Susan Sontag [Peter Hujar]

Death's photographer

Whitney Museum of American Art

Brand spankin' new!

Emily Browne

Contributor

Susan Sontag wrote in the introduction to Peter Hujar’s first and only book, “Portraits in Life and Death,” “photography converts the whole world into a cemetery.” Eek.

But that was the vibe of the entire project and Hujar’s work in general. Most of the people he photographed were suffering from AIDS in some respect. Peter himself said that “he would have to die for the work to become famous.” Upon hearing this anyone would say, “No, Peter. It’s not true. You’re brilliant.” But it was absolutely true. Ever since he died (of AIDS related pneumonia), his works have become steadily more famous ranking amongst his photography contemporaries, Nan Goldin and Robert Mapplethorpe.  

A good friend of Peter, Sontag of course is the subject of one of his most famous portraits. He reportedly only ever photographed people he cared about and he did her justice. She’s crazy beautiful in this shot but Sontag, though she was basically a pop-star level critic and writer, “felt apprehensive and disarmed by the camera.” This is probably just some bullshit modesty that all celebrities are forced to say for their public image, even though Sontag was never concerned with stirring up a crowd with profanities and controversies. Despite her fear of the camera, “her magnetism gave her cachet.” Of course it did because it was all part of the plan. She later wrote an entire book on photography called “On Photography (1977)” in which she stated, “to take a picture is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability.” And I officially have a girl crush on her.