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James Bidgood, a Master of Gay Pictures, Dies at 88

James Bidgood, who elevated campy homosexual pictures in the 1960s and ’70s with his thoroughly staged phantasmagoric shots, and who was the nameless director behind “Pink Narcissus,” a gay film launched in 1971 that turned a little something of a cult typical, died on Jan. 31 in Manhattan. He was 88.

Brian Paul Clamp, director of his gallery, ClampArt, mentioned his death, in a medical center, was triggered by complications connected 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, wherever he also occasionally designed sets and costumes. By the early 1960s he was getting photos for men’s physique publications like Muscleboy.

“They have been badly lit and uninteresting,” he instructed The New York Situations in 2011. “Playboy experienced girls in furs, feathers and lights. They had faces like wonderful angels. I didn’t realize why boy pictures weren’t like that.”

He established about trying to alter that. He staged images, generally in his Manhattan condominium, that had been lavish fantasies whole of references to mythology, adventurous lights and props, and interesting men — in some cases in costume, occasionally in practically nothing. The shots, some of which ended up on the magazines’ handles, have been both erotic and amusingly campy.

“Enchanted scenes of languorous godlike figures in ersatz splendor are rendered with such theatricality of gesture, mood, shade, texture and fabric as to parody the very desire they are made to elicit,” Philip Gefter wrote of Mr. Bidgood’s get the job done in the photography journal Aperture in 2008.

Commencing in 1963 Mr. Bidgood was also shooting the movie that, in 1971, would change into “Pink Narcissus,” the loosely plotted tale of a homosexual hustler’s fantasies. Mr. Bidgood not only directed it but also designed 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 condominium.

Vincent Canby, reviewing the film in The Moments when it opened in two Manhattan theaters in Might of that 12 months, dismissed it as “a passive, tackily embellished surreal fantasy out of that pre‐Gay‐Activist period when homosexuals hid in closets and read through novels about sensitive younger guys who dedicated suicide for the reason that they could not go on.”

But neither Mr. Canby nor the movie’s audiences knew whose work it was Mr. Bidgood’s backers experienced taken manage of the project from him and produced a edition of the film that he didn’t like, and he had his name taken off from the credits. For decades, as the movie gained cachet in the gay environment, guessing who experienced designed it was a parlor sport. Andy Warhol’s title was often advised, among the many others.

Ultimately Mr. Bidgood’s purpose became effectively regarded, particularly after the publication in 1999 of “James Bidgood,” a monograph that included a biography by Bruce Benderson. The movie commenced turning up at festivals close to the place, and Mr. Bidgood’s mostly neglected photography from the 1960s and ’70s was reappraised. In 2001, there have been exhibitions of his photos in Italy, in Provincetown, Mass., and at the Paul Morris gallery in Manhattan.

Ken Johnson, examining the Paul Morris clearly show in The Periods, termed Mr. Bidgood “a brave pioneer at a time when art photography was overwhelmingly straight (formally as well as sexually) and the notion that pornography could lead to artistically serious tasks was nearly unthinkable.”

The photographer Lissa Rivera curated another exhibition, “Reveries,” at the Museum of Intercourse in New York in 2019.

“Since functioning with Bidgood’s supplies,” she explained by e-mail, “I’ve understood the deep relevance of his do the job on so quite a few queer folks, who have shared with me that they experienced not found staying gay as attractive in the exact same way prior to looking at James’s operate.”

His images, she noted, were designed at a time when erotic photographs and gay life faced considerable authorized restrictions.

“His do the job for male physique magazines existed on the edge of legality,” she mentioned. “Despite this, Bidgood was in no way 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 area. As a boy, he mentioned, he was drawn to the imagery of the Ziegfeld Follies and equivalent spectacles, a fascination that several years later was mirrored in his photos.

“He didn’t consider himself an artist, per se,” Ms. Rivera said, “but as an alternative observed himself as pushed by the need to have to build visual proof of his desire, which originated from being a minimal boy enraptured by Hollywood musicals. Hollywood films had been steeped in queer subtext, typically courtesy of their closeted creators. Bidgood brought this subtext ahead with obvious, direct expression, and made his own visible and symbolic language.”

In 1951 he moved to New York.

“New York was accurately as it appeared to be in MGM musicals,” he explained to A further Guy journal in 2019. “It was quick, and it was much more exciting than your next orgasm.”

He put his dexterity in earning costumes to use at Club 82, where he also performed underneath the title Terry Howe. He studied at the Parsons University of 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 society balls, and as soon as he commenced using images, he would from time to time recycle those gowns to make the scenes for the shots he took in his condominium.

For his first collection of homoerotic photographs, “Water Hues,” he created the ocean by spreading silver lamé across his apartment floor and fabricated a cave out of wax paper. For “Willow Tree,” from the mid-1960s, in which a nude male reclines in a mattress of flowers, he conjured the meadow from vibrant pieces of a robe he experienced produced for a client to put on to a Junior League ball.

Mr. Bidgood, who Mr. Clamp reported had lived in the identical apartment on West 14th Avenue in Manhattan because 1974, is survived by a brother, Richard.

Mr. Bidgood’s executor, Kelly McKaig, stated Mr. Bidgood picked up his digicam yet again in the 2000s and realized Photoshop, electronic audio enhancing and other techniques he even established a three-hour autobiographical audio perform, “FAG — the Really Good Everyday living of Jimmy Bundle.” But he was reclusive in his ultimate decades, hardly ever leaving his condominium, and he struggled economically. A GoFundMe website page was in search of to finance a funeral and creation of an archive of his perform.

Mr. Bidgood’s photos have been usually labeled “camp,” a term whose definition has diversified about the a long time in the homosexual globe and past. In 2019 Mr. Bidgood was amongst a half-dozen artists, performers and other folks recognized with the phrase who participated in a dialogue for The Occasions about just what it suggests.

“Doesn’t camp have to make you giggle at least?” he asked. “Camp, to me, is like a wife heading to her husband’s funeral sporting a Day-Glo orange gown and a significant feather boa on her head.”