Photography is a field of art that, on the one hand, can preserve time and moment, tell us stories that happened or are happening in real time in different times and spaces. At the same time, it share with us the hidden beauty, the depth visible to the photographer’s eye, that often seems like an ordinary, unremarkable experience. The artist’s personal perspective, the way they see the environment and people, becomes a universal experience, through which we are given the opportunity to see personal experience with another eye.
With the help of photography, along with the dry facts, historical storm, political changes, and social movements of the 20th century, people and processes from that time are still visible to us. Photography helps us to see subcultures, to share the feelings of people with different identities, stories buried, covered by the by big processes, or the experiences of those left alone with the indifference of the system, their mutual care, love, joy, the process of self-discovery or protest against the dominant agenda.
By looking at the works of the artists listed in this article, you will understand how important photography is to document the experiences of people invisible to time and sometimes to society, and how powerful it is to turn seemingly trivial events into constantly exciting experiences.
Peter Hujar, a great American photographer, was one of the prominent figures in the New York circle of artists, musicians, writers and performers of the 70’s and 80’s. As a photographer, Hujar had many interests — he captured the faces and emotions of his friends, surroundings or lovers, nude bodies, landscapes, and animal portraits inspired by his childhood spent on a farm.
Peter Hujar died of AIDS-related pneumonia in 1987 at the age of 53. While he was alive, only a few solo exhibitions of his works were held, which did not cause much response, his photo book – Portraits in Life and Death was also printed. He was recognized after his death and is still popular.
Gallerist Arne Glimcher recalls, “Peter always walked around with a camera, always busy with his work and detached from his surroundings. He was very serious about his craft, but he didn’t care about recognition from people, moreover, he avoided it, which hurt his career, but he benefited him.”
Nan Goldin is also among the outstanding photographers of all time. She was heavily influenced by Peter Hujar’s style — Hujar and Goldin were in the same artistic circle, and she also photographed New York’s queer subculture. Goldin began taking portraits of queer people at an early age. She completely dedicated the 70’s and 80’s to preserving relationships, addiction, sexuality, queer people left alone in the face of the HIV/AIDS crisis on film.
The most outstanding monograph from Goldin’s early years is the Ballad of Sexual Dependency. The photographer’s work was exhibited and is still popular in the art space for galleries and festivals.
Many members of her circle died in the 80’s, and Goldin ended up in a rehabilitation clinic in the early 90’s, where he was treated for addiction. Even after this period, she continued to candidly capture her own life, although her focus changed as she grew older and turned from the photos of abandoned, ostracized youth to the experiences of parenthood and family news.
You might remember Robert Mapplethorpe from Patti Smith’s book translated into Georgian – Just Kids. The photographer and the legendary musician were in love for a short time. One of the most influential American photographers, he was also a prominent figure in the New York creative scene of the 70’s and 80’s. Mapplethorpe enriched photography with new techniques and expressive methods. He was one of those artists who captured the pulse of the time in photographs — capturing artists, musicians, movie stars, working on commercial projects and creating artwork for music albums, and was particularly interested in the S&M (sadomasochism) underground scene.
His works, which depicted members of the sexual subculture and photos depicting naked bodies, were shocking to the public. And Robert Mapplethorpe said that he did not like to use the word shocking to describe his works, but he really wanted to create an “unexpected” experience.
“I’m looking for something I’ve never seen before.. I witnessed the right moments to take photos and I felt obliged to do so,” he said.
In 1988, Mapplethorpe was diagnosed with AIDS, but this did not stop him from continuing his creative pursuits and working actively. In the same year, his first, particularly important exhibition was organized. Mapplethorpe died the following year, aged 42. When you see his invaluable, daring and impressive creative legacy, you will understand why he is considered one of the most important artists of the 20th century.
Laura Aguilar Chicana (a term originally used to insult poor Mexicans. Mexican-Americans later began to use the term to describe their own identity — they preferred and sought out their Mexican roots over their American roots) was a photographer known for her portraits. The artist focused on Latin-American people and explored issues of gender, sexuality, captured people with disabilities and tried to break the prevailing standards of beauty decades ago – she depicted her own and other people’s natural bodies in photographs and showed us their beauty.
Aguilar had supporters during her lifetime, although she was not able to fully establish herself in the American artistic space, which is probably due to the search for faces and news outside the mainstream and often, acute political works, which is accompanied by the discriminatory attitude towards Mexicans living in America. Although, Aguilar’s works were appreciated after her death and several large-scale exhibitions were held.
One of Laura Aguilar’s outstanding series of works, Latina Lesbians, was an attempt to empower Latina American lesbian women, to create a space for the free acceptance of identity, as she said, it was a “resource for education”.
Swiss photographer Walter Pfeiffer started taking pictures in 1971, after he bought a Polaroid camera, and before that he was an artist and graphic designer. Inspired by Pop Art and Andy Warhol, the artist’s focus in the 70’s and 80’s was Zürich’s underground scene. The heroes of his hyperrealistic works were mostly his friends, acquaintances, and party guests. In 1974, one of Switzerland’s most important art museums became interested in his series of black-and-white photographs of a transgender model, marking the beginning of Pfeiffer’s long and successful career.
Walter does not look for technical accuracy – in his photographs, the movement of bodies, emotions are carried through the lens, which his characteristic colors make an even more unforgettable visual experience. Pfeiffer is interested in the male body, focusing on youth and the search for identity. His works combine humor, glamour, kitsch, nudity — the photographer masterfully mixes genres and techniques, creates portraits, landscapes that can be easily distinguished from the works of other artists.
Walter Pfeiffer still lives and works in Zürich, collaborates with famous publications, fashion houses, and his works are exhibited in the world’s leading art galleries. The artist works with equal success both on personal projects and on commercial orders.
He says that he always demands something more than beauty from the objects depicted in his photographs, because only beauty is very boring.