Document Type


Author Biography

Harrison Adams is a postdoctoral fellow in the Tsinghua-Michigan Society of Fellows at the Institute of World Literatures and Cultures, Beijing, China. His research covers the history of photography and modern and contemporary art, with an added emphasis on gender and sexuality studies. He is currently finishing a book manuscript that centers on how four photographers— Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, Nan Goldin, and Sally Mann—used their personal lives to explore larger questions of shame, selfhood, and subjectivity during the ongoing Sexual Revolution. He earned his doctorate in the history of art from Yale University in 2018.


We can be ashamed and we can feel shame for someone who lacks shame. The essay argues that Peter Hujar’s photography explores what it means to feel a truly shameless shamelessness. Each of Hujar’s three major bodies of work—his portraits, nudes, and animal pictures—seeks in different ways to overcome what might be otherwise embarrassing about their respective genres: a portrait that is too candid, a nude that verges on naked, and, more subtly, animals that resist anthropomorphism, either as pets or as human doppelgängers. I contend that Hujar’s unflinching and candid portrayals make the viewer acutely aware of his or her impulse to be or not to be embarrassed for themselves and/or for the artist’s sitters. Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick’s and Silvan Tomkins’s idea that shame is something through which identity is constituted provides the essay’s theoretical foundation.