Peter Hujar

Shaggy Cow, Hyrkin Farm (II)

1978

In Tate Britain

Prints and Drawings Room

View by appointment
Artist
Peter Hujar 1934–1987
Medium
Photograph, gelatin silver print on paper
Dimensions
Image: 373 × 373 mm
Collection
Tate
Acquisition
Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2020
Reference
P82560

Summary

Shaggy Cow, Hyrkin Farm (II) c.1969–85 is a black and white square-format photograph by the American photographer Peter Hujar. From a wider series known as Animals, it is a humorous animal portrait showing a cow staring straight into the camera. Having grown up on his grandparents’ farm in New Jersey, it seems Hujar understood well the individuality of each of his subjects, whether animal and human. His friend and fellow photographer Nan Goldin (born 1953) said of Hujar, ‘He is the best photographer of animals I’ve ever met,’ adding that ‘he photographs a particular dog, not just the species.’ (Chris Wiley and Peter Hujar, ‘The Animals that Captivated a Legendary Downtown Photographer’, The New Yorker, 17 February 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/the-animals-who-captivated-a-legendary-downtown-photographer, accessed 30 September 2019.) Hujar made few prints and this is a rare example of a lifetime print.

Hujar is a major figure of American photography of the 1970s and 1980s and was closely connected to the countercultural movements in New York of that time. He was particularly known for his intimate black and white portraits and nude studies of the visual artists, writers and performers whom he counted among his close friends and acquaintances (see, for example, Tate P82409P82412). His work also includes photographs of Midtown and downtown New York (see Tate P82556–7), as well as of domestic and wild animals.

Born in Trenton, New Jersey, Hujar worked as a commercial photographer while also pursuing his own practice, focusing from the mid-1960s onwards on the people connected to the downtown culture in which he was immersed: the emerging punk scene, camp performance and the circles around cult music magazines. As his images circulated in the alt-pictorial newspaper tabloid Newspaper and in Interview magazine, on flyers advertising drag performance and, in 1969, a poster for the Gay Liberation Front, they became a familiar part of the East Village’s visual culture.

Hujar’s only lifetime publication, Portraits in Life and Death, was released in 1976. Featuring portraits of his contemporaries juxtaposed with death portraits shot in the Capuchin Catacombs in Palermo, Sicily, the book defined the sensitive, classical approach that he applied to all of his subject matter.

Further reading
Peter Hujar; A Retrospective, exhibition catalogue, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam and Fotomuseum Winterthur 1994.
Peter Hujar and Robert Nickas, Peter Hujar: Night, New York 2005.
Peter Hujar. Speed of Life, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Mapfre, Barcelona, 27 January–30 April 2017; Fotomuseum The Hague, 1 July–15 October 2017; The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, 26 January–20 May 2018; Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive, California, 11 July–7 October 2018.

Emma Lewis and Yasufumi Nakamori
September 2019

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