Peter Hujar was originally a fashion photographer, like his fellow New Yorkers Irving Penn, Richard Avedon and Robert Mapplethorpe. However, his work differs markedly from theirs. Hujar always struggled with the superficiality of fashion photography and was more interested in the portrayal of real life, in its purest form: in all its corporeality and drama, and at times with humour – as in his animal portraits showing the innocence of creatures.
Hujar’s immersion in the world of his friends and his portrayal of New York from the 1960s to the 1980s portray a city that no longer exists. Where there was once a flourishing subculture, which he documented direct and undiluted, and which still informs our collective cultural memory of the city, there is now a process of gentrification that profits to this day from that image of the past. Up close to life and eschewing all superficiality, Hujar’s work shows the face of that era, warts and all. —Axel Jablonski