Posthumous Solo Photo Exhibit @ Houston

Born in 1948 and died in 2004, Alvin Baltrop was a gay Black photographer who, from the 1960s to 2000s, captured images giving a striking insight on homosexuality aboard a U.S. Navy ship and the infamous New York’s West Side piers. Despite an extensive career spanning over 35 years, the artist has never had a major solo exhibition until today, 8 years after his death. From July 20 to October 21, 2012, the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (CAMH) will display “Perspectives 179-Alvin Baltrop: Dreams into Glass.”

Text from the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston:

“‘Perspectives 179–Alvin Baltrop: Dreams Into Glass’ is the first major solo museum survey of work by this African-American photographer. Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1948, Baltrop died from cancer in 2004 at a Manhattan hospital at the age of fifty-five. His work was rarely publicly presented during his lifetime but has become a focus of art world attention in the last five years, including an article in Artforum magazine and in the New York Times. This exhibition serves to introduce audiences to Baltrop’s visionary talent as a photographer, one who captured the beauty and decay of some of this country’s most iconic urban landscapes as well as the pivotal moments of a society in transition. The survey features both vintage photographs and recent prints created by the artist over a thirty-five year period, including work from the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, a slide presentation of images shot by the artist that were not printed, and a sound collage taken from the artist’s many phone conversations and interviews, as well as rare archival and ephemeral material lent by the artist’s Trust.”

“Baltrop enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served as a medic from 1969 to 1972. He brought aboard with him his camera ostensibly to create a visual diary of his life aboard the vessel, though the substantial body of work preserved from this period reveals the artist’s growing articulation and evolution of his art. With equal aplomb, Baltrop made himself and his camera privy to the intimate moments as well as the very public routine of his fellow servicemen. The artist revealed both the complexity of life aboard the naval vessel—the homo-societal environment—and his own sexual desire for and among other men. His time in the Navy and the documentary photographic work he would produce would serve to inform his most recognized body of photographs—those of New York’s West Side piers.”

“Returning to New York in 1972 with an honorable discharge, Baltrop once again turned his eyes and lens on the city that had become a post-industrial wasteland. With its economy in ruins and manufacturing companies moving out of the city, Manhattan’s West Side piers had become littered with empty and dilapidated buildings that stretched from West 59th Street down to Tribeca. For over a decade, Baltrop would obsessively photograph the piers. No other site embodied the microcosm of New York with its constituency of sunbathers, prostitutes, drag queens, artists, runaways, and gay men nonchalantly cruising for anonymous sex. The piers, with its complexity of lure, loathing, desire, and acceptance, became a magnet for the disenfranchised and empowered. And Baltrop would not only capture prostitutes plying their trade, sex acts between men, the plight of runaways, but also the intense beauty in the midst of what was construed by many as a dark, foreboding, and violent site. His commitment was serious. The artist once divulged to his then assistant Randal Wilcox that he had ‘constructed a harness that allowed him to hang from the rafters and pursue his clandestine shooting with great accuracy and precision.'”

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One Response to Posthumous Solo Photo Exhibit @ Houston

  1. Mary Claire February 28, 2024 at 5:37 pm #

    Hi! The photo of the gentleman laying out on the navy ship is my dad, Lou Shurina, who served in the US navy from 1968-1972. I’d love to find a way to obtain a high resolution copy of this image. Any information would be so helpful! Thank you!

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