Peter Hujar

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Peter Hujar
Peter Hujar Self-Portrait (book cover).jpg
Self-Portrait Standing (1980) book cover for Love & Lust
BornOctober 11, 1934
Trenton, New Jersey, United States
DiedNovember 26, 1987(1987-11-26) (aged 53)
New York City, New York, United States
Resting placeGate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla, New York
Known forblack & white portrait photography

Peter Hujar (October 11, 1934 – November 26, 1987) was an American photographer best known for his black and white portraits.[1][2][3][4] He has been recognized posthumously as a major American photographer of the late-twentieth century.[1][2] Yet Hujar's work received only marginal public recognition during his lifetime.[4]

Early life[edit]

Hujar was born October 11, 1934 in Trenton, New Jersey to Rose Murphy, a waitress, who was abandoned by her husband during her pregnancy. He was raised by his Ukrainian grandparents on their farm, where he spoke only Ukrainian until he started school. He remained on the farm with his grandparents until his grandmother's death in 1946. He moved to New York City to live with his mother and her second husband.[5] The household was abusive, and in 1950, when Hujar was 16, he left home and began to live independently.[5]


Hujar received his first camera in 1947[6] and in 1953 entered the School of Industrial Art where he expressed interest in being a photographer. He encountered an encouraging teacher, the poet Daisy Aldan (1923–2001), and following her advice he became a commercial photography apprentice. Apart from classes in photography during high school, Hujar's photographic education and technical mastery was acquired in commercial photo studios. By 1957, when he was 23 years old, he was making photographs now considered to be of museum quality. Early in 1967, he was one of a select group of young photographers in a master class taught by Richard Avedon and Marvin Israel, where he met Alexey Brodovitch and Diane Arbus.[5]

Artistic career[edit]

In 1958, Hujar accompanied the artist Joseph Raffael on a Fulbright to Italy. In 1963, he secured his own Fulbright and returned to Italy with Paul Thek, where they explored and photographed the Capuchin Catacombs of Palermo, classic images featured in his 1975 book Portraits in Life and Death. In 1964, Hujar returned to America and became a chief assistant in the studio of the commercial photographer Harold Krieger. Around this time, he also met Andy Warhol, posed for four of Warhol's three-minute Screen Tests and was included in the compilation film The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys that was assembled from Screen Tests.

In 1967, Hujar quit his job in commercial photography, and at great financial sacrifice, began to pursue primarily his own art work that reflected his homosexual milieu. He was an influential artist-activist of the LGBTQ+ liberation movement; In 1969, with his lover, the political activist Jim Fouratt, he witnessed the Stonewall riots in the West Village. Also at the urging of Fouratt, he took the now somewhat ironic photo "Come out!!" for the Gay Liberation Front, or GLF, although that was the extent of his involvement with the group.[7] In 1973, he moved into a loft above The Eden Theater at 189 2nd Avenue in the East Village, where he lived for the rest of his life.

In the late-1970s and early-1980s he frequented the bohemian art world of Downtown Manhattan, shooting portraits of the artists there such as drag queen actor Divine and writers, such as Susan Sontag, William Burroughs, Fran Lebowitz, and Vince Aletti. He visited "extremely serious, very heavy S&M bars" and the abandoned West Side Hudson River piers where men cruised for sex.[4]

1970 Poster for the GLF taken by Hujar

In 1975, Hujar published Portraits in Life and Death, with an introduction by Sontag. After a tepid reception, the book became a classic in American photography. The rest of the 1970s was a period of prolific work. In early 1981, Hujar met the writer, filmmaker, and artist David Wojnarowicz, and after a brief period as Hujar's lover, Wojnarowicz became a protégé linked to Hujar for the remainder of the photographer's life. Hujar remained instrumental in all phases of Wojnarowicz's emergence as an important young artist.[8]

Another artist closely linked with Hujar is Robert Maplethorpe. Both artists were gay white men who excelled at portrait photography and made unashamedly homoerotic work that walked the line between pornography and fine art, although they were structural opposites. If Mapplethorpe reduced his subjects to abstract forms, his sitter’s faces to masks, his nude models to sculptures, then Hujar emphasized his sitters’ idiosyncrasies, their irreducible qualities, their human sentience over their fleshy geometry.[9] One of Hujar’s most memorable works, Orgasmic Man, is also a key difference between his work and Mapplethorpe’s; Robert Mapplethorpe’s sex pictures: never once, in all of Mapplethorpe’s editioned photographs, did he show orgasm or ejaculation, nor did he depict the concomitant facial expressions.

Hujar's Orgasmic Man (1969)

Hujar had a wide array of subjects in his photography including cityscapes and urban still lifes, animals, nudes, abandoned buildings, and European ruins. His photography, which was mostly in black and white, has been described as conveying an intimacy, suggestive of both love and loss.[10] One aspect of this intimate quality was Hujar's ability to connect with his sitters. One of his models was quoted after an unsuccessful session saying;

“We couldn’t ‘reveal.’ As an actor you have to reveal. And Hujar’s big thing was that you had to reveal. I know that now, but I didn’t know it at the time. In other words, blistering, blazing honesty directed towards the lens. No pissing about. No posing. No putting anything on. No camping around. Just flat, real who-you-are. . . . You must strip down all the nonsense until you get to the bone. That’s what Peter wanted and that was his great, great talent and skill.”[7]

Hujar's portraits, the subject of the first half of the one book he published while he was alive, are simple; he almost never used props and the focus of his work was on the sitter, as opposed to the backdrop of the shot. His subjects were usually either sitting or in a recumbent pose.[11]

Death from AIDS[edit]

In January 1987, Hujar was diagnosed with AIDS. He died 10 months later at the age of 53 on November 25 at Cabrini Medical Center in New York.[12]

His funeral was held at Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village and he was buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Valhalla, New York.[13]

Hujar willed his estate to his friend Stephen Koch.[2]

The first retrospective of Hujar's work came in 1994 in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1994.[9]


  • Portraits in Life and Death. New York City: Da Capo, 1976.
  • Peter Hujar. New York City: Grey Art Gallery & Study Center, New York University, 1990. With contributions by Stephen Koch and Thomas W Sokolowski.
  • Peter Hujar. Peter Hujar: A Retrospective. Zurich, Switzerland: Scalo, 1994. With contributions by Urs Stahel, Hripsimé Visser, and Max Kozloff.
  • Peter Hujar, Intimate Survey. Chicago, IL: Stephen Daiter Galery, 1999.
  • Peter Hujar: Animals and Nudes. Santa Fe, NM: Twin Palms, 2002. With contributions by Klaus Kertess.
  • Peter Hujar: Night. New York: Matthew Marks Gallery; San Francisco, CA: Fraenkel Gallery, 2005. With contributions by Bob Nickas.
  • Subterranean Monuments: Burckhardt, Johnson, Hujar. Poughkeepsie, NY: Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2006.
  • Peter Hujar Photographs 1956-1958. New York City: Mathew Marks Gallery, 2009. With contributions by Stephen Koch.
  • Changing Difference: Queer Politics and Shifting Identities: Peter Hujar, Mark Morrisroe, Jack Smith. Milan, Italy: Silvana, 2013. With contributions by Lorenzo Fusi.
  • Peter Hujar: Love & Lust. Fraenkel Gallery, 2014.
  • Peter Hujar: Lost Downtown. Steidl, 2016. With contributions by Vince Aletti.
  • Speed of Life. Aperture Foundation; Fundación MAPFRE, Área De Cultura, 2017. ISBN 9781597114141. With essays by Philip Gefter, Joel Smith, and Steve Turtell and contributions by Martha Scott Burton.



Hujar's work is held in the following collections:


  1. ^ a b c Cotter, Holland (8 February 2018). "He Made Them Glow: A Maverick's Portraits Live On". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  2. ^ a b c Schjeldahl, Peter (29 January 2018). "The Bohemian Rhapsody of Peter Hujar". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  3. ^ Symonds, Alexandria (2 February 2016). "The Most Exacting Photographer in Downtown '70s New York". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  4. ^ a b c Bowcock, Simon (14 October 2016). "Peter Hujar: the photographer who defined downtown New York". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2019-12-15.
  5. ^ a b c Carr, Cynthia (2012). Fire in the belly : the life and times of David Wojnarowicz (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. p. 181. ISBN 978-1596915336.
  6. ^ "Press release: PETER HUJAR". Maureen Paley. Archived from the original on 4 November 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  7. ^ a b Adams (2021). "Peter Hujar: Shamelessness Without Shame". Criticism. 63 (4): 319. doi:10.13110/criticism.63.4.0319. ISSN 0011-1589.
  8. ^ Carr, Cynthia (2012). Fire in the belly: the life and times of David Wojnarowicz (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. p. 182. ISBN 978-1596915336.
  9. ^ a b Adams, Harrison. Photography in the First Person: Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, Nan Goldin and Sally Mann. Diss. Yale University, 2018.
  10. ^ Jones, Louis B. “His Queer Shoulder.” The Threepenny Review, vol. 145, 2016, pp. 6–9, Accessed 15 May 2022
  11. ^ Vorwort, Hujar, Peter 1934-1987 Fotogr. Sontag, Susan (1976). PORTRAITS IN LIFE AND DEATH. DA CAPO PR. OCLC 1074015771.
  12. ^ "The New York Times : Peter Hujar Dies at 53; Made Photo Portraits". November 28, 1987.
  13. ^ Carr, Cynthia (2012). Fire in the belly: the life and times of David Wojnarowicz (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. p. 379. ISBN 978-1596915336.
  14. ^ "Peter Hujar". The Museum of Modern Art. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  15. ^ Pitman, Joanna. "Peter Hujar's love for the lonely". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  16. ^ "Peter Hujar". Institute of Contemporary Arts. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  17. ^ "Peter Hujar photography exhibition". Fundación MAPFRE. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  18. ^ Haag, Fotomuseum Den (8 May 2017). "Peter Hujar". Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  19. ^ "Peter Hujar: Speed of Life". Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  20. ^ "Peter Hujar: Speed of Life". Wexner Center for the Arts. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  21. ^ "Top 10 photography shows of 2019". The Guardian. 16 December 2019. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  22. ^ Manning, Emily (25 January 2017). "inside the first major retrospective of peter hujar's evocative portraits". i-d. Retrieved 2021-05-29.
  23. ^ "Peter Hujar". The Art Institute of Chicago.
  24. ^ "CMOA Collection".
  25. ^ "Harvard Art Museums".
  26. ^ "Peter Hujar (American, 1934 - 1987) (Getty Museum)". The J. Paul Getty in Los Angeles.
  27. ^ "Peter Hujar: Speed of Life". The Morgan Library & Museum. January 11, 2017.
  28. ^ "Peter Hujar | MoMA". The Museum of Modern Art.
  29. ^ "Works – Peter Hujar – Artists/Makers – The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art".
  30. ^ "Peter Hujar · SFMOMA".
  31. ^ "Peter Hujar".
  32. ^ "Peter Hujar 1934–1987". Tate. Retrieved 2021-05-30.
  33. ^ "Peter Hujar".
  34. ^ "Peter Hujar".
  35. ^ "Untitled | Yale University Art Gallery".

External links[edit]