In 1963, Peter Hujar travelled to Palermo and depicted the city’s catacombs and decayed dead bodies. An experience that would surely inspire his photography work during the 1970s and 1980s as he returned to New York where he observed counterculture personalities and marginals. With powerful and poignant portraits, he explored decay, sexuality and dared to mingle death with life. His views of the human body are intimate but never intrusive. He portrayed real life in its purest form should it be portraits of his friends, masculine nudes or animals as Nan Goldin wrote: ‘His pictures are exotic but not in a shallow, sensational way. Looking at his photographs of nude men, even of a naked baby boy, is the closest I ever came to experience what it is to inhabit male flesh. His photographs of animals have that same rare empathy, they are like highly personal portraits.’.
It is often said that death was not far from his lens and it’s true that as a gay man living through the height of the AIDS crisis, he was part of a community that had to face mortality - Peter Hujar would be one of the victims of the disease. Thus from his catacomb images to Candy Darling on her deathbed, Peter Hujar addressed death with empathy, leading Susan Sontag to affirm: ‘Peter Hujar knows that portraits in life are always, also, portraits in death.’