Peter Hujar would often complain to his close friend, the writer Fran Leibowitz, that the reason he wasn’t more successful was his name. “Everyone that’s famous has the same first and last initials,” he would explain. “Take Marilyn Monroe, for instance.”
His superstitions would prove to be grossly misguided. After his premature death from AIDS-related complications in 1987, Hujar’s work—already well established among the New York art world at the time—would become the stuff of legend. Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Hujar was raised by a single mother. After running away from home as a teenager, he eventually found his way to photography, attending the School of Industrial Art and becoming a commercial photography apprentice, where he developed a singular style and unique point of view early on. After accompanying artists Joseph Raffael on a Fulbright to Italy, Hujar settled in New York City where he played a seminal part of the city’s downtown scene.
As one of the most influential photographers of his generation, he would amass a catalog of work that was emblematic of the era. Hujar’s subjects were drawn from his immediate surroundings. Fellow artists, writers, actors, celebrities, socialites, drag queens, and the occasional farm animal, were rendered in the same stark and somber tones through which he saw the world.
Recently, his images have been rediscovered by a new generation of admirers and art aficionados for whom 1970s New York has the same nostalgic allure of 1920s Paris. A major retrospective at the Morgan Library in 2018 was followed by a joint exhibit with the work of his partner and close collaborator, the late David Wojnarowicz, sponsored by Spanish fashion house Loewe. Though many of his newfound fans were born years after the iconic decade he cataloged, Hujar’s images offer a glimpse into a world apart—a world that in the decades following this untimely death would grow to be more influential than anyone could of dreamt.