December 4, 2023

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James Bidgood, a Grasp of Gay Images, Dies at 88

James Bidgood, who elevated campy homosexual photography in the 1960s and ’70s with his meticulously staged phantasmagoric photographs, and who was the nameless director behind “Pink Narcissus,” a homosexual film launched in 1971 that grew to become a little something of a cult common, died on Jan. 31 in Manhattan. He was 88.

Brian Paul Clamp, director of his gallery, ClampArt, stated his death, in a medical center, was prompted by issues related to Covid-19.

Mr. Bidgood, who came to New York from Wisconsin at 18, was a drag performer in the 1950s at Club 82 in the East Village, in which he also occasionally created sets and costumes. By the early 1960s he was taking pictures for men’s physique magazines like Muscleboy.

“They were being poorly lit and uninteresting,” he told The New York Instances in 2011. “Playboy experienced ladies in furs, feathers and lights. They experienced faces like lovely angels. I did not have an understanding of why boy pics weren’t like that.”

He established about seeking to modify that. He staged pictures, mostly in his Manhattan condominium, that were being lavish fantasies comprehensive of references to mythology, adventurous lights and props, and interesting guys — sometimes in costume, sometimes in almost nothing. The shots, some of which finished up on the magazines’ addresses, were both erotic and amusingly campy.

“Enchanted scenes of languorous godlike figures in ersatz splendor are rendered with these kinds of theatricality of gesture, mood, color, texture and cloth as to parody the very want they are designed to elicit,” Philip Gefter wrote of Mr. Bidgood’s get the job done in the images journal Aperture in 2008.

Commencing in 1963 Mr. Bidgood was also shooting the movie that, in 1971, would turn into “Pink Narcissus,” the loosely plotted story of a homosexual hustler’s fantasies. Mr. Bidgood not only directed it but also designed all the costumes and sets, most of which (including a men’s area with a row of foam-main urinals) were in his condominium.

Vincent Canby, examining the movie in The Periods when it opened in two Manhattan theaters in Could of that 12 months, dismissed it as “a passive, tackily decorated surreal fantasy out of that pre‐Gay‐Activist era when homosexuals hid in closets and study novels about delicate young men who fully commited suicide because they could not go on.”

But neither Mr. Canby nor the movie’s audiences knew whose operate it was Mr. Bidgood’s backers experienced taken handle of the challenge from him and unveiled a version of the movie that he did not like, and he experienced his title eliminated from the credits. For years, as the movie gained cachet in the gay world, guessing who had produced it was a parlor sport. Andy Warhol’s title was frequently instructed, between other folks.

Finally Mr. Bidgood’s position became nicely recognised, specifically soon after the publication in 1999 of “James Bidgood,” a monograph that involved a biography by Bruce Benderson. The film started turning up at festivals all over the state, and Mr. Bidgood’s largely forgotten images from the 1960s and ’70s was reappraised. In 2001, there were exhibitions of his photographs in Italy, in Provincetown, Mass., and at the Paul Morris gallery in Manhattan.

Ken Johnson, reviewing the Paul Morris present in The Moments, named Mr. Bidgood “a brave pioneer at a time when art pictures was overwhelmingly straight (formally as properly as sexually) and the thought that pornography could contribute to artistically major projects was virtually unthinkable.”

The photographer Lissa Rivera curated yet another exhibition, “Reveries,” at the Museum of Intercourse in New York in 2019.

“Since working with Bidgood’s materials,” she explained by e mail, “I’ve recognized the deep relevance of his perform on so numerous queer people today, who have shared with me that they had not found getting homosexual as lovely in the similar way prior to observing James’s get the job done.”

His pictures, she observed, were being made at a time when erotic images and gay lifestyles faced sizeable authorized limitations.

“His operate for male physique magazines existed on the edge of legality,” she said. “Despite this, Bidgood was hardly ever ashamed or closeted. He lived a everyday living that was utterly uncompromising and expressive.”

James Alan Bidgood was born on March 28, 1933, in Stoughton, Wis., and grew up in the Madison spot. As a boy, he stated, he was drawn to the imagery of the Ziegfeld Follies and comparable spectacles, a fascination that decades later on was reflected in his images.

“He did not contemplate himself an artist, for every se,” Ms. Rivera explained, “but alternatively observed himself as driven by the will need to make visual evidence of his desire, which originated from remaining a small boy enraptured by Hollywood musicals. Hollywood movies had been steeped in queer subtext, usually courtesy of their closeted creators. Bidgood brought this subtext ahead with distinct, direct expression, and produced his very own visual and symbolic language.”

In 1951 he moved to New York.

“New York was accurately as it appeared to be in MGM musicals,” he informed One more Guy magazine in 2019. “It was rapid, and it was far more enjoyable than your 2nd orgasm.”

He place his dexterity in generating costumes to use at Club 82, exactly where he also done below the name Terry Howe. He researched at the Parsons Faculty of Design from 1957 to 1960, then supported himself as a window dresser and costume designer. Shoppers would employ the service of him to design their outfits for modern society balls, and as soon as he began getting images, he would in some cases recycle all those gowns to make the scenes for the shots he took in his apartment.

For his initial series of homoerotic photos, “Water Colors,” he created the ocean by spreading silver lamé throughout his condominium ground and fabricated a cave out of wax paper. For “Willow Tree,” from the mid-1960s, in which a nude gentleman reclines in a bed of bouquets, he conjured the meadow from vibrant pieces of a robe he experienced built for a consumer to have on to a Junior League ball.

Mr. Bidgood, who Mr. Clamp reported had lived in the similar apartment on West 14th Road in Manhattan since 1974, is survived by a brother, Richard.

Mr. Bidgood’s executor, Kelly McKaig, explained Mr. Bidgood picked up his digital camera again in the 2000s and learned Photoshop, digital audio editing and other techniques he even developed a 3-hour autobiographical audio participate in, “FAG — the Very Good Daily life of Jimmy Bundle.” But he was reclusive in his last yrs, rarely leaving his condominium, and he struggled monetarily. A GoFundMe page was trying to get to finance a funeral and generation of an archive of his perform.

Mr. Bidgood’s pictures have been typically labeled “camp,” a expression whose definition has assorted about the a long time in the homosexual entire world and outside of. In 2019 Mr. Bidgood was between a 50 %-dozen artists, performers and other individuals discovered with the phrase who participated in a discussion for The Moments about just what it usually means.

“Doesn’t camp have to make you giggle at least?” he asked. “Camp, to me, is like a wife likely to her husband’s funeral wearing a Working day-Glo orange costume and a significant feather boa on her head.”