LIGHT FROM UNDERGROUND: a continuing series of under represented queer icons, personal heroes and trailblazers who helped make the world we have today a bit more beautiful and bearable.
Photographer, filmmaker, and window dresser James Bidgood has been more influential to art and erotica then can possibly be stated. Fewer know his name than should but without Bidgood and his art direction and style there would be no Pierre and Gilles (I'm a huge fan of theirs, but they blatantly ape from his play book) nor David LaChapelle. Fassbinder's film adaptation of Jean Genet's Queerelle owes quite the debt as well.
James Bidgood was a Parsons educated designer, costumer, and drag performer in the 1960's who dressed society matrons for the opera, did window designs for departments stores in New york City. He also had a penchant for shooting beautiful, nearly (and often completely) naked young men in lushly constructed sets of his own making in his down time. This body of work grew and grew creating quite the portfolio of influential images.
Bidgood only made a single film, the erotic fantasia Pink Narcissus - that singular work has inspired countless imitators.
I first became award of James Bidgood in the early 90's seeing some of his photo works and becoming completely smitten with the outrageously queer and theatrical quality of his work. It's a far cry from my own personal documentary style but his use of lighting and frank sexuality certainly have inspired me. Upon it's release the film was credited to Anonymous, with many more mainstream artists being given credit over the years for it's origin. Famously Andy Warhol long took credit for making Pink Narcissus. Frankly, as much as I am a devotee to Warhol, he lacked the concept romance to make something like this film.
Shot in his apartment from 1963-1970 and released in 1971 Pink Narcissus is an abstracted , largely dialogue free art film concerning the fantasies of a New York rent boy between johns. While this sounds like a low-rent porno nothing could be farther from the resulting film. Pink Narcissus is a sumptuously photographed color filled dream scape of a film. Visually arresting and filled with classical, jazz and pop films as a score. Sort of Kenneth Anger meets Last Year at Mariendbad, but without the satanism. Bidgood's aesthetic has helped define our modern concept of gayness as we know it. Erotic, masculine, camp and sensual- all at once.
Aperture writer Philip Gefter states in a profile piece on Bidgood
Necessity was the mother of invention for Bidgood, who created elaborate photographic tableaux in his small midtown Manhattan studio apartment. His first erotic series was an underwater epic called Water Colors, made in the early 1960s, in which he used a dancer from Club 82 named Jay Garvin as his subject. The underwater atmosphere is completely fabricated; the bottom of the ocean was created with silver lame spread across the floor of Bidgood's apartment; he made the arch of a cave out of waxed paper, and fashioned red lame into the shape of lobster. He coated Garvin with mineral oil and pasted glitter and sequins to his skin so the silver fabric under photographic lights would reflect on his body like water. For weeks at a time, Bigood would eat and sleep within the sets he constructed in his apartment.
Here was an artist who funded a film, and literally lived on its sets in his tiny New York City apartment for seven years. It's true independence, true originality. A sparkling under seen gem that is as fascinating and beautiful today as it was when it first unspooled all those years ago.
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