Rimbaud in New York
Text by Tom Rauffenbart and Andrew Roth. Original essay by Jim Lewis.
The negatives for Rimbaud in New York were produced between 1978 and 1979, when Wojnarowicz was an aspiring artist-author, merely 24 years old. It wasn’t until 1990 that he printed a small portfolio of 25 images for an exhibition at PPOW gallery in New York. However, there were an abundance of other negatives from the series that were left unprinted, languishing in his archive at the Fales Library at NYU since his untimely death in 1992. For exhibition, we produced a new portfolio of 44 black-and-white photographs from the original negatives.
Each photograph from the Rimbaud in New York series presents a lone figure, presumably Wojnarowicz himself, in and around New York City — 42nd Street, the Meat Market, Coney Island – wearing a mask portraying the visage of the young Romantic poet, Arthur Rimbaud. The Rimbaud portrait comes from the only known photograph of him made by the renown 19th-century French portrait photographer Etienne Carjat.
As stated in the original essay by Jim Lewis: “The figures are posed, on the fly and in verité style, in various situations of public and semi-private urban life. They represent a very specific moment in history, a brief period of both innocence and raunch the City after Stonewall but before AIDS, a wonderland of sex and drugs, of art and love, of material poverty and overwhelming emotional richness. That was the world Wojnarowicz was formed in, and, as we know too well, it was followed by an era almost opposite in every regard, years when Manhattan became dominated by money and death, a sleek wealthy city rising, while an entire generation of gay men, drug users, and others were being buried.”