James Bidgood, who elevated campy gay photography in the 1960s and ’70s with his carefully staged phantasmagoric shots, and who was the nameless director at the rear of “Pink Narcissus,” a homosexual movie unveiled in 1971 that turned anything of a cult vintage, died on Jan. 31 in Manhattan. He was 88.
Brian Paul Clamp, director of his gallery, ClampArt, explained his death, in a clinic, was brought on by difficulties linked to Covid-19.
Mr. Bidgood, who came to New York from Wisconsin at 18, was a drag performer in the 1950s at Club 82 in the East Village, exactly where he also occasionally intended sets and costumes. By the early 1960s he was getting photographs for men’s physique magazines like Muscleboy.
“They were being badly lit and uninteresting,” he informed The New York Periods in 2011. “Playboy had ladies in furs, feathers and lights. They experienced faces like attractive angels. I did not recognize why boy images weren’t like that.”
He established about trying to improve that. He staged photos, mainly in his Manhattan condominium, that were being lavish fantasies complete of references to mythology, adventurous lights and props, and interesting men — occasionally in costume, from time to time in nothing at all. The images, some of which finished up on the magazines’ handles, had been each erotic and amusingly campy.
“Enchanted scenes of languorous godlike figures in ersatz splendor are rendered with these kinds of theatricality of gesture, temper, colour, texture and material as to parody the quite drive they are made to elicit,” Philip Gefter wrote of Mr. Bidgood’s operate in the pictures journal Aperture in 2008.
Beginning in 1963 Mr. Bidgood was also taking pictures the film that, in 1971, would transform into “Pink Narcissus,” the loosely plotted tale of a homosexual hustler’s fantasies. Mr. Bidgood not only directed it but also built all the costumes and sets, most of which (including a men’s place with a row of foam-core urinals) have been in his condominium.
Vincent Canby, reviewing the movie in The Occasions when it opened in two Manhattan theaters in May 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 delicate younger gentlemen who fully commited suicide because they could not go on.”
But neither Mr. Canby nor the movie’s audiences knew whose operate it was Mr. Bidgood’s backers had taken control of the job from him and launched a version of the movie that he didn’t like, and he had his identify removed from the credits. For several years, as the movie acquired cachet in the homosexual earth, guessing who had made it was a parlor game. Andy Warhol’s name was frequently recommended, among the other folks.
At some point Mr. Bidgood’s position became effectively regarded, primarily soon after the publication in 1999 of “James Bidgood,” a monograph that incorporated a biography by Bruce Benderson. The movie started turning up at festivals close to the region, and Mr. Bidgood’s mainly overlooked photography 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, examining the Paul Morris clearly show in The Moments, named Mr. Bidgood “a courageous pioneer at a time when artwork images was overwhelmingly straight (formally as properly as sexually) and the strategy that pornography could contribute to artistically critical jobs was practically unthinkable.”
The photographer Lissa Rivera curated a different exhibition, “Reveries,” at the Museum of Intercourse in New York in 2019.
“Since working with Bidgood’s products,” she explained by electronic mail, “I’ve recognized the deep value of his perform on so a lot of queer individuals, who have shared with me that they experienced not witnessed being homosexual as lovely in the very same way before observing James’s do the job.”
His pictures, she famous, were created at a time when erotic pictures and homosexual life confronted substantial authorized limitations.
“His perform for male physique publications existed on the edge of legality,” she explained. “Despite this, Bidgood was never ever ashamed or closeted. He lived a daily life that was totally 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 reported, he was drawn to the imagery of the Ziegfeld Follies and identical spectacles, a fascination that several years later was reflected in his photos.
“He didn’t contemplate himself an artist, for each se,” Ms. Rivera claimed, “but rather noticed himself as driven by the have to have to create visual proof of his want, which originated from being a very little boy enraptured by Hollywood musicals. Hollywood films were being steeped in queer subtext, often courtesy of their closeted creators. Bidgood brought this subtext ahead with crystal clear, immediate expression, and established his have visual and symbolic language.”
In 1951 he moved to New York.
“New York was particularly as it appeared to be in MGM musicals,” he explained to A further Male journal in 2019. “It was quickly, and it was more exciting than your second orgasm.”
He put his dexterity in generating costumes to use at Club 82, the place he also carried out less than the title Terry Howe. He researched at the Parsons Faculty of Structure from 1957 to 1960, then supported himself as a window dresser and costume designer. Shoppers would employ the service of him to layout their outfits for modern society balls, and as soon as he started off taking pictures, he would often recycle those gowns to build the scenes for the pics he took in his apartment.
For his to start with collection of homoerotic images, “Water Shades,” he designed the ocean by spreading silver lamé throughout his condominium floor and fabricated a cave out of wax paper. For “Willow Tree,” from the mid-1960s, in which a nude man reclines in a mattress of bouquets, he conjured the meadow from colourful pieces of a gown he had made for a client to put on to a Junior League ball.
Mr. Bidgood, who Mr. Clamp mentioned had lived in the exact same condominium on West 14th Avenue in Manhattan considering that 1974, is survived by a brother, Richard.
Mr. Bidgood’s executor, Kelly McKaig, stated Mr. Bidgood picked up his digital camera yet again in the 2000s and discovered Photoshop, digital audio editing and other competencies he even designed a 3-hour autobiographical audio play, “FAG — the Quite Excellent Life of Jimmy Bundle.” But he was reclusive in his closing a long time, hardly ever leaving his apartment, and he struggled monetarily. A GoFundMe web page was in search of to finance a funeral and creation of an archive of his function.
Mr. Bidgood’s images were being frequently labeled “camp,” a phrase whose definition has varied around the many years within the homosexual entire world and past. In 2019 Mr. Bidgood was among a 50 percent-dozen artists, performers and other people discovered with the term who participated in a dialogue for The Times about just what it usually means.
“Doesn’t camp have to make you giggle at minimum?” he requested. “Camp, to me, is like a spouse likely to her husband’s funeral donning a Day-Glo orange costume and a big feather boa on her head.”