James Bidgood, who elevated campy gay images in the 1960s and ’70s with his diligently staged phantasmagoric photographs, and who was the nameless director at the rear of “Pink Narcissus,” a homosexual movie unveiled in 1971 that became something of a cult vintage, died on Jan. 31 in Manhattan. He was 88.
Brian Paul Clamp, director of his gallery, ClampArt, stated his loss of life, in a medical center, was brought on by difficulties similar to Covid-19.
Mr. Bidgood, who arrived to New York from Wisconsin at 18, was a drag performer in the 1950s at Club 82 in the East Village, where he also from time to time developed sets and costumes. By the early 1960s he was having images for men’s physique magazines like Muscleboy.
“They have been badly lit and uninteresting,” he instructed The New York Moments in 2011. “Playboy had ladies in furs, feathers and lights. They had faces like beautiful angels. I didn’t recognize why boy pics weren’t like that.”
He established about hoping to change that. He staged pictures, primarily in his Manhattan apartment, that ended up lavish fantasies full of references to mythology, adventurous lighting and props, and beautiful guys — at times in costume, at times in practically nothing. The photographs, some of which finished up on the magazines’ handles, were being each erotic and amusingly campy.
“Enchanted scenes of languorous godlike figures in ersatz splendor are rendered with these types of theatricality of gesture, temper, coloration, texture and cloth as to parody the quite want they are built to elicit,” Philip Gefter wrote of Mr. Bidgood’s operate in the pictures magazine Aperture in 2008.
Starting in 1963 Mr. Bidgood was also taking pictures the film that, in 1971, would change into “Pink Narcissus,” the loosely plotted story of a homosexual hustler’s fantasies. Mr. Bidgood not only directed it but also built all the costumes and sets, most of which (which include a men’s room with a row of foam-main urinals) were being in his apartment.
Vincent Canby, reviewing the film in The Occasions when it opened in two Manhattan theaters in May possibly of that year, dismissed it as “a passive, tackily decorated surreal fantasy out of that pre‐Gay‐Activist era when homosexuals hid in closets and examine novels about sensitive youthful adult men who committed suicide since they could not go on.”
But neither Mr. Canby nor the movie’s audiences understood whose perform it was Mr. Bidgood’s backers had taken management of the project from him and released a version of the movie that he did not like, and he experienced his name eradicated from the credits. For decades, as the film received cachet in the homosexual entire world, guessing who had manufactured it was a parlor activity. Andy Warhol’s name was typically prompt, between some others.
Finally Mr. Bidgood’s purpose grew to become properly known, primarily soon after the publication in 1999 of “James Bidgood,” a monograph that bundled a biography by Bruce Benderson. The film commenced turning up at festivals around the nation, and Mr. Bidgood’s largely forgotten pictures from the 1960s and ’70s was reappraised. In 2001, there had been exhibitions of his shots in Italy, in Provincetown, Mass., and at the Paul Morris gallery in Manhattan.
Ken Johnson, reviewing the Paul Morris show in The Situations, called Mr. Bidgood “a brave pioneer at a time when artwork pictures was overwhelmingly straight (formally as very well as sexually) and the idea that pornography could lead to artistically severe initiatives was almost unthinkable.”
The photographer Lissa Rivera curated a different exhibition, “Reveries,” at the Museum of Sex in New York in 2019.
“Since doing work with Bidgood’s supplies,” she reported by e mail, “I’ve understood the deep great importance of his do the job on so several queer people today, who have shared with me that they had not viewed being homosexual as attractive in the exact way in advance of looking at James’s work.”
His photos, she mentioned, had been created at a time when erotic photographs and homosexual lifestyles faced sizeable authorized limits.
“His get the job done for male physique magazines existed on the edge of legality,” she explained. “Despite this, Bidgood was never ever ashamed or closeted. He lived a daily life that was utterly uncompromising and expressive.”
James Alan Bidgood was born on March 28, 1933, in Stoughton, Wis., and grew up in the Madison place. As a boy, he said, he was drawn to the imagery of the Ziegfeld Follies and identical spectacles, a fascination that decades later was mirrored in his photos.
“He didn’t contemplate himself an artist, per se,” Ms. Rivera stated, “but instead saw himself as driven by the want to create visible evidence of his need, which originated from getting a very little boy enraptured by Hollywood musicals. Hollywood movies had been steeped in queer subtext, normally courtesy of their closeted creators. Bidgood introduced this subtext ahead with obvious, immediate expression, and developed his possess visual and symbolic language.”
In 1951 he moved to New York.
“New York was accurately as it appeared to be in MGM musicals,” he informed Yet another Gentleman journal in 2019. “It was quickly, and it was much more remarkable than your next orgasm.”
He place his dexterity in generating costumes to use at Club 82, wherever he also done under the identify Terry Howe. He researched at the Parsons University of Design and style from 1957 to 1960, then supported himself as a window dresser and costume designer. Clients would employ the service of him to design and style their outfits for modern society balls, and as soon as he began having photographs, he would often recycle all those robes to make the scenes for the photos he took in his apartment.
For his to start with collection of homoerotic images, “Water Hues,” he established the ocean by spreading silver lamé across his apartment ground and fabricated a cave out of wax paper. For “Willow Tree,” from the mid-1960s, in which a nude guy reclines in a mattress of flowers, he conjured the meadow from vibrant parts of a gown he had made for a consumer to use to a Junior League ball.
Mr. Bidgood, who Mr. Clamp reported had lived in the very same apartment on West 14th Street in Manhattan because 1974, is survived by a brother, Richard.
Mr. Bidgood’s executor, Kelly McKaig, stated Mr. Bidgood picked up his camera once more in the 2000s and uncovered Photoshop, digital audio enhancing and other competencies he even created a 3-hour autobiographical audio play, “FAG — the Quite Excellent Lifetime of Jimmy Bundle.” But he was reclusive in his closing a long time, almost never leaving his condominium, and he struggled financially. A GoFundMe web page was trying to get to finance a funeral and creation of an archive of his function.
Mr. Bidgood’s pictures have been generally labeled “camp,” a term whose definition has varied around the decades inside the homosexual earth and further than. In 2019 Mr. Bidgood was among a fifty percent-dozen artists, performers and other folks identified with the expression who participated in a discussion for The Times about just what it means.
“Doesn’t camp have to make you giggle at least?” he asked. “Camp, to me, is like a spouse heading to her husband’s funeral wearing a Day-Glo orange costume and a significant feather boa on her head.”