Darrel Ellis (III)
Gelatin silver print
Sheet: 10 x 8 in (25.4 x 20.32 cm)
Image: 7.5 x 7.5 in (19.05 x 19.05 cm)
Peter Hujar (b. New Jersey, 1934 – d. New York, 1987) was a photographer who documented his New York milieu in avant-garde dance, music, art, and drag performance, as well as urban streetscapes and foreign country landscapes. This portrait of artist Darrel Ellis is an intimate study of a contemplative 23-year-old Ellis. Ellis would later state that having his picture taken by Hujar encouraged him to pursue his own artistic career and focus on portraiture.
[Hujar’s] portraits of well-known figures such as Susan Sontag, Andy Warhol, and William Burroughs, but also of anonymous street people, circus and drag performers, are all highly regarded. In a sense, everything for Hujar was a portrait. Whether he was photographing a person, a dog, or a tree, his subject always seems to be posing for the camera, aware of being photographed, yet never self-conscious…Regardless of subject matter—from the catacombs in Palermo to abandoned, wrecked cars—Hujar is a classicist whose distinctive style echoes further back to historical figures such as Eugène Atget and Brassaï. Hujar was a mentor, friend, and lover to the artist and writer David Wojnarowicz, and his work would go on to influence the photographers Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe. His sensibility, concentration, eye for detail, and feel for light and texture enable him to find, as both Atget and Brassaï in Paris before him, mystery where none is apparent, beauty in the mundane, and grace in disintegration. All of Hujar’s work is imbued with a deep sense of mortality, and, as he makes visible an awareness of life and death as forever enmeshed, a depth of soul.
He made, in his words, “uncomplicated, direct photographs of complicated and difficult subjects,” immortalizing moments, individuals, subcultures passing at the speed of life…His mature career paralleled the public unfolding of gay life between the Stonewall uprising in 1969 and the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.
Hujar died of AIDS in 1987.
Other works by Peter Hujar
Paul Thek Showering, Fire Island (1966)