The photographs in Alvin Baltrop: At the Hudson River Piers were taken in a pre-AIDS era, roughly 1975-1986, and feature gay men amidst the crumbling ruins of New York City’s Hudson River piers. On view at Galerie Buchholz through August 19, Baltrop’s images invoke a mixture of Robert Mapplethorpe’s homoeroticism, architectural photography, and images of classical sculpture.
Located along the Hudson River near Greenwich Village and the Meatpacking District, the dilapidated piers, neglected by the city in those years, functioned as a lawless ecosystem. Gay men, homeless youth, transgender people, and an assortment of hustlers all co-existed in what must have been a labyrinth of architectural decay. In this environment, Baltrop seems to have taken maximum advantage of his eye for the formal qualities of a photograph – line, scale, geometry, light, and shadow.
The dozens of 5×7-inch black-and-white photographs printed by Baltrop were selected by critic and scholar Douglas Crimp. Some of the images are a bit worn, with creased corners, faint fingerprints, or slight printing imperfections, revealing the hand of the artist. They lure viewers close to the frame and in many cases invite visual exploration. Photographs of massive warehouse structures languishing by the river or interior shots of cascading beams and shattered windows stand alone but also frame portraits of the habitat’s human denizens.
Both voyeuristic and collaborative photographs exist within Baltrop’s oeuvre. Many of the architectural images, photographed from adjacent piers, revel in the repetition of wood paneling or metal infrastructure and consecutive awnings or window frames. But distant nude figures can be seen engaging in intimate acts of love or leisure in these images. At close range, the male figure is on view in abundance in sexually explicit, straightforward, and sensually tender imagery.