I spent my childhood summers at my father’s farm outside Buenos Aires. After the long highway drive and the dusty dirt road, as soon as we arrived, I would run to the front of the car and begin the delicate process of unsticking the crushed butterflies from the still hot radiator. Most of them would be terminal, but one or two would cling to my finger, slowly regain center, and eventually fly away, always leaving behind some dust from their wings.
I curated myself with Peter Hujar; a risky act, but it was an invitation (from Galerie Buchholz, Berlin) I could not resist. I began by listing categories of images I wanted to see: animals, water, young men, body parts, NYC, babies. I’ve long been familiar with Hujar’s work and chose images I knew I could be in conversation with, but I also tried as much as possible to select from amongst his lesser-known works, in particular ones that have rarely, if ever been shown.
Sitting here at my desk, in another country, another time, I feel inadequate to the task of writing about the politics of 1980s Britain. Besides the passing of nearly four decades, I am not a deeply political animal, nor an ardent activist, as some admirable people are. In 1984 I was young and naive, idealist in some respects, unworldly in many others — neither inherently bad things, and quite possibly useful in an artist — but I have not studied history or economics or politics, so all I can do is write about what I saw and learned as someone who passed through these times.

My life was so much tamer than that of Nan Goldin’s group of friends, but I identified with the hunger for love, connection, community and freedom, and I still do, though now when I go back to it, it’s twinged with nostalgia and longing for what was and what wasn’t. I lived in Argentina at the time, so I didn’t get a chance to see the slideshow until much later, but that was fine. The small softcover book did the job, and it survived the million times I’ve looked at it.

Steve died. He was huge. He was 50 and lived in the apartment downstairs right by the front door. His Yankees sticker is still there. He went into the hospital on March 2nd and died on March 22. Anna at the laundromat told me. Anna’s quite bent, deep into her 80s. I remember her in her 50s a mean and vivid woman. She got older the place is filthy many of the machines are broken but it’s on the corner and I’m weirdly loyal to it. Steve worked there usually standing outside and I think he delivered bags for Anna. He helped me lug things upstairs too. Years earlier he lived right next door to me with a crowd of people. I remember when he was a little boy and he was thrown butt naked into the hall as a joke. I was coming up the stairs and he was desperately pounding on the door.
Americans born in the two decades following World War II grew up in an atmosphere of prosperity and hope. Between 1945 and 1970, US production of goods and services quadrupled, and much of the country began to take its modern form, with highways, motels and office buildings. By 1971, virtually every American household had a refrigerator, a washing machine, a TV and a vacuum cleaner and one in three had more than one car. Sure, there were problems, but wages, especially for manual workers, were rising, some of the worst legal barriers to racial equality were gradually being dismantled and, at least at first, the futile horrors of Vietnam were not widely known.

Dawoud Bey represents the first generation of young Black photographers radicalized by the Black Arts Movement to also fall under the hypnotic sway of DeCarava’s work and then forge their own paths to lensing the everyday beauty of the Black community. By the post-revolutionary 1970s there was no miracle or challenge for this generation of artists in seeing the iconographic faces of the Black community as works of art. Instead they faced the test of making art equal to the proliferation of the diverse beauty in the community’s DNA.

Sometime in early 2019 Kim Bourus invited me to her gallery, Higher Pictures, in Manhattan, to show me a book by Susan Lipper titled Grapevine, a classic I’d never laid eyes on, and Kim had a hunch it was my kind of book. Photographed in stark black and white with a flash-mounted Hasselblad, Grapevine chronicles scenes from daily life in a small, rural enclave in West Virginia.