Peter Hujar

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Peter Hujar
BornOctober 11, 1934
DiedNovember 26, 1987 (aged 53)
Resting placeGate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla, New York
Notable work
Candy Darling on Her Deathbed, 1973

Peter Hujar (October 11, 1934 – November 26, 1987) was an American photographer best known for his black and white portraits.

He has been recognized posthumously as "one of the major American photographers of the late twentieth century."[1]

Early life[edit]

Hujar was born in Trenton, New Jersey.

Peter never knew his father, who had abandoned Peter’s mother, Rose, and his child. Rose lived in downtown Manhattan and worked as a waitress. When Peter was 11, he was sent to live with his mother and her companion. The two adults were boozers, and after Rose threw a bottle at her son, who was then 16, Peter moved out.[2]

Because of this he was deeply insecure about his past childhood. He was raised by his Ukrainian grandparents on their farm, where he only spoke Ukrainian until he started school.[3] Hujar remained on the farm with his grandparents until his grandmother's death in 1946, when he moved in with his mother, Rose Murphy, and her second husband who were living in New York City.[3][4] However, the household was abusive and Hujar left to take care of himself as a teen.[4]

Hujar is ofter described as charismatic, complicated, and deeply insecure due to this family history.[5]

Beginning in photography[edit]

He received his first camera in 1947[6] and attended in 1953 the School of Industrial Art where he expressed interest in being a photographer. He was fortunate to encounter an encouraging teacher, the poet Daisy Aldan, and followed her advice of becoming a commercial photography apprentice.[4]

Artistic career[edit]

As early as 1956, Hujar began taking photographs that showed signs of his particular style and point of view. Hujar's style is something that should be experienced rather than just described.[7] After meeting artist Joseph Raffael, Hujar accompanied him on a Fulbright to Italy, where he took many photos with the artist. In 1963, Hujar secured his own Fulbright and returned to Italy where he explored and photographed the Palermo catacombs. On this trip, Hujar was accompanied by his lover Paul Thek, who would be one of the important relationships of his life.[8]

Downtown New York[edit]

Back in New York, Hujar was part of the downtown art scene. He was one of the lead figures in the incoming groups of artists, musicians, writers, and performers at the beginning of the AIDS Crisis and cultural scene in downtown New York during the 1970s and early '80s.

He was immensely admired for his completely unyielding attitude towards his work, life, and values. He appeared in one of Andy Warhol's Screen Tests (which Warhol later included in a series called "The Thirteen Most Beautiful Boys").

He worked for a spell for successful commercial photographer Harold Krieger and shot for Harper's Bazaar and GQ.

Portraits in Life and Death[edit]

He moved then in to his deceased friend Jackie Curtis's loft at 189 2nd Avenue. Hujar took many photos of his friends, combining many of them with his Palermo photos for a book called Portraits in Life and Death, published in 1976 by Da Capo Press.

The introduction was written by his close friend Susan Sontag and her portrait appears in the book.

Using the people in his life as subjects, Hujar took iconic photos of Sontag, Ethyl Eichelberger, Candy Darling, Divine, and his lover David Wojnarowicz.[9] His photograph of Darling on her deathbed in the hospital has been frequently reproduced.

Death from AIDS[edit]

Hujar is probably best known for the work he produced during the last years of his life before dying from AIDS-related pneumonia; his photographs from that period document the effervescent creative spirit that pulsed through the East Village and its environs in overlapping fields — visual art, post-punk music-making, performance art, and political activism.[2] Hujar was diagnosed with AIDS in January 1987, and died ten months later, on November 25, at Cabrini Medical Center from AIDS-related pneumonia.[3][10] Wojnarowicz was with him when he died and made a brief video recording of his body, head to toe, and took 23 photographs.[11] While on his deathbed, Wojnarowicz shot photographs of Hujar in his final attempt to capture life through the lens of a camera.[12]

Per Hujar's wishes, his funeral was held at Church of St. Joseph in Greenwich Village.

He is buried at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, Valhalla, New York.[13]


At the time of his death, according to his New York Times obituary, Hujar's work was in the permanent collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the New Orleans Museum of Art.[14]

As of 2014, his work is in:

In his will, Hujar left his entire photographic archive to his friend Stephen Koch.[15] In 1990, Koch prepared an exhibition of Hujar's work of 132 photographs, held at Grey Art Gallery at New York University. The New York Times review was generally favorable, but plainly had cast Hujar in the shadow of a fellow downtown photographer Robert Mapplethorpe.


  • 1990: Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zurich: Mandat 10: Peter Hujar, Fotografien
  • 2010: Les Rencontres d'Arles festival, France.
  • 2018: The Morgan Library, New York, NY, USA.


  • 1990: Galerie Renée Ziegler, Zurich: Mandat 10 with texts by Richard M. Brintzenhofe and Stephen Koch
  • Peter Hujar: A Retrospective by Hujar, Hripsime Vissar, Urs Stahel, and Max Kozloff
  • Portraits In Life And Death by Peter Hujar
  • Lorenzo Fusi (a cura di), Changing Difference: Queer Politics & Shifting Identities, Silvana Ed. (2012).


  1. ^ Holland Cotter. The New York Times, February 8, 2018.
  2. ^ a b "Peter Hujar's Elegy for New York City in the 1980s". Hyperallergic. 2018-02-24. Retrieved 2018-02-28.
  3. ^ a b c (PDF) Missing or empty |title= (help)
  4. ^ 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.
  5. ^ Bowcock, Simon (2016-10-14). "Peter Hujar: the photographer who defined downtown New York". The Guardian. Retrieved 2018-02-07.
  6. ^ "Press release: PETER HUJAR". Maureen Paley. Archived from the original on 4 November 2014. Retrieved 4 November 2014.
  7. ^ Schjeldahl, Peter (2018-01-29). "The Bohemian Rhapsody of Peter Hujar". The New Yorker. ISSN 0028-792X. Retrieved 2018-02-07.
  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. ^ Carr, Cynthia (2012). Fire in the belly : the life and times of David Wojnarowicz (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. p. 183. ISBN 978-1596915336.
  10. ^ "The New York Times : Peter Hujar Dies at 53; Made Photo Portraits". November 28, 1987.
  11. ^ Carr, Cynthia (2012). Fire in the belly : the life and times of David Wojnarowicz (1st U.S. ed.). New York: Bloomsbury. p. 378. ISBN 978-1596915336.
  12. ^ "Hujar, Peter" (PDF).
  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 Dies at 53 - Made Photo Portraits". The New York Times. 1987-11-28.
  15. ^ Leifheit, Matthew (2013-10-15). "Stephen Koch on Peter Hujar: "If you're Vincent, you've got to have your Theo."". ArtFCity. Retrieved 5 November 2014.


Further reading[edit]

  • Kertess, Klaus: Peter Hujar - Animals and Nudes, Twin Palms, Santa Fe, 2002.

External links[edit]