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U.S. TEXAS. Alvin Baltrop's work on view at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston
13/07/2012 10:18:52

The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston presents Perspectives 179-Alvin Baltrop: Dreams Into Glass, the first major solo museum survey of work by this African-American photographer. Born in the Bronx, New York, in 1948, Baltrop died from cancer in 2004 at the age of fifty-five. This exhibition serves to introduce audiences to Baltrop's visionary talent as a photographer, one who captured the beauty and decay of some of this country's most iconic urban landscapes as well as the pivotal moments of a society in transition. The survey features both vintage photographs and recent prints created by the artist over a thirty-five year period, including work from the mid-1960s to the early 2000s, a slide presentation of images shot by the artist that wer e not printed, and a sound collage taken from the artist's many phone conversations and interviews, as well as rare archival and ephemeral material lent by the artist's Trust.

Baltrop witnessed firsthand the Countercultural Revolution that also encompassed an unprecedented sexual liberation movement that upended a period of social conformity for heterosexuals as well as for gays and lesbians. Working with a twin lens Yashica camera, Baltrop captured these seminal and fleeting moments in the immediacy of a society in transition.

Baltrop enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served as a medic from 1969 to 1972. He brought aboard with him his camera ostensibly to create a visual diary of his life aboard the vessel, though the substantial body of work preserved from this period reveals the evolution of his art. The artist revealed both the complexity of life aboard the naval vessel - the homo-societal environment - and his own sexual desire for and among other men.

Returning to New York in 1972 with an honorable discharge, Baltrop once again turned his eyes and lens on the city, with its economy in ruins and manufacturing companies moving out of the city, Manhattan's West Side piers had become littered with empty and dilapidated buildings that stretched from West 59th Street down to Tribeca. For over a decade, Baltrop would obsessively photograph the piers, with its constituency of sunbathers, prostitutes, drag queens, artists, runaways, and gay men nonchalantly cruising for anonymous sex.

Beyond the piers, Baltrop devoted himself to the decaying, urban landscape and in doing so, also created an extensive body of work of street scene photographs. By the late 1990s, Baltrop all but ceased making new photographs. In 2003, he was diagnosed with cancer and chronicled the last months of his life at a Manhattan hospital.

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Image: Alvin Baltrop, Three Navy Sailors, 1969-72. Gelatin silver print. 8 1/2 x 12 3/4 inches. Collection Morteza Baharloo, Houston. Source:

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