage at a late night cabaret or to the dark streets of Paris, they simply move on alongside the company of Strömholm’s camera. His camera is, however, foreign compared to Hujar’s–not due to his foreign identity, but due to his unfamiliarity with his subject matter.

Installation view of Christer Strömholm at Pace/MacGill Gallery

Installation view of Christer Strömholm at Pace/MacGill Gallery

As a heterosexual male, Strömholm permeates a social circle he is not accustomed to and often captures his observations against the backdrop of authentic interiors amidst the daily rituals of his models. Therefore, his method corresponds with Sontag’s argument in On Photography that, “To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they never see themselves, by having knowledge of them that they can never have.” Neither Sontag’s observation, nor Strömholm’s method resonates as adverse, yet they both convey a separate perspective than Hujar.

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