Rebecca Solnit on Peter Hujar


Moved by someone’s suggestion that she resembles Susan Sontag, I’ve been reading Rebecca Solnit: A Field Guide to Getting Lost. Solnit’s similarity to Sontag escapes me; if you are looking for her role model in the matriarchy of modern lit, Annie Dillard is vastly more convincing. And could there be two sensibilities less alike than Dillard and Sontag?

Anyway, Solnit is neither Dillard nor Sontag but herself. In A Field Guide to Being Lost she discusses Peter Hujar—especially the pictures he made in urban ruins during the era of AIDS. Her evocation may be the first time Hujar’s mute meditation on that dark time has broken into the discourse.


This era came rushing back to me a few years ago when I walked into a New York gallery full of the photographs of Peter Hujar, who died of AIDS in 1987. I had been looking at contemporary art in the several galleries that preceded this momentous entrance, art that was sleek, shiny, clever… art that was in some ways about the smooth surface of the new city that had replaced the cityscape that so moved me in Hujar’s pictures. In Hujar’s saturated black and white prints of animals, outcastes, eccentrics and ruinous places, the world was rough in every sense. Its surfaces were porous, decrepit, sensuous, full of age and what seemed an ability to absorb…light, meaning, emotion…


 The time was about this kind of place, one that was ruinous, bleak, but somehow still imbued with a romantic outlaw sense of possibility, of freedom, even the freedom to be idealistic in the bitter vein of the Sex Pistols’ “No Future.”


            – Stephen Koch, Director, Peter Hujar Archive


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