This July we’re talking about celebrity, and today we bring you an article from our #Hashtags column that explores the intersection of art, social issues, and global politics. In this essay, author Anuradha Vikram talks about how the queerness of countercultural artists becomes appropriated as they achieve stardom, leaving behind the precariousness that first defined them while it continues to define their colleagues. This article was originally published on April 21, 2014.
As a young art-school graduate trying to understand the artist’s life that I had chosen, I could have had no better tutor than Leee Black Childers, who died April 6 at age 68. Childers, photographer and minder for rock stars and transgender icons, led the sort of life that the rest of us only read about. His generation, in the East Village and elsewhere, lived with a precarity and an immediacy that somehow produced enormous creativity. The rewards of that artistic output accrued unevenly to its creators, such that I came to know a man who had worked intimately with Andy Warhol, David Bowie, and Iggy and The Stooges as a colleague at what was, for me, a transitory job at a photography lab while I worked out bigger plans. Reflecting, I am reluctant to romanticize an era that left such crucial participants a hair’s breadth from mainstream celebrity yet financially destitute, but I’m awed by the tenacity and fearlessness that they brought to their art and to their lives.