American artist, filmmaker and legend, JAMES BIDGOOD was born on this date in Madison Wisconsin (d: 2022). His artistic output has embraced a number of media and disciplines, including music, set and window design, and drag performance. In time his interests led him to photography and film and it is for this work that he is most widely known. Highly recognizable, his photographs are distinguished by an aesthetic of high fantasy and camp.
His work which was inspired by an early interest in Florenz Ziegfeld, Folies Bergere and George Quaintance has, in turn, served as important inspiration for a slew of artists including Pierre et Gilles and David LaChapelle. In the late 1950s Bidgood attended Parsons The New School for Design. He directed the 1971 film Pink Narcissus, a dialogue-free fantasy centered around a young and often naked man. The film took seven years to make, and Bidgood built all the sets and filmed the entire piece in his tiny apartment.
He later removed his name from the film because he felt editors had changed his original vision. Consequently, the film bore the word “Anonymous” for the director’s credit, and it was mis-attributed to other directors such as Andy Warhol for many years. Pink Narcissus was re-released in 2003 by Strand Releasing
His work is characterized by a heavy reliance on invention. His photographs feature elaborate sets built ground up from the materials of the theater, fashion, design and fine art. In a profile of the artist published in Aperture, Philip Gefter writes,
Necessity was the mother of invention for Bidgood, who created elaborate photographic tableaux in his small midtown Manhattan studio apartment. His first erotic series was an underwater epic called Water Colors, made in the early 1960s, in which he used a dancer from Club 82 named Jay Garvin as his subject. The underwater atmosphere is completely fabricated; the bottom of the ocean was created with silver lame spread across the floor of Bidgood’s apartment; he made the arch of a cave out of waxed paper, and fashioned red lame into the shape of lobster. He coated Garvin with mineral oil and pasted glitter and sequins to his skin so the silver fabric under photographic lights would reflect on his body like water. For weeks at a time, Bigood would eat and sleep within the sets he constructed in his apartment
Many contemporary themes are found even in the earliest of Bidgood’s work. Camp, identity, erotics and desire, marginality, and performance all figure heavily in his portraits of nude men. Bidgood’s complex references to the theatre and performance seem to presage Queer articulations of Performance. His techniques, working processes, and masterful use of illusionistic color indicate both a mature understanding of his influences and goals and an important contrast to the art movements of the time the work was first created.
In 2005, James Bidgood was honored with a Creative Capital grant which facilitated a return to art photography after a hiatus of nearly forty years. His current projects include work for Christian Louboutin and OUT magazine. In 1999 Taschen published a monograph of his work including biographical images and stills from his film. The art book publisher Taschen included an interview with Bidgood in its 2008 publication The Big Penis Book, and re-published his monograph in 2009. His most recent work was featured in Out in February 2009.
Bidgood died of complications of Covid-19 in January 2022.