“Je est un autre.”
(“I is another.”)
Using a stolen 35mm camera, David Wojnarowicz photographed anonymous figures posing in a mask of the 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud. According to Wojnarowicz, he was “playing with ideas of compression of ‘historical time and activity’ and fusing the French poet’s identity with modern New York urban activities, mostly illegal in nature.” From Times Square to the abandoned Hudson River piers, the Rimbaud figure’s wanderings mirrored Wojnarowicz’s own transient life in the city. Published in the Soho Weekly News in June 1980, this series marks Wojnarowicz’s first serious effort in photography and his first publicly exhibited artwork.
The series Rimbaud in New York, his first serious body of work, comprises twenty-four black-and-white photographs of friends holding up a mask of the poet Arthur Rimbaud in a variety of underground settings in New York City.
The similarities between Rimbaud’s life and Wojnarowicz’s are striking: They lived exactly a century apart and both died in their late 30s; each came from a broken home with abusive parents; both fled to the big city–Rimbaud to Paris, Wojnarowicz to New York; both were gay, and each found a surrogate father in the form of an older lover–Paul Verlaine for Rimbaud, Peter Hujar for Wojnarowicz.