12 January

Who is James Bidgood, the pope of queer culture ?

 

Unknown for so many years, photographer and director James Bidgood is this month exhibiting his vintage prints of 1963 at the Mathias Coullaud Gallery in Paris. Our chance to take a look at this American artist avant-gardist of the gay aesthetic...

By Marion Ottaviani

A capture from the movie “Pink Narcissus” (1971).

If his name doesn’t ring a bell that’s pretty normal. Born in 1933 in Madison, Wisconsin, James Bidgood’s oeuvre has largely fallen to the wayside in the history of underground culture. And the main reason for this omission? His greatest project, a movie entitled Pink Narcissus that took more than seven years to complete before finally being released anonymously. This was apparently the fault of the financiers who forced him to release the 66-minute feature length even though he considered it unfinished. As a sort of revenge Bidgood insisted the credits said “Directed by: Anonymous”, raging yet hoping this mystery would intrigue potential spectators. No such luck and the film was sometimes attributed to Andy Warhol and at others to Kenneth Anger – with whom he clearly shared a love for pop visuals in Technicolor.

 

 

 

Without a penny in his pocket, he was 81-years old when in 2014 he launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the purchasing of a new camera.

The track “I’ve Grown so Lonesome Thinking About You” from the movie “Pink Narcissus” (1971).

Released around the same time, the erotic thriller Boys in the Sand directed by Wakefield Poole, another master of the genre, proffered a new vision and in doing so eclipsed the style of James Bidgood, considered old school. Apart from a brief revival of interest in the 1980s, he never got over this accumulation of unforeseen contrarieties and led a precarious life in New York City for more than 40 years.  Without a penny in his pocket, he was 81-years old when in 2014 he launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the purchasing of a new camera and help produce new visual projects. Ironically his work has since become cult and a source of inspiration for photographer duo Pierre et Gilles not to mention David LaChapelle, with his photos selling for several tens of thousands of euros per piece. 

 

 

The real revelation came when he met Bobby Kendall, a sublime youth originally from Latin America who became his muse and the star of his film.

Flashback to the 1960s : a 17-year old James was making ends meet by working as a costumier on Broadway and then as a drag queen at Club 82, a glam rock venue in New York. After having studied at Parsons he started publishing his photos in underground revues and gay magazines of the era, giving him some visibility and a small wage. The real revelation came when he met Bobby Kendall, a sublime youth originally from Latin America who became his muse and the star of his film, which he made entirely using Super 8. Inspired by the work of Michael Powell, who directed the marvellous Red Shoes in 1948, he shut himself away in his apartment in Hell’s Kitchen to devote himself to the project of his life, his ultimate work. 

 

 

Pink Narcissus told the autobiographical story of a beautiful gigolo who recreates an imaginary inner world within his apartment.

The trailer of the film “The Red Shoes” by Michael Powell.

The movie told the autobiographical story of a beautiful gigolo who recreates an imaginary inner world within his apartment, where he enacts fantasies through the sheer force of his imagination. Bidgood took on every role : director, decorator, costume designer, make-up artist… The motivating force behind this crazy undertaking was a desire to appropriate the glamourous aesthetic of the 1940s and 50s and apply it to men, while featuring mythological references. Enriched with his experience as a decorator, he made all the decors from scratch and lived with his lover surrounded by these extraordinary constructions in paper and sequins. For seven years his life revolved around two words : Pink Narcissus. It’s a spuriously naïve film that in reality is charged with symbolism and political declaration at a time when sexual liberation was just beginning. 

 

Today the wind seems to have finally turned for the American: after the release of a book by Bruce Benderson published by Taschen in 2014, the Gallery Mathias Coullaud is currently exhibiting 40 of his vintage prints from 1963. This show is the perfect occasion to discover this fantastic series, on until March 4th 2017.

 

James Bidgood, until March 4th 2017 at Galerie Mathias Coullaud in Paris.

A capture from the movie “Pink Narcissus” (1971).