"Finding Thek's Tomb"

Matthew Israel
Dec 12, 2012 4:34AM

(Excerpted from my article in Art in America, November 2010)

It was the Spring of 2009. Ever since I had begun to work at the Peter Hujar Archive three years earlier I had been suggesting to Peter's good friend Stephen Koch, director of the archive, that we retrieve what Stephen referred to as "The Trunk" from his New York apartment's basement and bring it to the archive's office. (The archive administers the estate of the late photographer [1934-1987], who is best known for his sensitive, classical, black-and-white portraits of artists and intellectuals from the downtown New York avant-garde community of the 1970s and early 1980s.)

Stephen had told me that Peter's trunk was filled with contact sheets, and that it had been kept in storage since his death. I expounded on what I felt was the art historical importance of contact sheets, but the archive possessed limited office space. As well, the archive's primary holdings-the more than 4,000 vintage gelatin silver prints by Hujar-had yet to be completely inventoried. (This was my primary job at the archive.) Furthermore, Stephen explained that while Peter did look at contact sheets a good deal to determine whichshot to enlarge, he never exhibited them or considered them to be even close in importance to his (characteristically 16-by-20-inch) prints. Accordingly, the unspoken agreement between Stephen and me was that when I finished my inventory of the prints, we'd go and get the trunk...

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Matthew Israel