For [Alvin] Baltrop, who for a time lived in a van parked along New York City’s Hudson River, the waterfront was more like a second home. Looking at photographs of so many naked bodies sprawled out on the docks on a summer day, we might think we were witnessing the radical democratization of men. We can be sure that some of the waterfront pleasure seekers experienced it that way, but Baltrop was always keenly aware of the inequalities embedded in queer life and in the gay civil rights movement. — Jonathan Weinberg, Pier Groups
“Although initially terrified of the piers, I began to take these photos as a voyeur [and] soon grew determined to preserve the frightening, mad, unbelievable, violent, and beautiful things that were going on at that time. To get certain shots, I hung from the ceilings of several warehouses utilizing a makeshift harness, watching and waiting for hours to record the lives that these people led (friends, acquaintances, and strangers), and the unfortunate ends that they sometimes met…
“The casual sex and nonchalant narcotizing, the creation of artwork and music, sunbathing, dancing, merrymaking, and the like habitually gave way to muggings, callous yet detached violence, rape, suicide, and, in some instances, murder. The rapid emergence and expansion of AIDS in the 1980s further reduced the number of people going to and living at the piers, and the sporadic joys that could be found there.” — Alvin Baltrop*
[Baltrop] photographed constantly at the Hudson River piers from 1975 to 1986, and the thousands of negatives from that project constitute his chief photographic legacy. He risked much to work there. In order to spend more time at the piers, he gave up his job as a taxi driver and became a self-employed mover. Often he stayed for days on end, living out of his moving van parked nearby. In spite of the remarkable documentary and aesthetic value of what he accomplished, Baltrop was almost completely unsuccessful at getting his work exhibited during his lifetime. — Douglas Crimp
The Bronx Museum show THE LIFE AND TIMES OF ALVIN BALTROP features over 200 photographs as well as the first public exhibition of Baltrop’s personal archive. The show was curated by Sergio Bessa, and a catalog is available from Skira.
Through February 9, 2020.
Bronx Museum of the Arts
1040 Grand Concourse, The Bronx.
*Alvin Baltrop, manuscript for Ashes from a Flame: Photographs by Alvin Baltrop, edited by Randal Wilcox.
Alvin Baltrop, from top: The Piers (Man Sitting and Smoking), circa1975–1986, gelatin silver print; The Piers (Collapsed Warehouse), circa 1975–1986; The Piers, circa 1975–1986; The Piers (Male Drinking with Cigarette), circa 1975-1986; The Piers, circa 1975–1986; The Piers (Man from Behind), 1977–1978, silver gelatin print; The Piers (exterior view of Day’s End), 1975-8; Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark’s Day’s End), 1975–1986, silver gelatin print, Bronx Museum of the Arts permanent collection; The Piers (4), circa 1975–1986; The Piers (Open Window), circa 1975-86. Images courtesy and © the Alvin Baltrop Trust, Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne/New York, Bronx Museum of the Arts, and Third Streaming, New York.