Hanya Yanagihara on Peter Hujar

fraenkelgalleryTHE ARTIST AS A YOUNG MAN: PETER HUJAR: It takes some artists (most, actually) many years to become who they are in the public and critical imagination. But a few know who they are from the start: to look at or read their early works is to realize that you are in the presence of someone who, through sheer artistic conviction, was able to seemingly bypass the early years of imitation and derivation that so many of us must endure in order to become ourselves. I don’t want to get too romantic here—after all, talent is nothing without work. Still, it remains undeniable: Some people are genuinely more gifted than others.//For proof, you need only look at Peter Hujar’s early photographs. Taken between 1956 and 1958, when he was in his early twenties, these works—of children at schools for the developmentally disabled in Florence, Italy and Southbury, CT—are remarkable for their self-assurance and clarity of vision, not to mention the matter-of-factness of their gaze. These first pieces are compositionally busier than Hujar’s spare, elegant later work (their frames cluttered with objects and angles and people), but the eloquent, almost-smoky lighting, gently furred edges, and subtlety of tone and shadows for which he would become known are already fully present. And there is also, here, a sophistication of seeing: Hujar was self-taught and not many years past childhood himself when he made these works; another, lesser artist might have treated his young subjects with an excess of either sentiment or coolness. And yet he does neither—there is instead a sense of preternatural attentiveness, one that allowed him to see in these children what another, from prejudice or arrogance, might not. This is “Girl Getting Dressed” (Florence, 1958). —@hanyayanagihara #peterhujar#howilearnedtoseeEPH_1480