I was lucky enough to receive two great photography books as gifts recently. The first was a retrospective of the work of Peter Hujar, published by Scalo. Hujar was a photographer very out of step with the times he lived in. When everyone else in the seventies and eighties was abandoning traditional materials and trying to deal with structure and sequence, he carried on doing what he did best: concentrating on one thing at a time.
Most of his photographs are singular; a cow, a dog, a person, a shoe. Each one appears in the same square format, and they are all amazingly still without seeming posed; serene, austere, undramatic. There are mental patients, guys cruising at the pier and the park, corpses and cocks: but also wild horses, babies and beautiful shots of the water on the Hudson River.
The only well-known image in the book is Candy Darling On Her Deathbed, used by Anthony & The Johnsons on their first album cover. But there are plenty of other NY luminaries – John Waters, Ray Johnson, Susan Sontag, Warhol, of course – to demonstrate just how well connected this guy was. Hujar was a great influence on the work of Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin, among others, and is well worth investigating if you’re into that kind of modern photography stuff.
The other book was much heavier. Dennis Hopper’s Photographs 1961-1967 is published by Taschen, and is another one of their coffee table books that could almost function as a coffee table. Warhol pops up here too, but this time we’re hanging out on the West Coast and it’s all a bit more free and easy (rider), man. There’s another indie album reference here: The Smiths used Hopper’s moody bikers for one of their many Best Ofs.
Unlike Hujar’s silent reflection, this is a book to immerse yourself in, and as well as the sex, beaches, art, rock stars, motorbikes and advertisments, there are some fascinating articles about Hopper’s involvement on the LA art scene and his relationship with James Dean, who apparently told all his friends that they should take up another hobby alonside their day job. Hopper chose photography, and the rest is history, baby.