This June, as Pride Month has seen companies throw a rainbow flag on anything they can, it is important to actually take the time to celebrate the LGBTQ+ icons of the past who paved the way for us today. Photographer James Bidgood falls into this category. Bidgood’s photography takes you into homoerotic fantasies only dreams are made of. Shot in beautiful pastel hues he took young, twinkish looking boys and placed them in glamourous sets once reserved for old Hollywood starlets and Playboy bunnies. The vanguard, who has not been given his proper due over the years now has a retrospective at the Museum of Sex entitled “James Bidgood Reveries” curated by Lissa Rivera.
Bidgood was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1933. Enamored with glamour at an early age, he took inspiration from The Great Ziegfeld often recreating “A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody” in his room. At 18, the photographer came to New York to study at Parsons School of Design. While in New York to support himself the photographer worked as a “femme impersonator” at New York’s historic Club 82. Run by the mafia and a fixture of the downtown party scene Club 82 was a playground, for Bidgood explore and perform. Bidgood went on to design camp elaborate dresses for the costumes New York society balls like the Mardi Grass Ball of the Junior League. He worked as a set designer and window dresser which helped his Baz Luherman level production sets on his beer budget.
In the pre-Stonewall movement mid-'60s, Bidgood used the code physique photography movement to display his work. Physique magazines like Adonis and Muscleboy became his forum. A young Pan sits on a stump playing his flute on the cover of The Young Physique. Almost all of his fantastical sets were built by him in his tiny Hell’s Kitchen apartment. It was his attention to detail and tricks that made his work shine. In his work “Trunk, Water Colors” Bidgood made model Jay Garvin look weightless by balancing him on a foam-padded cafeé table pedestal which was hidden behind his leg. His body, covered in mineral oil, glitter, and sequins. The props all made DIY, repurposed from a Mardi Grass Ball costume. Before this Sean Cody era, Bidgood allowed his subjects to be soft, romantic and innocent. Most will know Bidgood for his now cult film Pink Narcissus (1971), his dreamy homoerotic film that took 7 years to film. However, after disagreements with the film’s producer, his name was taken off of the credits. He sadly fell into obscurity and later Taschen released a book of his work in 1999 written by Bruce Benderson. His work has been presented in: the Brooklyn Musuem, The National Portrait Gallery and the Musée d'Oray. However, it was just in 2015 that the photographer started an IndieGoFundMe to buy a camera. While he was the stylistic precursor to David Lachapelle and Pierre et Gilles, Bidgood never reaped the same financial benefits from his own work. It’s imbalanced to take pride in the progress without going back and paying homage that put their necks out for the progress.
Bobby Kendall Seated in Chair Holding Phone, Mid 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
Trunk, Water Colors, Early 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
Pan, Late 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
Lobster, Water Colors, Early 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
Setting Down White Boot, First Cover, Early 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
At Cave Opening, Sand Castle, Early 1960s Digital C-Print Courtesy of ClampArt, New York
Get lost in the queer glamour of Bidgood’s work at the Museum of Sex from now until September 29.