I will not cease to be myself for foolish people. For foolish people make harsh judgments on me. You must always be yourself no matter what the price. It is the highest form of morality.
Like his contemporaries Robert Mapplethorpe and Nan Goldin, American photographer Peter Hujar turned his camera to characters from his everyday orbit—friends, lovers, fellow artists, all captured with an understated intimacy. The era was the 1970s and 1980s, and among the luminaries captured by Hujar’s lens were David Wojnarowicz, Susan Sontag, John Waters, Divine, Kiki Smith, Lynn Davis and, as seen here, Candy Darling. Most, like Hujar, were living in New York, fueled by the city’s electric magnetism and embrace of non-conformists. Few were already renowned within their field, yet all had been steadily crafting a body of work that was emphatically theirs, which may explain their appeal to Hujar, himself a proud individual with a deep sense of integrity and an uncompromising vision for his art. ‘If you look at his work,’ recalled Nan Goldin, a close friend of Hujar’s, ‘you see a lot more than the surface of the person.’
Hujar’s sensibility for photography was honed at an early age. Independent and living in New York City since the age of sixteen, Hujar went on to receive a Fulbright fellowship in 1963, at the age of 29. In discussing the possibility of early influences on Hujar’s work, photography critic Vince Aletti has stated, ‘he was so authentic and so idiosyncratic that I don’t think [his inspiration] came from someone else… It was so much his own way of seeing and working and connecting.’ Accordingly, Hujar’s portraits have been celebrated for their distinct aura and unrelenting empathy, qualities that are strongly manifested in Candy Darling on Her Deathbed.
Born James Lawrence Slattery in Queens, NY, Candy Darling was a selfmade bottle-blond psychedelic reincarnation of silver screen goddesses from Hollywood’s Golden Age. Part Marilyn Monroe, part Jean Harlow and plenty Kim Novak, Candy rose to superstardom following her discovery by Andy Warhol, who quickly cast the pouty, leggy blonde in two of his movies, anointing her the new It Girl of New York’s avant garde scene. Fellow Factory member George Abagnalo recalled that ‘to be a movie star, to be considered a…beautiful movie star was the most important thing in Candy’s life. She idolized women who had achieved this and this is what she wanted to be. This is why she was alive.’ Following her hospitalization for lymphoma at the age of 29, Candy requested that Hujar come up and have her picture taken. Fran Leibowitz, who was present at the time the picture was taken, stated that Candy ‘loved that picture. And she really made a big effort to look like that.’ This last portrait, indeed, is a final ode to a telegenic, rules-breaking, gender-bending Pop Culture siren, captured by a likewise uniquely visionary and immensely gifted artist.