The Piers from Here – documenting New York’s pre-AIDS gay-cruising culture

Next month sees the opening of The Piers from Here, a beautiful and heartbreaking photography exhibition of work by Alvin Baltrop.

Alvin Baltrop, Homeless guy 5 1975-86

Source: courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York

Alvin Baltrop, Homeless guy 5 1975-86

This will be the UK premiere of Baltrop’s work, showcasing his stark, monochrome images of New York’s piers in the mid 1970s.

Alvin Baltrop, Friend (The Piers) 1977

Source: courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York

Alvin Baltrop, Friend (The Piers) 1977

Baltrop, who died in 2004, was a gay black-American self-taught photographer, who left the US Navy to document the pre-AIDS gay-cruising culture around the abandoned pier spaces which played home to countless runaways, drug addicts prostitutes and homeless people – many of whom straddled all of these roles.

Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark’s "Day's End" building cuts with two men) 1975-86

Source: The Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation, NY

Alvin Baltrop, Pier 52 (Gordon Matta-Clark’s

The often bleak, but always touching photographs provide an incredible snapshot of the lives these characters built for themselves around the decaying architecture, left to crumble following the oil crisis of 1973.

Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (open window) 1975-86

Source: courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York

Alvin Baltrop, The Piers (open window) 1975-86

The gallery says, ‘Alvin Baltrop investigated life at the margins, mapping hedonistic displays of flesh, occasional sexual intercourse, corpses that could be mistaken for sleeping squatters (and vice versa) and other traces of humanity hidden amongst the interstices of society, notwithstanding the sense of freedom and liberation originating in the sexual revolution.’

Alvin Baltrop, The Piers 1975-86 (male drinking with cigarette)

Source: courtesy of The Alvin Baltrop Trust and Third Streaming, New York

Alvin Baltrop, The Piers 1975-86 (male drinking with cigarette)

Baltrop’s work will be shown alongside that of Gordon Matta-Clark, who in 1975 commandeered Pier 52 to create a huge art installation.

The Piers from Here: Alvin Batrop and Gordon Matta-Clark runs from 7 December – 9 Februraty at Open Eye Gallery, 19 Mann Island, Liverpool Waterfront, L3

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