I was intrigued by the picture before I knew about Peter Hujar and his work. It really hit me when I saw it years ago, and it remains on my mind today. Knowing Candy Darling’s story makes the portrait even stronger. Hujar’s photograph says a lot about her, about him as photographer, and also about the time they lived in. They were part of a creative group of people around Andy Warhol’s Factory in a time when everyone broke old conventions and created their own rules with an attitude that doesn’t really exist anymore. You won’t find these kind of people today, when everything, from buildings to personalities, are gentrified.
I can see that he has portrayed her in a very respectful fashion. He is in no way intrusive; there exists a mutual respect between them. She had actually asked him to portray her, and to me the title “turns the volume up” for the photograph. She was only twenty-nine at the time. She was a transgender woman dying of lymphatic cancer, probably caused by her hormonal treatment.
She had grown up knowing she was different. Her dream was to become a very famous blonde actress. Kim Novak was the goal. When she moved to Manhattan, it didn’t take her long to join the underground art scene. Warhol said she should be in the movies, and she appeared in several of his films, though she never got the big commercial break she dreamed about. (She did, however, featured in a play by Tennessee Williams.) At some point Warhol tired of her, as he did with many people, and she struggled after that. You can see so much of this history in Hujar’s picture—the Factory, the broader cultural environment, and the physical and emotional changes she underwent.
The portrait is personal and dignified. Later, Hujar said that in the image Darling had played all the great death scenes featuring women, that it was her final performance. She knew it was the end of her life. She was extremely tired and sick when the portrait was taken, but fought to rise to this last role.
Antony and the Johnsons later used Hujar’s picture on the cover of the 2005 album I Am a Bird Now, extending the portrait’s reach into the wider culture. Their music and Darling’s history are both about outsiders and exclusion, about all the things Darling lived through.
A grace note: Lou Reed wrote about Candy Darling in his songs and he also invited Antony and the Johnsons to be his warm-up band. A lovely coincidence.
Preben Holst is an artist living in Oslo, Norway.
In our very first issues, we invited different people to write about an image they found memorable, under the headline ’Sinnbilde’, a column inspired by FOAM Magazine. Now, in Objektiv’s 10th year, as the ocean of images continues to swell, we’re reigniting this column online.