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Hujar, Peter (1934-1987)  
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Photographer Peter Hujar created stark, stunning, affecting, and sometimes disturbing images in black and white. His oeuvre ranged from portraits of famous writers and artists to subjects and pictures of domestic animals.

Hujar was born on October 11, 1934 in Trenton, New Jersey, but soon thereafter his father—said to have been a bootlegger—abandoned his wife and son. Hujar's mother gave over the care of the infant to her parents. Growing up on his grandparents' farm, Hujar spoke only Ukrainian until he started school.

Hujar remained on the farm until 1946, when his grandmother died and, according to Klaus Kertess, "his aunts and uncles began to make life miserable for him." At the urging of her father, Hujar's mother reclaimed her son and brought him to live with her and her second husband in New York City.

At the age of thirteen Hujar got his first camera and used it to photograph the creatures who had been an important part of his youth, the animals on the farm. His fascination with animals as subjects would continue throughout his life.

While Hujar was a student at the High School of Art and Design in New York, Daisy Aldan, one of his teachers, appreciated his talent for photography and encouraged him to pursue it as a career.

Upon graduation in 1952 Hujar began working as a photographer's assistant. As an apprentice, he already began to establish an artistic identity of his own, yet he was also a student of his predecessors and sought to be part of the history and tradition that included the work of Matthew Brady, Judy Margaret Cameron, Berenice Abbott, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, Cecil Beaton, and Lisette Model, the last of whom he particularly admired.

Through his work, Hujar became acquainted with other members of the artistic community in New York, among them Joseph Raffael, with whom he went to Italy in 1958 for a two-year sojourn.

Upon returning to New York in 1960 he took an apartment on Second Avenue that would be his home base for the ensuing fourteen years, but Italy drew him back. He returned there in 1962 and made a series of photographs of mummified bodies from the catacombs on Palermo, Sicily. He combined the gruesome and haunting pictures with photos of members of the contemporary New York arts community in the only book of his work produced in his lifetime, Portraits in Life and Death, published in 1976.

Once back in New York again, Hujar worked as a commercial photographer until 1966, when Richard Avedon introduced him to Ruth Ansel, the art director of Harper's Bazaar, whereupon he launched a brief career in fashion photography.

Seeking his own direction, in 1969 Hujar opened his own commercial studio whose celebrity clients included such stars of the entertainment world as Peggy Lee and Jayne Mansfield. He also photographed drag artists including Divine, Charles Ludlum, and Ethyl Eichelberger, who posed as various characters, such as Nefertiti and "Auntie Bellum."

In his thoughtful essay "In and Out of Fashion," published in Peter Hujar: A Retrospective (1994), Max Kozloff stated, "Hujar . . . stands apart from them all [i.e., previous photographers] because of the fact that transvestism was part of his world. He beheld such homosexual display from a much closer perspective than his straight predecessors. And that is why homosexuality has a different charge in his work than it does in theirs. So much are men's desires part of his mental environment that it never occurs to him to photograph in a sensationalist spirit."

At the same time Hujar was also becoming active in the gay rights movement, and he volunteered to make a picture for the Gay Liberation Front to use as a poster to publicize the first gay pride march, held in June 1970 on the first anniversary of Stonewall.

Hujar hoped to photograph hundreds of subjects, but only fifteen people had the courage to appear for the photo shoot. Undaunted, he mounted a lamppost and arranged the shot, telling the volunteers to move back and then run toward him.

Although Hujar had only fifteen brave marchers, he knew how to direct them to create a photograph of importance and power. Fran Winant, one of the participants, told Steven F. Dansky of The Gay & Lesbian Review, "Peter Hujar's photograph is a reminder of an important time in my life when, with love, exuberance, and daring, we launched the modern gay movement and gave a gift of human rights and freedom to the people of the future. As a measure of our success, no one now can know the fear we felt then at being in this photo and the poster made from it. Each year millions celebrate gay liberation with us. I imagine them filling the empty space in the photograph behind us."

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Peter Hujar created the photograph for this poster the Gay Liberation Front used to publicize New York City's first gay pride march in 1970.
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