Hujar is often compared to his younger peer Mapplethorpe, as both depicted male sexuality and queer subcultures. But while Mapplethorpe combined a rigorous and pristine aesthetic with images that were often shocking—featuring self-penetration with a bullwhip or formally presenting leather daddies, for example—Hujar’s approach was more open and less focused on technical precision. His image of two leather-clad men kissing is tightly cropped and teems with the tension of their lips smashing together. The studio space was always a presence in Mapplethorpe’s images—suggesting desire and identity in a high art, and a performative setting—but in Hujar’s pictures, including Jay and Fernando, the location is neutral, which draws more focus to the encounter itself.
In 2018, Hujar’s friend, the social commentator Fran Lebowitz, spoke at length
about Hujar’s relationship to Mapplethorpe, saying the younger photographer often looked to Hujar for guidance but took more than inspiration from him.
“Peter and I shared the distaste for Robert,” Lebowitz said. “But one of the reasons is that Peter thought Robert was silly, you know, which he was. And he thought that Robert copied him in certain ways, which of course he did.”
“Part of the reason [Hujar] was eclipsed was because of the great success of Mapplethorpe, who filled a niche and very spectacularly filled the image of a bad-boy photographer privy to those kinds of secrets of dark, nighttime gay lifestyle,” said Joel Smith, the Morgan’s curator of photography, in 2017. “It was easy for the mainstream culture to think of him as ‘the other one,’ or ‘the minor one.’ He did not have Mapplethorpe’s knack of promoting himself.”