After years of being overlooked by the fine art world, Alvin Baltrop’s photography is finally getting much deserved recognition. As reported by Vice, an exhibit titled, “At the Hudson River Piers” will showcase Baltrop and the photographs he took of the gay sex scene there from the mid 1970s through the late 1980s.
In 1972, upon return from serving in the US Navy, Baltrop began taking pictures of gay men cruising and having sex at the abandoned piers along the Hudson River. The scene at the piers was a manifestation of a new sense of sexual freedom and liberation that was launched after the riots of Stonewall.
As a regular participant of the cruising, explicit sex and fetish play that took place in the abandoned waterfront warehouses, Baltrop was trusted with intimate access that made his photographs come alive. Those gay men granted Baltrop access because they knew he was part of their nonconforming hedonistic world. Jonathan Weinberg, who curated a 2012 exhibition entitled, “The Piers: Art and Sex along the New York Waterfront,” understood the draw for the provocative artists who, “were attracted to the piers because they appeared to be outside or beyond the social control.”
Tom Bianchi, another photographer whose work oftentimes touches on themes of gay desire, said of Baltrop’s work, “You are discovering the erotic activity. It’s very exciting and beautiful. They are formally gorgeous, and I love the fact that they are grainy and it’s not about making perfect photographs. It’s about recording the experience.”
Sadly, the art world neglected Baltrop while he was alive. Randal Wilcox, a close friend and assistant maintained that, “some gallery owners doubted that Baltrop had shot his own photographs. One [curator] asked him why he had stolen a white photographer’s portfolio and attempted to pass off someone else’s work as his own.” It wasn’t until four years after his death from cancer in 2004 that he began receiving recognition from the art world with a photo on the cover of Artforum.
A friend described Baltrop to The New York Times, as “a tall, funky, elegant mix of Africana and military.” He held court from his stoop, acting as a sex educator, minor medic and general mensch to rootless neighborhood youths, especially those who had been kicked out of their houses for being gay.
The exhibit, “At the Hudson River Piers,” currently showing at New York’s Galerie Buchholz, will finally give Alvin Baltrop and his work the exposure they deserved while he was still alive.
(photo credits: All images by Alvin Baltrop, courtesy of Galerie Buchholz)