Photography by Stanley Stellar
Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, Stanley Stellar is an American photographer whose five decades of work captured the beauty and vitality of the LBGTQ community of New York City. His work followed its life through the 1969 Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride Parades and evolving Gay Liberation Movement, as well as the realities of the HIV/AIDs epidemic. As a participant and a documenter, Stellar produced works that have become historic and cultural references for both the young and old.
Stanley Stellar studied photography and graphic design at New York City’s Parsons School of Design, one of the oldest schools of art and design in New York City. Upon graduation, he began work as art director for the advertising agency Art Direction. Stellar’s career during the 1970s included countless book designs as well as editorial design and art direction for numerous magazines and publishing houses.
Stellar’s purchase of a Nikon camera in 1976 began his career as a photographer. Among the artists who influenced him were fashion and portrait photographer Richard Avedon, Peter Hujar known for his black and white portraits, and Bruce Davidson, a regular photographer for “Life” and “Look” magazines. Stellar, however, developed his own style and began photographing unequivocally gay images of men that reflected the world he knew.
Stanley Stellar’s work concentrated on the everyday life of gay men in New York City. He initially began taking street photographs of men with tattoos on their arms, as an inquiry about a tattoo made the request for a photograph easier. Stellar shot many images of gay men walking and gathering on Christopher Street as well as meeting at the abandoned warehouses and piers in Manhattan’s West Village.
One of Stellar’s most iconic street photographs, the first to be mass-produced on postcards, was a 1970 photo of a young man, who after having his arm tattoos photographed, lifted his shirt to show two bright bird tattoos on each chest muscle. Taken at a time when tattooing was illegal in New York City, this single shot by Stellar became a homoerotic image nobody had ever made before.
Stanley Stellar’s early design experiences, essentially photo-journalism, are apparent in all of his work; they all display a simplicity of composition, recurrence of themes, and honest unembellished depictions of the subject. Throughout most of Stellar’s years of documentation, homosexuality was still illegal in many states; it was not until 2003 that all laws against same-sex activity were invalidated. Stellar’s photographs captured the confidence, intimacy and the energy of the LBGTQ community through all those difficult years.
Stellar’s photography has been shown in many galleries throughout the United States and Europe and has been featured in many international magazines. From May to July in 2011, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art featured an exhibition of Stellar’s work entitled “Stanley Stellar: Photographer”. This exhibition coincided with the release of Stellar’s 2011 publication “The Beauty of All Men”, curated by author and publisher Peter Weiermair. In 2018, Stellar published a second collection of photographs entitled “Into the Light: Photographs of the NYC Gay Pride Day from the 70s Till Today”, through the Bruno Gmeunder Press.
Represented by the Kapp Kapp Gallery on Manhattan’s Walker Street, Stanley Stellar had three solo exhibitions in the gallery. The first show was the 2019 “Photographs 1979-1992” which was followed in 2020 by “Night Life”, an exhibition of twenty-four images documenting New York’s queer nightlife between 1981 and 1992. Stellar’ third exhibition with Kapp Kapp was the 2022 “Stanley Stellar: The Piers (1976-1983)” which featured a suite of unseen photographs of the Christopher Street Piers. The Piers exhibition was held at the grand opening of Kapp Kapp’s Tribeca gallery.
“When I was an editorial art director in the 70s, I used to think I wanted to design other people’s photographs graphically. Possess them in that way. Then in 1976, it became clear to me that I wanted to take my own images of what I had never freely seen, of who and what I was hungry to see, to record my existence through my individual vision of it.
A combination of masculinity, detail, individuality and human vulnerability catches my eye. Men who are at home within themselves, alive in their ability to share some spark of their humanity with me. Men who have an inner life and an inner light that I recognize within me, within both of us.” —-Stanley Stellar
Notes: Stanley Stellar’s website with archived images and contact information is located at: https://www.stellarnyc.com
Kapp Kapp Gallery’s article on Stanley Stellar’s exhibitions can be found at: https://www.kappkapp.com/artists/stanley-stellar/media
David McGillivray’s 2023 article entitled “Six Pictures by Iconic Photographer Stanley Stellar that Captured Male Beauty in All Its Glory” is located at the Attitude section of Yahoo News: https://uk.news.yahoo.com/6-pictures-iconic-photographer-https://uk.news.yahoo.com/6-pictures-iconic-photographer-stanley-130415741.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAIwNAmykxGP71NvJgEczfNbjN6iGpmJ3cDlrIaDDOBhi0Wq4U-
New York-based writer Miss Rosen has written a short article about Stanley Stellar on her photography site Blind located at: https://www.blind-magazine.com/stories/new-york-queer-love-on-the-west-side-piers/
Tony Wilkes’s January 2022 article on Stanley Stellar for the online art magazine AnOther, can be found at: https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/13813/a-lost-utopia-stanley-stellar-s-portraits-at-new-york-s-gay-piers-kapp-kapp
Top Insert Image: Peter Hujar, “Portrait of Stanley Stellar”, 1981, Gelatin Silver Print
Second Insert Image: Stanley Stellar, “Late Afternoon”, 1980, The Piers Series, Gelatin Silver Print
Third Insert Image: Stanley Stellar, Untitled, circa 2000s, Color Print
Fourth Insert Image: Stanley Stellar, “Danny, September”, 1982, The Piers Series, Gelatin Silver Print
Bottom Insert Image: Stanley Stellar, “At a Pay Phone on the Corner of Christopher and Bleecker Streets, NYC”, 1981, Gelatin Silver Print