Despite never being a biological or adoptive father, I feel that nurturing younger generations is crucial to healthy aging. In return for doing it, I stay connected to the pulse of contemporary life.
When I was in my 20s I dated some older men. Of course, my first love, John Duka, felt like an "older man" only because he was married and out of school and working; he was only three years older than I. When I met Jerry Robbins, I was intimidated by his age, 56. I was 23. I remember expecting him to taste like death. Of course he didn't. He was vital and sexy and ever so alive.
Peter Hujar was 16 and a half years older than I. Twenty-six to 42 was a real gap. He was my lover and mentor. He taught me how to wash a dish properly, and he gave me lessons of a more esoteric nature as well.
Peter was as complex yet straightforward as his photographs. The boundaries between life and work were virtually nonexistent. Life with Peter was life with a camera. He photographed me asleep in a borrowed room in Delaware, on a beach in Mazatlán, when I was pissed off at him on a train near Rome, and dozens of times against the bare white walls of his studio/home on Second Ave. I am not sure if the camera brought us closer as lovers or kept me at a distance, but Peter welcomed me into the process of making a photograph. He shared what he saw and encouraged my development. Particularly meaningful was the day I came into his loft and on the table were 35-mm contact sheets from a shoot we had done. Handing me the magnifier eyepiece, he said, "Look at these and tell me if any are good."
After looking over the three or four sheets, I pointed to one image and said, "This one looks good."
Peter smiled. "You have chosen the best shot. Always trust your eye."
Since then, I always have. That experience validated me as an artist. Later I learned to trust my gut and, eventually, my intuition. By the way, that particular photo is in several books and has hung in museums.
With Peter, the poring over the contact sheets might have been cerebral and professional, but the act of picture taking was intimate, tender, often erotic or overtly sexual. As flattered as I was to play at being his muse, I also saw that same regard, and even love, when he photographed other people or cows or dogs or cadavers. When taking pictures, Peter was both a wise old man and a child playing.
Peter also taught me how to appreciate good sheets. He was a generous mentor. I also believe he benefited from how I was different from him. Stephen Koch, the poet and Peter's executor, told me a few years ago that he once observed Peter and me on a bus, laughing. He said I was the only boyfriend Peter ever had who brought levity and fun to his often dark life.
Now that I am often the older man, as friend and lover, I hope to nurture my young friends, to share my experience and what wisdom these 60-plus years may have given me. Sometimes I introduce them to practical pleasures and ways of conducting a life. I am also very aware that they bring me so much in return. Their fresh eyes help me continue to see the wonder of the world and possibility. Since they were born speaking the language of technology, they can help me understand what is for me an acquired tongue. Most profoundly, they bring me a sense of connection with the present and even a sense that I might be part of the future.