Archive for the 'american photographers' Category

14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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09
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Life Magazine and the Power of Photography’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA)

Exhibition dates: 9th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

Curators: Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Flame Burner Ann Zarik' 1943, printed about 2000

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Flame Burner Ann Zarik
1943, printed about 2000
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Continuing the illustrated magazine theme from the last Bill Brandt post, here presented are images, cover and photo essay by major photographers such as Robert Capa, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Margaret Bourke‑White, Henri Cartier‑Bresson and Gordon Parks which appeared in the influential American magazine Life (1926-1972).

“This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.” (Exhibition text)

Of particular interest in the posting is the contact sheet to Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (1945, below) … in order to note how the artist chose that particular negative out of the four (good exposure, less confusing background to the central characters); how he marked the contact sheet with the usual red pencil that black and white photographers use to indicate his negative preference and the cropping of the image that was required (notice the arrow at bottom left, a crop which was not heeded in the final print); and how the final print is much darker than the contact sheet (notice the dark pavement and lack of detail in the sailors outfits).

In the final print the negative has been cropped up from the bottom to tension the lifting of the nurse’s raised leg as it floats above the ground (here, the distance from the bottom of the shoe to the bottom of the image is critical in order to make the shoe “float”), the man at right now makes half an appearance, and the man at far left has been included and “burnt in” under the enlarger so that he recedes from and does not detract from the importance of the figures in the foreground. The background figures form a triangle behind the sailor and the nurse, forming a stage for them, and a supporting and encircling cast of characters. The vanishing point of the image and the buildings does the rest.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Mrs. Nelson and her two children outside her laundry which she operates without running water
1936
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'At the Time of the Louisville Flood' 1937

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
At the Time of the Louisville Flood
1937
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Fort Peck Dam, Montana' 1936

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Fort Peck Dam, Montana
1936
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

'Life', November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White) 1936

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
Life, November 23, 1936 (Cover photograph by Margaret Bourke-White)
1936
Illustrated periodical
Life Picture Collection
Photo by Life Magazine
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

In the period from the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, the majority of photographs printed and consumed in the U.S. appeared on the pages of illustrated magazines. Among them, Life – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both extraordinarily popular and visually revolutionary. Estimates for pass-along readership – the number of people who shared each copy of Life in spaces like waiting rooms and offices – suggest that the magazine may have regularly reached about one in four people in the country. The photographers who worked for Life bore witness to some of the most defining moments of the 20th century – and the magazine’s use of photography shaped the way many Americans experienced, perceived and remembered these events. Co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA), and the Princeton University Art Museum, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of the publication’s most recognisable, beloved and controversial images and photo essays. The exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including original press prints, contact sheets, shooting scripts, internal memos and layout experiments – drawing on unprecedented access to Life‘s picture and paper archives. Added to the exhibition for its presentation at the MFA, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography also incorporates works by contemporary artists Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, whose critical reflections on photojournalism and the politics of images frame urgent conversations about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is on view at the MFA from October 9, 2022 through January 16, 2023 in the Ann and Graham Gund Gallery. Member Preview takes place October 5-8. Timed-entry exhibition tickets, which include general admission, are required for all visitors and can be reserved on mfa.org starting September 14 for MFA members and September 20 for the general public.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography is sponsored by Bank of America. Generously supported by Patti and Jonathan Kraft, with additional support from Kate Moran Collins and Emi M. and William G. Winterer. With gratitude to the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust for its generous support of Photography at the MFA. The exhibition is co-organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Princeton University Art Museum.

“This major exhibition is an invitation for our visitors to experience a time when photographs first began to influence world events and narratives – and how they continue to do so today,” said Matthew Teitelbaum, Ann and Graham Gund Director. “Life‘s groundbreaking use of photography shaped important 20th-century dialogues in the U.S. around war, race, technology, art and national identity. Through a generous collaboration with the Princeton University Art Museum, we are exploring this process in a more critical and complex way than ever done before, and at a moment when technologies of distribution have evolved and disrupted the recording of history.”

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography was curated by Kristen Gresh, Estrellita and Yousuf Karsh Senior Curator of Photographs at the MFA; Katherine A. Bussard, Peter C. Bunnell Curator of Photography at Princeton University Art Museum; and Alissa Schapiro, an independent curator and doctoral candidate in art history at Northwestern University. In 2016 the curators were among the first to delve deeply into the Time Inc. Records Archive, which was newly available at the New-York Historical Society. In 2019, the MFA and Princeton University Art Museum became the first museums to be granted full access to the LIFE Picture Collection, the magazine’s photographic archive. (The exhibition debuted at Princeton in February 2020, but closed after three weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.). The exhibition and the accompanying book grew out of these unparalleled research opportunities, which helped to advance new scholarly perspectives on Life’s pictorial journalism. The book was named the 2021 recipient of the Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award for museum scholarship.

“I am thrilled to be adding three contemporary moments to the exhibition in Boston. Through powerful and provocative works by Alexandra Bell, Alfredo Jaar and Julia Wachtel, who each interrogate news media through their practice, viewers are invited to reflect on contemporary media consumption and our inherited historical narratives,” said Gresh.

 

Exhibition Overview

Among the over 30 photographers featured in Life Magazine and the Power of Photography are Margaret Bourke-White, Robert Capa, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Alfred Eisenstaedt, Charles Moore, Gordon Parks and W. Eugene Smith. The exhibition also emphasises the contributions of women to the magazine’s success – not only photographers such as Bourke-White, whose monumental image of the Fort Peck Dam graced the first issue, but also negative and picture editors such as Peggy Sargent and Natalie Kosek. Additionally, Life Magazine and the Power of Photography considers the ways in which the magazine – through the vision of its founder, Henry R. Luce, its editorial teams’ points of view and the demographics of its readers – promoted a predominantly white, middle-class perspective on politics, daily life and culture, even when documenting the country’s reckoning with racism and xenophobia. The exhibition makes a point to trace Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through the inclusion of works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives that captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, ranging from the Holocaust to white supremacist violence of the 1960s.

The exhibition is divided into three historical sections, interspersed with immersive contemporary moments. The first section, “Getting the Picture,” focuses on the creation of Life photographs, exploring multiple factors such as the details of the assignment, the idea for the story developed by the editorial staff, the selection of a particular photographer for the job, and the photographer’s own decisions about how to best capture the images needed to construct a story. Once a photographer completed an assignment, his or her undeveloped rolls of film and notes were sent to Life‘s offices, where editorial teams selected images and determined how to adapt them for the printed page. The second section, “Crafting Photo Stories,” examines the making of a photo-essay, a format with stunning visuals and minimal text that Life claimed to have invented. The complex process involved negative editors, picture editors, art directors, layout artists, writers, researchers and fact-checkers in the construction of each page. The third section, “Life‘s Photographic Impact,” considers the power and reach of the magazine, whose circulation peaked at 8.5 million in 1969. Here, the exhibition explores not only responses from readers – who wrote letters to the editor and even offered assistance to individuals profiled in the magazine – but also how Life perpetuated its own influence by repackaging its photographs and using technical sophistication and business savvy to outpace its competitors.

Contemporary works by Alfredo Jaar (born Santiago, Chile, 1956), Alexandra Bell (born 1983) and Julia Wachtel (1956) appear in immersive moments installed between the three historical sections. Jaar questions the ethics of representation and the politics of images in his photography, installations, films and new media works. The exhibition features Real Pictures (1995) from his Rwanda Project and the U.S. debut of his multimedia installation The Silence of Nduwayezu (1997) from the same series. It also includes the triptych Life Magazine, April 19, 1968 (1995), in which he manipulates the magazine’s iconic photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession to point to the disproportionate number of Black mourners relative to white ones. Similarly, works from Bell’s Counternarratives series (2017-2018) highlight racial biases in annotated pages from The New York Times. Finally, in a newly commissioned work by the MFA, Wachtel directly responds to photographs from Life and engages in deep critical discourse about popular culture and politics, as well as media consumption.

 

Publication

The accompanying 336-page book, published by the Princeton University Art Museum and distributed by Yale University Press, examines Life‘s groundbreaking role in mid-20th-century American culture and the history of photography by considering the complexity of the magazine’s image-making and publishing enterprise. The book includes essays and contributions by the three co-curators and 22 additional scholars of art history, American studies, history and communication studies. It was the winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award, praised for “bring[ing] a new complexity to Life‘s legendary picture-making enterprise and suggest[ing] why Life‘s signal role in fostering consensus and collective memory is ripe for further unpacking.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts , Boston

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984) 'Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps' 1942

 

Gjon Mili (American born in Albania, 1904-1984)
Stroboscopic image of intercollegiate champion gymnast Newt Loken doing floor leaps
1942
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971) 'Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes' 1943

 

Margaret Bourke‑White (American, 1904-1971)
Blast furnace cleaner Bernice Daunora, part of the top gang at Carnegie‑Illinois Steel Corp., wearing protective breathing apparatus fr. escaping gas fumes
1943
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954) 'Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf' 1944

 

Robert Capa (American born in Hungary, 1913-1954)
Normandy Invasion on D‑Day, Soldier Advancing through Surf
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004) '(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)' 1944

 

Carl Mydans (American, 1907-2004)
(Young man playing guitar in the stockade, Tule Lake Internment Camp, Newell, California)
1944
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, the LIFE Magazine Collection, 2005
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt's famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations' 1945 (detail)

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
Contact sheet w. frames from photographer Alfred Eisenstaedt’s famed set of the sailor kissing the nurse and other images of the Times Square VJ‑Day celebrations (detail)
1945
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995) 'VJ Day in Times Square' 1945

 

Alfred Eisenstaedt (German active in the United States, 1898-1995)
VJ Day in Times Square
1945
Gelatin silver print
Alan and Susan Solomont
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Reconsidering the pictures we remember. Revealing the stories we don’t know.

From the Great Depression to the Vietnam War, almost all of the photographs printed for consumption by the American public appeared in illustrated magazines. Among them, Life magazine – published weekly from 1936 to 1972 – was both wildly popular and visually revolutionary, with photographs arranged in groundbreaking dramatic layouts known as photo-essays. This exhibition takes a closer look at the creation and impact of the carefully selected images found in the pages of Life – and the precisely crafted narratives told through these pictures – in order to reveal how the magazine shaped conversations about war, race, technology, national identity, and more in the 20th-century United States. The photographs on view capture some of the defining moments – celebratory and traumatic alike – of the last century, from the Birmingham civil rights demonstrations to the historic Apollo 11 moon landing. Far from simply nostalgic and laudatory, the exhibition critically reconsiders Life‘s complex, and sometimes contradictory, approach to such stories through works by photographers from different backgrounds and perspectives who captured difficult images of ethnic discrimination and racialised violence, from the Holocaust to white supremacist terror of the 1960s.

Drawing on unprecedented access to Life magazine’s picture and paper archives as well as photographers’ archives, the exhibition brings together more than 180 objects, including vintage photographs, contact sheets, assignment outlines, internal memos, and layout experiments. Visitors can trace the construction of a Life photo-essay from assignment through to the creative and editorial process of shaping images into a compelling story. This focus departs from the historic fascination with the singular photographic genius and instead celebrates the collaborative efforts behind many now-iconic images and stories. Particular attention is given to the women staff members of Life, whose roles remained forgotten or overshadowed by the traditional emphasis on men at the magazine. Most photographs on view are original working press prints – made to be used in the magazine’s production – and represent the wide range of photographers who worked for Life, such as Margaret Bourke-White, Larry Burrows, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Frank Dandridge, Gordon Parks, and W. Eugene Smith.

Interspersed throughout the exhibition, three immersive contemporary “moments” feature works by artists active today who interrogate news media through their practice. A multimedia installation by Alfredo Jaar, screen prints by Alexandra Bell, and a new commission by Julia Wachtel frame larger conversations for visitors about implicit biases and systemic racism in contemporary media.

Life Magazine and the Power of Photography offers a revealing look at the collaborative processes behind many of Life‘s most recognisable, beloved, and controversial images and photo-essays, while incorporating the voices of contemporary artists and their critical reflections on photojournalism.

The exhibition is accompanied by a multi-authored catalogue, winner of the College Art Association’s 2021 Alfred H. Barr Jr. Award.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Red Jackson, Harlem, New York' 1948

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Red Jackson, Harlem, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
Princeton University Art Museum
Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972) '[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]' 1948

 

Life Magazine (1883-1972)
[Harlem Gang Leader opening spread]
1948
From LIFE Magazine, November 1, 1948, pages 96-97
Illustrated periodical
Princeton University Art Museum
Photograph by Gordon Parks. Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation
Text © 1948 LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004) 'Untitled (Peiping)' 1948

 

Henri Cartier‑Bresson (French, 1908-2004)
Untitled (Peiping)
1948
Gelatin silver print
Life Picture Collection
© Fondation Henri Cartier-Bresson / Magnum Photos
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) '3-D Movie Contact Sheet' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
3-D Movie Contact Sheet
1952
Gelatin silver print, contact sheet
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985) 'Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles' 1952

 

Jay Eyerman (American, 1906-1985)
Audience watches movie wearing 3‑D spectacles
1952
Gelatin silver print
The Howard Greenberg Collection – Museum purchase with funds donated by the Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Charitable Trust
© LIFE Picture Collection
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986) 'Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second' 1962

 

Fritz Goro (American born in Germany, 1901-1986)
Red laser light focused through a lens blasts a pin‑point hole through a razor blade in a thousandth of a second
1962
Photograph, colour transparency
Life Picture Collection
© LIFE Picture Collection.
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) 'Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing' 1969

 

National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA)
Vintage NASA Photograph of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing
1969
Photograph, chromogenic print
Abbott Lawrence Fund
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'Life Magazine, April 19, 1968' 1995

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
Life Magazine, April 19, 1968
1995
Suite of three pigment prints on Innova paper
© Alfredo Jaar
Courtesy Alfredo Jaar and Galerie Lelong & Co., New York
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956) 'The Silence of Nduwayezu' 1997

 

Alfredo Jaar (Chilean living New York, b. 1956)
The Silence of Nduwayezu
1997
One million slides, light table, magnifiers, illuminated wall text
78 7/10 × 118 1/10 in. (200 × 300cm)

 

 

One million slides featuring eyes in close-up of boy who witnessed murder of his parents.

“In 1994, in the face of what he described as “the criminal, barbaric indifference of the so-called world community”, Jaar travelled to Rwanda to witness the horrific aftermath of one of history’s most violent conflicts. Three months prior, an estimated one million Rwandans had been systematically killed during one hundred days of civil unrest. The artist dedicated six years to this project in which he seeks to bring attention to personal stories to pay tribute to the victims of the genocide.

The centrepiece of the exhibition is an installation titled The Silence of Nduwayezu, which comprises one million slides featuring a pair of eyes in close-up. The eyes belong to Nduwayezu, a five year old Tutsi boy who Jaar met at a refugee camp in Rubavu. Like many Rwandan children, Nduwayezu had witnessed the killing of his own parents, a trauma so deep it affected his ability to speak.

“The installation tangibly represents the steadily escalating number of Tutsis killed in the massacre by showing one million identical slides of Nduwayezu’s eyes piled high on a giant light table. […] By borrowing Nduwayezu’s eyes and making them stare at us as if we were gazing in a mirror, Jaar reminds us of the silence of the international community – the absence of images – that exacerbated the calamity and consequences experienced by the people of Rwanda. […] The Silence of Nduwayezu fills the information void left by the silence of the international community, yet at the same time, it is also a meditative gesture, casting doubt on the ability of photographs to ever relay the enormity of raw human experience, or to make it part of the viewer’s world.”

Anonymous text. “Alfredo Jaar: 25 Years Later,” on the Goodman Gallery website January 2022 [Online] Cited 06/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'Gang Leader' 2019

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
Gang Leader
2019
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
25 x 44 inches each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“It’s imperative to show how a turn of phrase or a misplaced photo has real consequences for people at the margins who are still suffering under the weight of unfair and biased representation.” ~ Alexandra Bell

.
Presented as a series of boldly reworked New York Times articles, each of the six works exhibited in Counternarratives perform visual examinations that reveal news media’s complicity in perpetuating racial prejudice in America. Through redactions of original text, revised headlines, and margins replete with red sharpie annotations, Bell reveals the implicit biases that control how narratives involving communities of colour are depicted and in turn disseminated under the aegis of journalistic ‘objectivity.’ Bell identifies misleading frameworks and false equivalencies in journalism’s coverage of events like the murder of the unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown by Ferguson, MO police officer, Darren Wilson in 2014, which is explored in her work “A Teenager With Promise.” The series demonstrates the extent to which white-centered, sympathetic news coverage remains pervasive within even liberal news organisations. By arguing back and calling out these inequities, Bell gives voice to the ways in which power operates through language to articulate our lived, bodily experiences in the world.

Anonymous text. “Alexandra Bell: Counternarratives,” on the Charlie James Gallery website 2019 [Online] Cited 07/12/2022

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983) 'A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)' 2018

 

Alexandra Bell (American, b. 1983)
A Teenager with Promise (Annotated)
2018
Screenprint, chine colle on paper and archival pigment print on paper
44 x 35 inches/each
Courtesy of the Artist
Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

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Wednesday – Friday 10am – 10pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 5pm

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02
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Ilse Bing’ at Fundación MAPFRE, Madrid

Exhibition dates: 23rd September 2022 – 8th January 2023

Curator: Juan Vicente Aliaga

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Scandale' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Scandale
1947
Gelatin silver print
Victoria and Albert Museum, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing / Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

 

The first exhibition for Art Blart in 2023!

The Art Blart archive has been going since November 2008. This is the first time I have posted on the avant-garde artist Isle Bing and her documentary humanism. Elements of Modernism, movement, New Vision, Bahuas, Surrealism, abstraction, form, geometry are all spontaneously and intuitively, precisely and poetically expressed in the artist’s work. Manipulation, solarisation, enlargement of fragments and cropping in the darkroom enhance the original negative.

“In addition to numerous portraits, Ilse Bing was primarily interested in urban motifs. They were fascinated by architectural elements and structures as well as urban hustle and bustle. Her way of working repeatedly explores the tracing of symmetry and rhythm in the experience of everyday situations.”1

“In Paris, Ilse Bing forged her style [using a Leica], combining poetry and realism, dreamlike enchantment and the clarity of modernity. She sought contrasts and original juxtapositions that transformed the banal reality of daily life into a new idea.”2

“Ilse Bing was once amongst the very first few women photographers to influentially master the avant-garde handheld Leica 35mm camera in the 1930s. She was also amongst the first to use solarisation, electronic flash and night photography, and established her own distinctive photographic style adoring romanticism, symbolism and dream imagery of surrealism.”3

“It was a time of exploration and discovery. … We wanted to show what the camera could do that no brush could do, and we broke every rule. We photographed into the light – even photographed the light, used distorted perspective, and showed movement as a blur. What we photographed was new, too – torn paper, dead leaves, puddles in the street—people thought it was garbage! But going against the rules opened the doors to new possibilities.” ~ Ilse Bing

Magnificent. Enjoy!

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. Many more works can be viewed on the MoMA website.

 

  1. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  2. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing. Photographs 1928-1935,” on the Galerie Karsten Greve website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023
  3. Anonymous. “Ilse Bing: Paris and Beyond,” on the Exibart street website [Online] Cited 02/01/2023

.
Many thankx to Fundación MAPFRE for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

 

“I felt the camera grow as an extension of my eyes and move with me.”

.
Ilse Bing

 

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket On Sidewalk, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
17.1 x 22.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Budgeheim' 1930

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Budgeheim
1930
Gelatin silver print
27.9 x 21.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Laban Dance School, Frankfurt' 1929

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Laban Dance School, Frankfurt
1929
Gelatin silver print
9.7 x 16.6cm
Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing, courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Orchestra Pit, Théâtre des Champs-Élysées, Paris
1933
27.9 × 35.6cm
Gelatin silver print
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pommery Champagne Bottles' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pommery Champagne Bottles
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 19.7cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'French Can-Can Dancer' 1931, printed 1941

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can-Can Dancer
1931, printed 1941
Gelatin silver print
35.6 x 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Dancer Gerard Willem van Loon
1932
Gelatin silver print
49.2 x 34.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) '"It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower", Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
“It was so Windy on the Eiffel Tower”, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
22.2 x 28.2cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Ilse Bing’s photographic oeuvre, created between 1929 and the late 1950s, was influenced by the different cities where she lived and worked: Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, Paris in that decade and post-war New York where above all she experienced the situation of an enforced emigré. Her work cannot, however, be easily located within the photographic and cultural trends that she encountered, although it was certainly enriched by all of them. Bing’s output was influenced by Moholy-Nagy’s Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Weimar Bauhaus, by André Kertész and by the Surrealism of Man Ray, which she encountered when she moved to Paris in 1930. At the time of her arrival the French capital was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of a number of movements that would be crucial for the evolution of the avant-gardes. Surrealist echoes are evident in Bing’s photographs of objects and in her approach to the framing of her shots of chairs, streets and public spaces, images that transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation.

The Bauhaus was an extremely important influence on Bing’s work via both El Lissitzky’s theories and those of Moholy-Nagy’s New Vision, which promoted the fusion of architecture and photography and the autonomy of photography as a medium in relation to painting. New Vision offered infinite possibilities and Bing took full advantage of them, employing some of them in her work, such as abstraction, close-ups, plunging viewpoints, di sotto in sù, photomontages and overprinting, all to be seen in the images on display in the exhibition.

Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Ilse Bing was born in Frankfurt on 23 March 1899 to a middle-class Jewish family. She took her first photographs at the age of fourteen. Self-taught in this field, she realised that this would become her principal activity when she began photographing in order to illustrate her doctoral thesis. She studied mathematics and physics before opting for art history. In 1929 she gave up her university studies and, armed with her inseparable Leica, devoted herself to photography for the next thirty years. In 1930 she moved to Paris, where she continued active as a photojournalist while also producing her own more creative work, gradually becoming one of the leading representatives of modern French photography. In 1941 and with the advance of National Socialism, Bing moved to New York with her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff. Two decades later, at the age of 60, she ceased taking photographs and focused her attention on making collages, abstract works, drawings and also poetry writing. Ilse Bing died in New York in 1998.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE exhibition brochure

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Champ de Mars from the Eiffel Tower
1931
Gelatin silver print
19.3 x 28.2cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing. 'Eiffel Tower, Paris, 1931' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Eiffel Tower, Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Poverty in Paris' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Poverty in Paris
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.8 x 35.3cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Three Men Sitting on the Steps by the Seine
1931
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6 cm
International Center of Photography, Nueva York
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
French Can Can Dancers, Moulin Rouge
1931
Gelatin silver print
6 1/4 × 9 in. (15.9 × 22.9cm)
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg
Courtesy Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Greta Garbo Poster, Paris' 1932

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Greta Garbo Poster, Paris
1932
Gelatin silver print
22.3 × 30.5 cm
The Art Institute of Chicago
Donation of David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

 

Overview

Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899 – New York, 1998) was born into a well-off Jewish family. Having discovered her true vocation while preparing the illustrations for her academic thesis, in 1929 she abandoned her university studies in order to focus entirely on photography. The medium would be her chosen form of expression for the following thirty years of her fascinating life and career.

In 1930 Bing moved to Paris where she combined photojournalism with her own more personal work, soon becoming one of the principal representatives of the modernising trends in photography which emerged in the cultural melting pot of Paris during those years. With the advance of the Nazi forces, in 1941 she and her husband, the pianist Konrad Wolff, went into exile in New York. Two decades later the sixty-year-old Bing gave up her photographic activities in order to channel her creativity into the visual arts and poetry until her death in 1998.

Bing’s work cannot be ascribed to any of the movements or tendencies that influenced her. She worked in almost all the artistic genres, from architectural photography to portraiture, self-portraits, images of everyday objects and landscapes. The diversity of styles which she employed reflect her significant and notably individual interpretation of the different cultural trends that she assimilated, from the German Bauhaus and New Objectivity to Parisian Surrealism and the ceaseless dynamism of New York.

 

The exhibition

Featuring around 200 photographs and a range of documentary material, the exhibition presents a chronological and thematic survey of Ilse Bing’s career, divided into ten sections: “Discovering the world through a camera: the beginnings”, “The life of still lifes”, “The dancing body and its circumstances”, “Lights and shadows of modern architecture”, “The hustle and bustle of the street: the French years”, “The seduction of fashion”, “The United States in two phases”, “Self-image revelations”, “Portrait of time”, and “Live nature”.

 

Four keys

The Bauhaus. From 1910 onwards Frankfurt became the prototype of modern urban design thanks to the architect Ernst May, and the city’s medieval layout was gradually modified in a transformation based on its different societal requirements. This new architecture soon began to echo the ideas of El Lissitzky’s Constructivism, partly via the Dutch architect Mart Stam, a friend of Ilse Bing. Stam and the theories of the Bauhaus had a major influence on her works. László Moholy-Nagy, who taught at the Bauhaus, had promoted the union of architecture and photography as well as the independence of the latter in relation to painting. The possibilities of Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) seemed endless and Bing applied some of its concepts and devices to her work: abstraction, immediate close-ups, plunging and di sotto in sù viewpoints, photo-montage and overprinting.

Surrealism, the spirit of an era. When Ilse Bing moved to Paris in 1930 the city was a melting pot of artistic and intellectual trends and the setting for the emergence of some of the key movements in the evolution of the avant-gardes. One of them – Surrealism – had a particular influence on her and its echoes are clearly discernible in her photographs of accessories taken for fashion magazines which reflect Surrealist theories on fetishism. It is also evident in the framing she chose for her images of chairs, streets and public spaces, which transmit a sense of strangeness and almost of alienation. Finally, this influence also arose from Bing’s relationship with prominent figures associated with the movement, such as Elsa Schiaparelli.

Movement. Despite her fascination with abstraction and pure compositions, evident in many of her photographs of architecture and her still lifes, Ilse Bing was also captivated by the dynamism and movement of life and changing reality. She expressed this in her photographs of the Moulin Rouge and its surrounding area and in her investigation of dance. Bing captured the dynamism of the dancers twirling their skirts but also the expressivity of their bodies as they moved, jumping into the air or doing the splits.

Woman photographer. Ilse Bing belonged to a generation of women photographers who achieved unprecedented visibility. It was not the norm that women should be artists in a field habitually occupied by men, who regarded their presence as active agents in the social and cultural realm with disdain and even hostility. Like many of her contemporaries – Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund – Bing’s camera became an essential tool of self-determination and a means to confirm her own identity.

Text from the Fundación MAPFRE website

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Prostitutes, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Prostitutes, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
25.5 x 34cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait with Leica' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait with Leica
1931
Gelatin silver print
26.5 × 30.7cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam' 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Pantaloons for Sale, Amsterdam
1931
Gelatin silver print
28 x 22cm
The Art Institute of Chicago, Julien Levy Collection
Donation of Jean and Julien Levy 1977
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 The Art Institute of Chicago / Art Resource, NY/ Scala, Florence

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Fair, Paris' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Fair, Paris
1933
Gelatin silver print
28.2 × 22.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
Donation of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Equine butcher shop' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Equine butcher shop
1933
Gelatin silver print
19.2 × 28.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper's Bazaar' 1933

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
The Honorable Daisy Fellowes, Gloves by Dent in London for Harper’s Bazaar
1933
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 35.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Ilse Bing 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-portrait' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-portrait
1934
Gelatin silver print
27.9 × 21.6cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (German, 1899-1998) 'Study for "Salut de Schiaparelli" (Lily Perfume), Paris' 1934

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Study for “Salut de Schiaparelli” (Lily Perfume), Paris
1934
Gelatin silver print
Overall: 28.2 x 22.3cm (11 1/8 x 8 3/4 in.)
Frame: 50.8 x 40.64cm (20 x 16 in.)
Frame (outer): 53.34 x 43.18cm (21 x 17 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Washington
Gift of Ilse Bing Wolff
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Gold Lamé Evening Shoes' 1935

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Gold Lamé Evening Shoes
1935
Gelatin silver print
22.2 × 27.9cm
Galerie Karsten Greve, Saint Moritz / París / Colonia
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Between France and the USA (Seascapes)' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Between France and the USA (Seascapes)
1936
Gelatin silver print
21 × 28.3 cm
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Legacy of Ilse Bing Wolff 2001
© Estate of Ilse Bing
© 2022 Digital image Whitney Museum of American Art / Licensed by Scala

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York, the Elevated, and Me' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York, the Elevated, and Me
1936
Gelatin silver print
Galerie Le Minotaure, Paris
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'New York' 1936

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
New York
1936
Gelatin silver print
19.8 x 22.2cm
Galerie Berinson, Berlín
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

 

The artistic career of Ilse Bing (Frankfurt, 1899-New York, 1998) can be located within a particularly complex temporal and socio-cultural context. This German photographer principally lived and worked in three places: in Frankfurt prior to the 1930s, in Paris in that decade and in post-war New York where she above all experienced the status of enforced emigré. Bing also visited other places, including Switzerland, Italy and Holland, but they never became decisive spaces that significantly influenced her way of working with regard to photography.

Analysed with the distance and perspective offered by the passing of time, Ilse Bing’s artistic corpus cannot easily be located within the various photographic trends she encountered during her lifetime, particularly in her initial German phase and the decade in Paris. While her work is charged with elements associated with both Das Neue Sehen (The New Vision) and the Bauhaus, which emerged during the Weimar Republic, as well as with the Surrealism she assimilated during her years in France, Bing’s position evades any strict norm or visual orthodoxy. In this sense it could be said that hers is a notably unique photographic gaze and approach in which modernity and formal innovation are indissolubly linked to a humanist approach involving a social conscience.

It is also important to emphasise that Ilse Bing’s career within the context of relatively difficult times was marked by a resolute determination to make her way in a world which viewed the presence of women as active agents in the social and thus the cultural realm with disdain or even hostility. Bing belonged to a generation of female photographers that achieved a previously unattainable visibility. The camera became for an essential tool of self-determination for numerous women artists, including figures such as Germaine Krull, Florence Henri, Laure Albin-Guillot, Madame d’Ora, Berenice Abbott, Nora Dumas and Gisèle Freund.

Juan Vicente Aliaga
Curator

 

Discovering the World Through A Camera: The Beginnings

With the exception of a few photographs of an amateur type, nothing indicated that Ilse Bing, who was born into a prosperous Jewish family in Frankfurt, would dedicate much of her life to the practice of photography. After an initial focus on scientific subjects and a period studying art history, Bing decided to illustrate her doctoral thesis with images taken in different museums. From that moment onwards and following a study trip to Switzerland when she discovered the work of Vincent van Gogh, she took the decision to focus her attention on photography. While she initially made use of a Voigtländer plate camera, she soon acquired a Leica which she would continue to use for much of her career. This was the camera she employed for the commissions she received from newspapers such as the Frankfurter Zeitung, work that gave her a degree of financial independence during the turbulent years of the Weimar Republic.

At the outset Bing covered a range of subjects, doing so with ease and formal audacity. Everything seemed to attract her attention: men at work, the spatial simplicity of a gallery, the organic lines of a roof, the leg and arm movements of the ballerinas of the Rudolf von Laban company, the modern architecture which she had discovered through her friend the Dutch architect Mart Stam, and more. Bing’s gaze sought out unusual angles, it looked upwards and downwards, at times encountering normally overlooked elements of no monetary value and ones brought together by chance, as in Dead Leaf and Tramway Ticket on Sidewalk, Frankfurt (1929).

 

The Life of Still Lifes

Objects from daily life are frequently present in modern art: a bottle, a newspaper, a letter, a collage-like fragment of a label, a jug, etc. Surrealism marked a revolution with regard to the representation of the object, which is never literal but rather filled with hidden aspects. The insertion of external objects into the visual space combined with other ones favours the emergence of the imaginary. By the time Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in 1930 she was already captivated by the chance encounter of often humble elements. Her French period served to accentuate her interest in a wide range of cast-off possessions and objects that seemed to allude to a universe in flux. Bing’s gaze always came to rest on real elements. The chairs she photographed existed but the framing she employed, the closeness or distance of the shot, the fact that the chairs are unoccupied and that the floor on which they stand has the silvery darkness of rain are all the result of her choices, adding an air of melancholy to the image.

Over the course of her career Bing used a range of different techniques in parallel while remaining constantly fascinated by inanimate objects. During her Paris years and despite financial difficulties her work is generally characterised by a poetic gaze in which the imagination moves towards undefined, almost dream-like realms. In contrast, in the period of exile in the United States a degree of coolness emerges, with the appearance of formal and symbolic traits such as a closing-in or enclosing of the depicted scene.

 

The Dancing Body and Its Circumstances

During her initial phase, in 1929 Ilse Bing established contacts with the dance and gymnastics school founded by Rudolf von Laban. She was struck by the way in which he aimed to draw a parallel between geometry and human movements and gestures.

Soon after arriving in Paris, Bing was commissioned to photograph the Moulin Rouge waxworks museum. The old Parisian dance hall where La Goulue and Toulouse-Lautrec had been leading attractions had lost much of its splendour. Bing spent time there and was attracted by numerous aspects of the place: its daily life on and off stage, including the couples who enjoyed a drink there, the boxing matches taking place, a dancer cheering up a weary boxer, the interesting nature of the clients, and the boredom of the doorman at the entrance to the cabaret. Aside from these aspects, what really caught the attention of the Paris photography world were Bing’s images of dancers in movement. Her restless eye was able to represent the vibration of the circular twists and turns, the complex, effortful open leg movements of a dancer captured in action, the troupe of dancers energetically waving their skirts, and more.

Another group of images of the troupe centres around the dancer Gerard Willem van Loon.

The third and last series of images focusing on dance was commissioned in relation to the ballet L’Errante, choreographed by the American George Balanchine and with set designs and libretto by the Russian painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Bing demonstrated her skill at capturing movement without making it seem frozen or trapped in time. Her eye translated the weightlessness of dreamlike fantasies to her images through the dynamic way in which she captured shadows.

 

Lights and Shadows of Modern Architecture

The architecture of Paris is generally reflected in Bing’s photography through images of middle- or working-class houses or walls and façades of dilapidated buildings. There was one notable exception, namely the Eiffel Tower. This emblematic work, constructed for the Universal Exhibition of 1889, was nothing less than a revelation for Bing. The Tower’s imposing metal structure had been captured by various photographers, including László Moholy-Nagy in 1925, followed by Erwin Blumenfeld, André Kertész, François Kollar and Germaine Krull.

Bing chose to locate herself inside the structure and take shots at different heights, the majority looking downwards. Using this method, the reality of the space occupied by passers-by becomes perfectly visible. In other words, the intention is not to emphasise the abstract core, pure geometry and beauty of the forms, girders, mainstays, braces and other constructional elements but rather to show that this architectural marvel was also located in a specific place, in this case the gardens of the Champ de Mars.

At a later date, New York’s modern architecture astonished Bing for its display of power expressed as imposing constructions. She translated her amazement into a group of images primarily characterised by a distanced and simultaneously critical gaze on the architectural spectacle before her eyes. Her position was not simply an uncritical and admiring one, as evident in various photographs of skyscrapers abutting on poor areas of the city. The thrust of the symbolic power of vertical architecture is called into question by being juxtaposed with humble spaces and buildings, as we see with Chrysler Building (1936).

 

The Hustle and Bustle of the Street: The French Years

When Ilse Bing arrived in Paris in late November 1930 the city’s cultural context was particularly favourable in terms of the number of illustrated publications that made use of images taken by a large group of male and female photographers. These publications included Vu, Voilà, Marianne, Regards, L’Art Vivant, Arts et Métiers Graphiques and Urbanisme.

One of the commissions that Bing received allowed her to delve into an evident reality: the existence of poverty in certain parts of a major capital such as Paris. She focused her work on portraying the soup kitchens where large numbers of destitute people gathered.

The artist revealed her abilities in Paris, rue de Valois (1932), an image that allows for a questioning of the supposedly objective truth habitually associated with photography. On an inner city street Bing’s gaze focuses on a puddle in which the roofs of an adjacent building are reflected. She shows us the paradox of something that is located above and high up appearing below, on the ground.

While Bing’s Parisian photography has a melancholy, even sombre tone to it, it also looked at areas of human activity characterised by lively bustle and social interaction, such as her images of a gingerbread fair.

These years in France provided the setting for a veritable laboratory of ideas in which the influence of Bing’s Frankfurt years is still evident. It was also a time when the emergence of Surrealism was occupying the Parisian cultural scene, with its exploration of the unconscious and of hidden desires. It can be detected in the ghostly feel of the solarised photographs that Bing took on the Place de la Concorde.

In this context, and thanks to an invitation from the Dutch-born Hendrick Willem van Loon, Bing discovered the Netherlands, visiting places such as Veere and Amsterdam and capturing different moments of daily life. The country’s nature as a terrain regained from the sea also led the artist to reflect this geographical reality in a number of snapshots.

 

The Seduction of Fashion

During her Paris years Bing experienced financial difficulties, a recurrent problem for her over the years, for which reason in November 1933 she began to contribute to the fashion magazine Harper’s Bazaar, an American publication noted for its modern style. She secured this work with a recommendation from the editor of the French edition, Daisy Fellowes, a fashion-world figure brought up in aristocratic circles. Some of Bing’s photographs are in fact of accessories that belonged to Fellowes, including the grey felt hat and an elegant pair of gloves. In these and other images Bing applied a highly innovative approach in which she brought out the texture of the objects and the sheen of the surfaces by cropping the frame in such a way that the various garments acquired a sensual touch as well as suggesting the attractiveness of a coveted object.

During these years Bing also met Elsa Schiaparelli, the celebrated Italian fashion designer with links to Surrealism. Bing took photographs as advertisements for perfumes such as Salut and Soucis, both of 1934. The aim of these images was to encourage the viewer to desire the product with all its sensual resonances without renouncing a modern aesthetic.

 

The United States in Two Stages

Bing’s experiences in New York can be divided into two quite distinct phases. The first was a visit in 1936 while the second came in 1941 with her forced departure from France following the Nazi occupation. She continued to live there until her death in 1998, although she brought her photographic activity to an end forty years earlier.

The first American trip lasted from April to June 1936. Bing was impressed by the colossal dimensions of the city’s architecture while her restless gaze also focused on other aspects of the metropolis: the harsh life of down-and-outs (Variation on Dead End), the dirtiness of the streets, a circus show with acrobats and animals, and more.

In these difficult circumstances and experiencing isolation, Bing transferred her sense of solitude to the reality that surrounded her, observing it attentively. The result is a number of desolate images in which her own feelings are transmuted into melancholy landscapes and objects: scrawny, leafless tree branches, picket fences enclosing plots, and a fire hydrant in a snowy landscape next to a fallen tree.

From 1941 onwards, still suffering from the effects of exile and in need of earning a living in a hostile environment, Bing turned her activities to various different jobs, taking passport photographs for immigrants, portrait photographs on commission and even working as a dog groomer, among other things. The illustrated magazine world clearly turned its back on her at this period.

 

Self-Image Revelations

In 1913 the teenage Bing took what she considered to be her first self-portrait. She poses in her bedroom in the family home in Frankfurt, sitting sideways at a desk and resting her feet on a chair. What we see in reality is her reflection in a cupboard mirror, which shows the young Ilse with her long hair. In front of a background of paintings, she looks out attentively and places her hand on the camera – a Kodak box model. She was unaware at the time that this device (albeit not this make) would become her principal working tool.

Throughout her life as an artist Bing repeated the exercise of portraying herself (usually indoors) with the aim of leaving a record of a specific moment of her existence. Through these self-portraits she forged her own identity as an emancipated and independent woman in times of enormous patriarchal pressure.

During her first visit to New York Bing conceived an image that is a clear indication of the sense of estrangement and alienation she felt at seeing herself so small before the immensity of the mecca of skyscrapers, as in New York, the Elevated, and Me (1936).

Bing would later make the representation of shadow a stark extension of her life and personality, frequently using it throughout her American years.

During the course of her lifetime Ilse Bing explored the transitory states of her own identity, sometimes presenting herself as firm and decided, at times as vulnerable and anxious and on other occasions as a fleeting shadow cast on a wall.

 

Portrait of Time

In addition to seeking out the intricacies of her subjectivity in her own image, from almost the outset Bing engaged in an intensive photographic activity in which she combined commissions for portraits, especially of children, with the desire to explore the human psyche.

With regard to childhood, Bing saw children as complete beings on the same level as adults, with their own internal struggles and issues. During her own childhood the prevailing view was that they were not fully formed but Bing was uncomfortable with this perception and over time she learned to see adulthood and childhood as two phases of life that had much more in common than was generally thought.

Similarly, she did not share the view that women should be conceived on the male model as if they were a mere accompaniment to their tune. She considered that “the human being can be represented and symbolised by women”, albeit without aiming to idealise them. These concepts, which clearly reflect an underlying feminist attitude, seem to allude to a holistic vision of existence devoid of hierarchies or fixed categories.

Bing went beyond merely capturing the moment, the temporal space in which her models pose. Rather, with both her child sitters and adults she aimed to show them engaged in an activity, extracting aspects of their character and personality from them.

 

Live Nature

Any assessment of Ilse Bing’s work must necessarily emphasise the impact on her career of her urban experiences in Frankfurt, Paris and New York. While this assertion seems indisputable, an analysis of her corpus would be diminished without a consideration of the close relationship she maintained with nature, both the untamed natural world and nature designed and organised by human hand, as in the case of the gardens of Versailles.

The natural world was also the locus in which Bing’s emotions and feelings took hold. The photographs taken on the banks of the Loire, for example, generally exude an air of calm and balance comparable to that which she felt in her own life at the time, contrasting strongly with the landscapes of wild and rugged places such as those she captured in the mountains of Colorado at a period of greater personal tension.

In 1959 Ilse Bing gave up photography for good. After three decades as a photographer and long before her work started to be recognised in museums in the United States, France and Germany, with exhibitions and publications of her work in Paris, New Orleans, Aachen and New York, the artist, who had proved herself able to represent the vibration of life, considered that she no longer had anything new to say or contribute in this medium.

Fundación MAPFRE exhibition texts

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Street Cleaner, Paris' 1947

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Street Cleaner, Paris
1947
Gelatin silver print
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Antigone with Teacher' 1950

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Antigone with Teacher
1950
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 26.7cm
International Center of Photography
Donation of Ilse Bing, 1991
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Nancy Harris' 1951

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Nancy Harris
1951
Gelatin silver print
50.3 × 40.3cm
National Gallery of Art, Washington D. C.
The Marvin Breckinridge Patterson Fund for Photography 2000
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'All of Paris in a Box' 1952

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
All of Paris in a Box
1952
Gelatin silver print
40.1 x 48.4cm
James Hyman Gallery, London
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Picket Fence' 1953

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Picket Fence
1953
Gelatin silver print
50.5 × 40.6cm
International Center of Photography, New York
Donation of Steven Schwartz 2013
© Estate of Ilse Bing

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris' 1957

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Without Illusion, Flea Market, Paris
1957
Gelatin silver print
49.5 x 40cm
Collection of Michael Mattis and Judith Hochberg, New York
© Estate of Ilse Bing
Photograph: Jeffrey Sturges

 

 

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20
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers’ at the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

Exhibition dates: 15th September 2022 – 8th January 2023

 

Unidentified photographer (American). 'Untitled [Two Men in Work Clothes, Wearing Hats, One Standing, One Seated]' c. 1880

 

Unidentified photographer (American)
Untitled [Two Men in Work Clothes, Wearing Hats, One Standing, One Seated]
c. 1880
Tintype
New Orleans Museum of Art
Gift of Stanley B. Burns, MD

 

 

The last posting before Christmas is a valuable photographic exhibition on Black Americans which reveals the importance of photography to their culture.

“Frederick Douglass [that fiery American social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman] wrote multiple essays on the power of photography to shape perceptions about race. He posited that the medium would be a great liberator of Black Americans, allowing them to control their own narrative.”1

Any archive of photographs on a particular culture or subject which is collected and then freely disseminated is an incredible resource for researchers and the uninitiated. Nevertheless, what we must be mindful of is who is taking the photographs and collecting them (institutions) and to what purpose, and from what position, what point of view, are the resulting photographs being viewed – from the point of view of the subjugated or from the point of view of the ruling elite. Are the photographers from within the community, or are they colonial, imperial documenters of (for example), ethnographic status, a vanishing race, or slaves. If a person from outside the community takes the photographs (for example, the photographs of Edward S. Curtis), what was his purpose and what was the constructed, mythical story he wanted to tell… and are the photographs still valuable all these years later to contemporary First Nations people looking back on the people, rituals and customs that were portrayed in them.

The photographs in this posting will have a very different meaning to those that live within the community which is portrayed, I expect bringing mixed feelings of pride and the knowledge of the struggle of Black existence in America. And also the knowledge that “blacks had created their own traditions, rituals, and a history that formed a cohesive and complex culture that was the source of a full sense of identity.”2 The photographs “help reframe the history of American photography and place Black photographers and sitters at the centre of that story.”

Personally, I believe there is no centre and periphery… no inside and outsider art. To believe so is a misnomer, for everything is valuable in and of its own right, and should be acknowledged and appreciated as such.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added bibliographic information where possible to give context to the photographers work.

 

  1. Earnestine Jenkins. “Hooks Brothers Photography Documented Black Memphis,” on the Chose 901 website February 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022
  2. Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

.
Many thankx to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

From photography’s beginnings in the United States, Black studio photographers operated on the developing edge of popular media to produce affirming portraits for their clients, as well as a wide range of photographic work rooted in their communities. Called to the Camera offers a comprehensive history of this work, from the nineteenth-century daguerreotypes of James Presley Ball to the height of Black studios in the mid-twentieth century, and considers contemporary photographers responding to Black studio traditions today. In addition to showcasing famous photographers such as Ball, James Van Der Zee, and Addison Scurlock, this volume brings attention to dozens of other artists across the country, including Florestine Perrault Collins, Austin Hansen, and Henry Clay Anderson. The book features more than one hundred extraordinary vintage photographs, many of them unique objects and some, like those by the Hooks Brothers Studio, published here for the first time. Highlighting Black subjects on both sides of the camera, Called to the Camera presents a broader and more inclusive history of photography.

 

 

James Presley Ball (American, 1825-1904) 'Alexander S. Thomas' c. late 1850s

 

James Presley Ball (American, 1825-1904)
Alexander S. Thomas
c. late 1850s
Quarter plate daguerreotype
Cincinnati Art Museum
Gift of James M Marrs, MD

 

 

James Presley Ball, Sr. (1825 – May 4, 1904) was a prominent African-American photographer, abolitionist, and businessman.

Ball was born in Frederick County, Virginia, to William and Susan Ball in 1825. He learned daguerreotype photography from John B. Bailey of Boston, who like Ball was “a freeman of color.” Ball opened a one-room daguerreotype studio in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1845. The business did not prosper, so Ball worked as an itinerant daguerreotypist, settling briefly in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, then in Richmond, Virginia in 1846 to develop a more successful studio near the State Capitol building.

In 1847, Ball again departed for Ohio, again as a travelling daguerreotypist. He settled in Cincinnati in 1849 and opened a studio where his brother Thomas Ball became an operator. The gallery, known as “Ball’s Daguerrean Gallery of the West” or “Ball’s Great Daguerrean Gallery of the West,” ascended “from a small gallery to one of the great galleries of the Midwest.” Starting in 1854 and continuing “for about four years,” Robert Seldon Duncanson worked in Ball’s studio retouching portraits and colouring photographic prints. Gleason’s Pictorial Drawing-Room Companion in 1854 described the gallery as displaying 187 photographs by Ball and 6 paintings by Duncanson; furthermore, the gallery was “replete with elegance and beauty,” with walls “bordered with gold leaf and flowers,” “master-piece” furniture, a piano, and mirrors.

Meanwhile, Ball opened the separate Ball and Thomas Gallery with his brother-in-law Alexander Thomas. In 1855, Ball published an abolitionist pamphlet accompanied by a 600-yard-long panoramic painting entitled “Mammoth Pictorial Tour of the United States Comprising Views of the African Slave Trade”; Duncanson probably participated in the production of the painting. During 1855 Ball’s daguerreotypes were shown at the Ohio State Fair and at the Ohio Mechanics Annual Exhibition. In 1856 Ball traveled to Europe. The Ball and Thomas Gallery was destroyed by a tornado in May 1860, but was later rebuilt with assistance from the community.

During the 1870s Ball ended his partnership with Thomas and moved to Greenville, Mississippi; Vidalia, Louisiana; St. Louis, Missouri; and then Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he started a new studio. By 1887, the studio was known as “J. P. Ball & Son, Artistic Photographers”; Ball’s son was named James Presley Ball, Jr. In September 1887, Ball became the official photographer of the 25th anniversary celebration of the Emancipation Proclamation.

In October 1887, Ball again moved, this time to Helena, Montana, where the “J. P. Ball & Son” studio was established. By 1894, Ball had become active in politics in Helena; for example, he was nominated for a county coroner position which he declined. One of the notable series of photographs Ball took his stay in Helena involved William Biggerstaff (an African-American man) before, during, and after he was hanged in 1896 for committing murder.

In 1900, the Ball family probably moved to Seattle, Washington, where Ball opened the Globe Photo Studio. He may have relocated to Portland, Oregon, in 1901. The family moved to Honolulu in 1902, and Ball died there in 1904.

Among the subjects of Ball’s photographic portraits were P.T. Barnum, Charles Dickens, Henry Highland Garnet, the family of Ulysses S. Grant, Jenny Lind, and Queen Victoria. The techniques used for “all the known photographs of J. P. Ball” as of 1993 included mostly daguerreotypes and albumen prints (e.g., as carte de visites).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Alexander S. Thomas (American, 1826-1910) [was] Ball’s brother-in-law, who worked as a steward on the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers. In November 1857, Thomas became a full partner in the [James Presley Ball photographic] business and the name of the studio changed to Ball & Thomas. Three years later the union dissolved for unknown reasons, and Thomas continued in business with Tom Ball, still under the name of Ball & Thomas. Within two months a tornado destroyed that gallery, but many white friends helped them to repair the place, outfitting it more elaborately than before.

Theresa Leininger-Miller. “An American Journey: The Life and Photography of James Presley Ball,” on the Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide website Autumn 2011, [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988) 'Portrait of a young woman dressed in white' 1920-1928

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (American, 1895-1988)
Portrait of a young woman dressed in white
1920-1928
Gelatin silver print mounted in folder
4 1/4 x 9 1/4 inches
The Historic New Orleans Collection

 

 

Florestine Perrault Collins (1895-1988) was an American professional photographer from New Orleans. Collins is noted for having created photographs of African-American clients that “reflected pride, sophistication, and dignity.” instead of racial stereotypes.

In 1909, Collins began practicing photography at age 14. Her subjects ranged from weddings, First Communions, and graduations to personal photographs of soldiers who had returned home. At the beginning of her career, Collins had to pass as a white woman to be able to assist photographers.

Collins eventually opened her own studio, catering to African-American families. She gained a loyal following and had success, due to both her photography and marketing skills. Out of 101 African-American women who identified themselves as photographers in the 1920 U.S. Census, Collins was the only one listed in New Orleans.

She advertised in newspapers, playing up the sentimentality of a well-done photograph. Collins also included her photograph in the ads to appeal to customers who thought a female photographer might take better pictures of babies and children. Collins’ first husband, Eilert Bertrand, believed that women should not have careers and tried to restrain her public appearances. Collins died in 1988.

According to the Encyclopedia of Louisiana, Collins’ career “mirrored a complicated interplay of gender, racial and class expectations”.

“The history of black liberation in the United States could be characterised as a struggle over images as much as it has also been a struggle over rights,” according to bell hooks. Collins’ photographs are representative of that. By taking pictures of black women and children in domestic settings, she challenged the pervasive stereotypes of the time about black women.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966) 'Sisters of the Holy Family, Classroom Portrait' 1922

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966)
Sisters of the Holy Family, Classroom Portrait
1922
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
XULA University Archives and Special Collections
Image Courtesy of Xavier University of Louisiana, Archives & Special Collections
© Arthur P. Bedou

 

 

Arthur P. Bedou (July 6, 1882 – July 2, 1966) was an African-American photographer based in New Orleans. Bedou was, for a time, the personal photographer of Booker T. Washington, and documented the last decade of Washington’s life. He also documented campus life at Xavier University of Louisiana, the Tuskegee Institute, and the city life of New Orleans, especially the city’s black residents.

Arthur Paul Bedou was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, in 1882, one of five children of Armand Bedou and Marie Celeste Coustaut. His family was poor and he received very little education; as a photographer he was largely self-taught. Bedou worked for a time as a clerk, but by 1899 he was taking pictures, and his career started in earnest when a photograph he took of a solar eclipse in 1900 received wide notice.

In 1903 Bedou documented a conference at Tuskegee Institute in the hope of gaining visibility for his work. Booker T. Washington saw some of his photographs and invited Bedou to accompany him as his personal photographer, preferring Bedou over other candidates like C. M. Battey in part for his ability to produce dynamic images of unfolding events. Most of Bedou’s photographs of Washington were taken between 1908 and 1915, the year of Washington’s death. Among other tasks, he accompanied Washington on his summer tours with the object of producing an album of each trip. To supplement his uncertain income from these travels, he had some of the photographs he took made into postcards, Christmas cards, and calendars. His position brought him further commissions to photograph notables both black and white, including George Washington Carver, Theodore Roosevelt, Andrew Carnegie, and Julius Rosenwald.

Through the connection to Washington, who was the school’s founding principal, Bedou was invited to become official photographer of the Tuskegee Institute. Shortly after Washington’s death, however, he was replaced as the school’s official photographer by Battey, who at the time was favoured by campus officials for various reasons. He was also in demand by other black colleges and schools such as Fisk University to document life on their campuses, and by professional organisations such as the National Negro Business League, the National Medical Association, and the National Baptist Convention.

In the 1920s, Bedou opened his own photography studio in New Orleans, where he photographed everything from black families and their children to the laying of the cornerstone at Corpus Christi Church to the visits of jazz bands and celebrity speakers. His photographs often appeared in both the Louisiana Weekly (a newspaper with a primarily black circulation) and the general-circulation newspaper Louisiana Times-Picayune. His photographs won several awards over the years, including the gold medal at the 1907 Jamestown Tercentennial Exposition.

Bedou prospered and invested in real estate and companies like the People’s Industrial Life Insurance Company of Louisiana, of which he was for many years a director and vice-president.

Bedou photographed numerous events, activities, and portraits around the Xavier University of Louisiana campus from about 1917 to the late 1950s. When he died in 1966, he left much of his fortune to educational institutions, and his wife, Lillia Bedou, founded a scholarship in his honour at Xavier University of Louisiana. Since her death, the scholarship has been known as the Arthur and Lillia Bedou Scholarship. Xavier University Archives & Special Collections also holds an extensive collection of his photographs.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966) 'The Gold Rush – Xavier University of Louisiana Football Squad' Nd

 

Arthur P. Bedou (American, 1882-1966)
The Gold Rush – Xavier University of Louisiana Football Squad
Nd
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 4 x 6 inches
Xavier University Archives and Special Collections
Image Courtesy of Xavier University of Louisiana, Archives & Special Collections
© Arthur P. Bedou

 

James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983) 'Untitled (Bride and Groom)' 1926

 

James Van Der Zee (American, 1886-1983)
Untitled (Bride and Groom)
1926
Gelatin silver print
Museum purchase, City of New Orleans Capital Funds and P. Roussel Norman Fund
© James Van Der Zee Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

 

James Augustus Van Der Zee was an American photographer best known for his portraits of black New Yorkers. He was a leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance. Aside from the artistic merits of his work, Van Der Zee produced the most comprehensive documentation of the period.

 

 

The New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA) today announces the fall opening of Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers, a major exhibition focusing on the artistic virtuosity, social significance, and political impact of Black American photographers working in commercial portrait studios during photography’s first century and beyond. Organised by NOMA, the exhibition focuses on a national cohort of professional camera operators, demonstrating the incredible variety of work that they produced and their influence on the broader history of photography. Featuring more than 150 photographs spanning from the 19th century to present day – many of which have never been publicly exhibited and are unique objects – Called to the Camera will be on view at NOMA September 16, 2022 – January 8, 2023.

The exhibition explores how Black studio photographers operated on the developing edge of photographic media from its earliest introduction in the United States. They produced affirming portraits for their clients, while also engaging in other kinds of paid photographic work exemplary of important movements in art like Pictorialism and modernism. Called to the Camera will feature work by over three dozen photographers located across the country, demonstrating how the Black photography studio was a national phenomenon. The exhibition includes an interspersed selection of works by modern and contemporary artists, illustrating connections between the historical legacy of Black photography studios and what we consider to be fine art photography today.

Photographers whose works are featured in Called to the Camera include James Van Der Zee and Addison Scurlock, who worked on a national stage, as well as photographers who were active regionally, among them Florestine Perrault Collins and A.P. Bedou (New Orleans, LA), Reverend Henry Clay Anderson (Greenville, MS), Morgan and Marvin Smith (New York City), and Robert and Henry Hooks (Memphis, TN). Among the contemporary photographers included in the exhibition are Endia Beal, Elliott Jerome Brown Jr., and Polo Silk. The exhibition will feature a range of different types of images, from some of the earliest daguerreotypes of significant Black Americans (such as Frederick Douglass) to early hand-painted gelatin silver prints and panoramic photographs, as well as camera equipment, studio ephemera, and an immersive re-creation of a noted studio’s reception room.

“Chief among NOMA’s goals is to support important projects that amplify the histories of under-represented communities,” said Susan Taylor, Montine McDaniel Freeman Director of the New Orleans Museum of Art. “Called to the Camera does exactly that: it articulates a story that is both local and national, centering the importance of Black photographers in their communities and in the history of photography.”

“As we continue to build our notable photography holdings to make our collection and our exhibition program truly reflect our audiences, this thoughtfully researched national exploration of Black American studio photography is a vital contribution to this work,” added Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art.

Brian Piper, exhibition curator and Assistant Curator of Photographs at the New Orleans Museum of Art added, “Building on the foundational work of scholars like Dr. Deborah Willis, this exhibition gathers original works by a professional class of Black photographers linked by a shared set of visual and cultural concerns. By bringing these objects – many never before exhibited – into the art museum, we can help reframe the history of American photography and place Black photographers and sitters at the centre of that story. Called to the Camera is, in part, an argument for a reconsideration of how historians and institutions evaluate and display photography.”

The exhibition is organised into five sections across 6,000 square feet that proceed chronologically and thematically from the 1840s to present day. The first section emphasises the pivotal role Black American photographers played in photography during the 19th century, focusing on the establishment of commercial studio practices in the United States by photographers like James Presley Ball and the Goodridge Brothers. The second gallery evokes early 20th century commercial studios and domestic interiors, providing a contextual framework that illustrates the ways in which Black Americans used photography after 1900 to shape both private lives and public expressions of self. From there, the exhibition focuses closely on the practices of a half-dozen photographic studios, providing insights into both similarities and differences across geographies and exploring how these artists used a range of photographic processes and aesthetic styles through the end of the 1960s.

As a whole, the exhibition will consider other work that portrait studio photographers engaged in during this time, including photojournalism, advertising, and event photography. Beyond portraits, Called to the Camera demonstrates how Black American studio photographers worked on the vanguard of fine art photography and argues that the business of the studio cannot be divorced from the rest of these photographers’ practices. Called to the Camera: Black American Studio Photographers is curated by Dr. Brian Piper, NOMA’s Assistant Curator of Photographs. The exhibition draws works from both NOMA’s institutional holdings as well as works loaned from both notable public and private collections including the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; National Museum of African American History and Culture; the Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives, and Rare Book Library at Emory University; and Metropolitan Museum of Art. Called to the Camera will be accompanied by a catalog distributed by Yale University Press featuring over 100 colour plates and essays by leading scholars of photographic and Black American history including Dr. John Edwin Mason, Carla Williams, Russell Lord, and Brian Piper.

The exhibition is sponsored by Catherine and David Edwards; Kitty and Stephen Sherrill; Andrea and Rodney Herenton; Tina Freeman and Philip Woollam; Milly and George Denegre; and Cherye and Jim Pierce. Additional support is provided by Philip DeNormandie; Aimee and Michael Siegel; and the Del and Ginger Hall Photography Fund. This project is supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Research for this project was funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

Press release from New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA)

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003) 'Untitled [Marvin and Morgan Smith and Sarah Lou Harris Carter]' 1940

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003)
Untitled [Marvin and Morgan Smith and Sarah Lou Harris Carter]
1940
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Photograph
© Morgan and Marvin Smith

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003) 'Marvin Painting a Self-Portrait' c. 1940

 

Morgan and Marvin Smith (American, 1910-1993)(American, 1910-2003)
Marvin Painting a Self-Portrait
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 inches
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library Photograph
© Morgan and Marvin Smith

 

 

Morgan (February 16, 1910 – February 17, 1993) and Marvin Smith (February 16, 1910 – 2003) were identical African-American twin brothers. They were photographers and artists known for documenting the life of Harlem in the 1930s to 1950s. …

The Smiths decided to commit themselves to the media of photography in 1937 and took free art classes taught by sculptor Augusta Savage. There they met numerous other influential artists including Jacob Lawrence and Romare Bearden. Morgan became the first staff photographer for New York Amsterdam News in 1937, the most popular Black newspaper at the time. Two years later they opened their own photography studio, M & M Smith Studios, next to the famed Apollo Theater on 125th Street. The twins were the theatre’s official photographers and through this job met influential models, artists and performers. Their studio became a hub of activity for entertainers and writers, as well as the location of the majority of their portrait photography. They photographed George Washington Carver and Billie Holiday, among other famous Black artists and politicians, as well as street life in Harlem during this time.

The Smiths photographed with the intention of showing the different facets of Black life. Along with capturing the Civil rights movement and anti-lynching demonstrations the brothers were among the first to capture the vibrant lives of Harlem residents.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Rev. Henry Clay Anderson (American, 1911-1998) 'A hand-tinted portrait of a young woman' 1950s

 

Rev. Henry Clay Anderson (American, 1911-1998)
A hand-tinted portrait of a young woman
1950s
Hand-coloured gelatin silver print
8 x 10 in.
Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture
Gift of Charles Schwartz and Shawn Wilson
© Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture

 

 

From the late 1940s into the 1970s, photographer Henry Clay Anderson created a remarkable record of the lively African American community in Greenville, Mississippi. He photographed ordinary people in portraits and at events, including weddings, funerals, baseball games, and school proms and homecomings. Anderson worked as a teacher before serving in the military, and he studied photography on the GI Bill. While working as a photographer, he also served as a minister and helped African Americans pass the literacy test to obtain a voter’s card. Anderson said, “A photographer understands that pictures will show what is in the person… [M]aking pictures is a lot like telling a story.” The story Anderson recorded concerns an aspect of mid-twentieth-century American history that has largely been ignored – the existence of thriving, middle-class African American communities throughout the South.

Anonymous. “Oh Freedom! Rev. Henry Clay Anderson,” on the Smithsonian American Art Museum website Nd [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Reverend Henry Clay Anderson was a pastor, teacher, veteran, and photographer, best known for capturing the lives of the black middle class of Greenville, Mississippi from 1948 to 1986. He was born in Nitta Yuma, Mississippi, in 1911 and spent his childhood in Hollandale outside of Greenville, Mississippi. No information is known about his parents or siblings, except that he had a brother who worked at an insurance company in the same building as his photography studio. Anderson attended the segregated Washington County Schools for his early childhood and high school education. His love for photography began when his family gave him a box camera to play with at nine years old. …

Anderson married Sadie Lee with whom he had no children. His first occupation was as a teacher before he served in World War II. When he returned from the war to Greenville in 1946, the GI Bill of 1944 allowed Anderson to attend Southern University in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. There, he studied photography from 1946 to 1948 when he opened the Anderson Photo Service. His photography studio did not earn enough to support him and his wife financially, so he worked several other jobs throughout his photography career. These included being a pastor of King Solomon Baptist Church, a voter education teacher through the Southern Christian Leadership Conference during the late 1950s through the 1960s, and a candidate for the Greenville City Council as a Freedom Democratic Party member in 1965 and for the justice of the peace position in District 2 of Washington County in 1971.

Anderson’s photography is notable because he depicted a middle-class blackness that seemed to exist without much racial strife and violence as other Mississippi communities from the 1940s to the 1970s. His work offers a glimpse into young women’s lives participating in beauty pageants, families relaxing in luxury living rooms and on porches, gentlemen and ladies dressed for elegant occasions, and children celebrating birthdays. He recorded what has been called by many a “hidden” portion of middle-class black lives during this period. However, his most recognised work is also his most upsetting: the funeral of Reverend George Lee, who was murdered while helping blacks register to vote in May of 1955. Anderson’s photos of Lee’s marred face and mourning relatives made it into publications of Jet, Ebony, Life, and Time in 1955.

Lane Howell. “Reverend Henry Clay Anderson,” on the Black Past website September 20, 2020 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Austin Hansen (American, 1910-1996) 'Eartha Kitt Teaching a Dance Class at Harlem YMCA' c. 1955

 

Austin Hansen (American, 1910-1996)
Eartha Kitt Teaching a Dance Class at Harlem YMCA
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
8 x 10 in.
Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library
Photograph by Austin Hansen used by permission of Joyce Hansen

 

 

Austin Hansen (1910 – January 23, 1996) was a Black American photographer known for his chronicling of life in Harlem.

Austin Hansen was born in 1910 in Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands. He began taking photographs at age 12, and was assisted by the island’s official photographer. He served in the United States Navy as a photographer’s mate.

He came to New York City in 1928, but racist attitudes of the time blocked him from employment despite an excellent reference from a naval officer for whom he had worked. He worked instead as a dishwasher and elevator operator, and occasionally played the drums.

Hansen’s first break came when he took a photograph of a young Black woman singing for Eleanor Roosevelt at an uptown hotel, which he sold to the New York Amsterdam News for $2. Building on this small start, he was eventually able to make photography his full-time profession and his portraits and news photographs captured life in Harlem for the next sixty years.

He did portrait work at his studio, as well as freelancing for newspapers such as The Chicago Defender and the Staten Island Advance. In addition to everyday community life such as weddings, street scenes, and Harlem architecture, Hansen captured images of notable political figures (Haile Selassie, Marcus Garvey, Martin Luther King Jr.), authors (Langston Hughes), entertainers (Count Basie, Eartha Kitt), and others.

Hansen was for decades the official photographer for the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, and documented events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Morningside Heights. For the last five years of his life, he was artist-in-residence at the Photographic Center of Harlem.

Over the course of his life Hansen built a massive collection of over 500,000 portraits of Black Americans, ranging from churchmen and political leaders to everyday working-class people. More than 50,000 of his images are at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture.

Hansen was the subject of the film Search for Hansen: A Photographer of Harlem, directed by Justin Bryant.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Through his lens, Mr. Hansen, who began taking pictures as a 12-year-old in the Virgin Islands, captured a vast spectrum of activity in the community he joined in 1928. Among his images were enraptured young couples, David N. Dinkins’s wedding and the street-corner grief when Franklin D. Roosevelt died in 1945. Here was Lena Horne being interviewed in the Hotel Theresa, and there was a man walking a picket line, carrying a sign that read: “Do Not Ride These Buses Until You See Negro Drivers.”

The photographs Mr. Hansen took were also the story of his life. “And it hasn’t all been beautiful,” he said one day in 1994. “Some has been sad, the way they treated black people in those days. And I have been part of the suffering.” …

for the next six decades, his portraits and news photographs captured the ordinary and extraordinary in Harlem. Eventually, he opened a studio on West 135th Street, where he worked for 47 years, with time out for a hitch as a Navy photographer during World War II and a job as a darkroom technician for the Office of War Information.

But most of his career was spent making portraits and freelancing for newspapers like The New York Amsterdam News and The Pittsburgh Courier.

He took photographs for Malcolm X and for Adam Clayton Powell Sr. and Jr. He recorded historical images of Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Marcus Garvey, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Langston Hughes, Mary McLeod Bethune and Marian Anderson.

For more than 40 years, Mr. Hansen was the official photographer for the Abyssinian Baptist Church, and for more than 20 years Mr. Hansen and his brother, Aubrey, who died before him, documented events at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine.

Lawrence Van Gelder. “Austin Hansen, Visual Chronicler of Harlem Life, Dies at 85,” on The New York Times website Jan. 25, 1996 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Untitled [Man in Dollar Bill Suit with Congregation]' c. 1940

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Untitled [Man in Dollar Bill Suit with Congregation]
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Untitled [Students looking at photographs]' c. 1950

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Untitled [Students looking at photographs]
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks) 'Al Green in the Hooks Brothers Studio' c. 1968

 

Hooks Brothers Studio (Robert and Henry Hooks)
Al Green in the Hooks Brothers Studio
c. 1968
Gelatin silver print
Approx. 8 x 10 inches
Collection of Andrea and Rodney Herenton
(The Hooks Brothers Photograph Collection, consisting of original photographs, negatives, equipment, and ephemera was acquired by the RWS Company, LLC in 2018)

 

 

Robert and Henry Hooks opened a family run photography business that endured in Memphis from 1906 until the 1970s. During the 1940s the studio was taken over by their sons, Charles and Henry Hooks. Hooks Bros. photographs document a rich, in-depth, and complex visual record of African American culture in the Mid-South that no longer exist, for the beautiful images reveal a hidden transcript, the world of segregated Memphis.

Over a period of seventy-six years, the Hooks brothers preserved the totality of black middle-class family life in a large urban setting. Their pictures are stories about schools and graduations, weddings, family occasions, birthday parties, social events, social and fraternal organisations, neighbourhood associations, celebratory events like the Cotton Makers Jubilee, amateur athletes and professional sports, as well as musicians associated with the city’s musical heritage. These images document the significance of the sacred and the social life of the church in black middle-class culture in Memphis. They also record the history of black businesses like Universal Life Insurance Company, Tri-State Bank, as well as the black newspapers, the Memphis World, and the Tri-State Defender.

The local and social history of Memphis preserved in Hooks Bros. photographs includes military history, documenting black Memphians’ military service and participation in World War I and World War II, as well as support of the war effort in Red Cross service and bond drives. The portraits of many prominent leaders is a distinctive category of Hooks Bros. photographs. They developed a manner of capturing the character and social position of black male leaders and celebrities, always picturing the individual in settings, and with objects related to his profession or role in the black community.

It has been said that every black family in Memphis has a Hooks Bros. photograph. The statement is a testament to the visual impact and historical significance of these images. They are extraordinary photographic histories of the black communities in Memphis. However, the astounding depth and breadth of the visual record over a long period of time makes them invaluable as a portrait of the broad spectrum of African American culture at a specific time and place in American history.

Earnestine Jenkins. “Hooks Brothers Photography Documented Black Memphis,” on the Chose 901 website February 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama' 1956

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, Mobile, Alabama
1956
Archival pigment print
Gift of the Gordon Parks Foundation in Honor of Arthur Roger
© The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Polo Silk (American, b. 1964) 'Lo Life, Lo Down, Club Detour' 1993

 

Polo Silk (American, b. 1964)
Lo Life, Lo Down, Club Detour
1993
Unique Polacolor Print Museum
Purchase, Tina Freeman Fund
Copyright Polo Silk, Fab 5 Legacy Archive

 

 

For more than three decades, Selwhyn Sthaddeus “Polo Silk” Terrell (American, b. 1964) has been photographing Black New Orleans, creating a unique body of work that blends elements of portraiture, fashion, performance, and street photography.

Polo Silk mobilised the traditional portrait studio, taking it to the streets and clubs of New Orleans and transforming it into an adaptable, on-the-spot method of picture making. In the course of his career, Polo perfected the use of instant-photo technology, making dynamic, one of a kind portraits that capitalised on the vibrant colour range and immediacy that is a hallmark of Polaroid and other instant films. Sold on demand to clients who wanted a record of an event like Super Sunday, or to show off their carefully planned outfit on any given Saturday night, Polo’s pictures have become an integral part of how many Black New Orleanians have used photography to represent themselves.

Polo’s pictures are often taken in front of the colourful airbrushed backdrops painted by his cousin Otis Spears (American, b. 1969) that feature figures from hip-hop and bounce music, fashion brands, sports logos, and the hot songs of the day. In bringing photography out of the studio and directly to the people, Polo made it a truly accessible phenomenon. While traditional portrait photographs were often designed to appear timeless and placeless, Polo’s pictures are absolutely fixed in time, and rooted in New Orleans. Together, Polo and his subjects have created one of the most important visual archives of this time and place, an important set of pictures that highlight Black expression, individuality, and ultimately, a collective community identity.

Anonymous. “Picture Man: Portraits by Polo Silk,” on the NOMA website [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (American, b. 1993) 'Oftentimes, justice for Black people takes form of forgiveness, allowing them space to reclaim their bodies from wrongs made against them' 2018

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (American, b. 1993)
Oftentimes, justice for Black people takes form of forgiveness, allowing them space to reclaim their bodies from wrongs made against them
2018
Archival pigment print
Museum Purchase
© Elliott Jerome Brown Jr.

 

 

Elliott Jerome Brown Jr. (born 1993) is a queer black American artist and photographer. In 2019 they received an Emerging Visual Arts Grant by The Rema Hort Mann Foundation.

 

Endia Beal (American, b. 1985) 'Kennedy' 2016

 

Endia Beal (American, b. 1985)
Kennedy
2016
Archival pigment print
27 x 40 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Endia Beal

 

 

Endia Beal is an African-American visual artist, curator, and educator. She is known for her work in creating visual narratives through photography and video testimonies focused on women of colour working in corporate environments.

 

Alanna Airitam (American, b. 1971) 'How to Make a Country' 2019

 

Alanna Airitam (American, b. 1971)
How to Make a Country
2019
Archival inkjet print encased in resin and vignette with oil paint, floated in hand-welded 1 1/2 inch metal frame
14 3/4 x 20 3/4 in.
Courtesy of the artist
© Alanna Airitam

 

 

Her newest exhibition, “How to Make A Country” builds on these ideas in her prior work. Including a self-portrait of Airitam stitching an American flag with a basket of fresh cotton at her side, the series highlights the stories that weren’t told. “I was thinking about the people who make up this country, and how this country has become so economically prosperous and huge, and what it took in order to have a country like what we have,” she said.

 

“I was in my living room one day looking at one of the U.S. flags (I say U.S. flag because America as a whole is actually comprised of several countries, not just this one but that’s a whole other topic) we have here in the studio and I started thinking about the story of Betsy Ross and how she made the U.S. flag. It’s one of those awe inspiring, patriotic stories we’re taught in school that never quite sat well with me. I kept thinking, “But where did she get the cotton from?” Then I started thinking about how much Black women contributed to this country with little or no recognition. Without our sweat, blood, and tears we would not have the foundation for the country we know today.

I wanted to create something to honor those women – my ancestors who sacrificed so much for so little. When I ask myself who actually built this country, I have to give credit to all the Black and Brown women and men who struggled and truly believed in what this country is supposed to be even though it was never available to them. They believed in the idea that all men are created equal, that they were endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among those are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

They were true Americans. And I wanted to honor those spirited women in this photo because they made this country.”

Alanna Airitam. “How to Make a Country, Alanna Airita,” on the Rfotofolio website July 5, 2020 [Online] Cited 17/11/2022

 

 

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10
Dec
22

Exhibition: ‘The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930’ at Wrightwood 659, Chicago

Exhibition dates: 1st October – 17th December 2022

Curators: Jonathan D. Katz, Curator and Johnny Willis, Associate Curator

 

 

Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968) 'Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato' 1026

 

Roberto Montenegro (Mexican, 1885-1968)
Retrato de un anticuario o Retrato de Chucho Reyes y autorretrato
Portrait of an antiquarian or Portrait of Chucho Reyes and self-portrait

1926
Oil on canvas
40.4 x 40.4 in (unframed), 41.7 x 41.6 x 1.6 in (framed)
Colección Pérez Simón, Mexico, © Arturo Piera

 

 

Short and sweet…

I believe that any artist that lives at the edge of desire, of creativity, of individuality, exploration and feeling – in seeing the world from different points of view – pushes the boundaries of what the conservative mass of humanity finds acceptable.

Defying the taboo is only possible because the taboo exists in the first place. The taboo against sensuality, eroticism and pleasure can only be broken by approaching those ecstatic and liminal spaces that lead to other states of consciousness, by being attentive to the dropping away of awareness so that we avoid the frequency of common intensities, instead illuminating spaces and languages where new cultural symbols and meanings can emerge. This is what artists and people of difference do: we approach the ‘Thing Itself’. We live on the edge of ecstasy, oblivion and revelation.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

PS. I have added bibliographic information to the posting where possible.

.
Many thankx to Wrightwood 659 for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 takes as its starting point the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was first coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. On view will be more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including a number of national treasures which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries. This groundbreaking exhibition offers the first multi-medium survey of the very first self-consciously queer art, exploring what the “first homosexuals” understood themselves to be, how dominant culture, in turn, understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer us previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is being organised in two parts, due to COVID-related delays, with part one opening on October 1 with approximately 100 works, and on view only at Wrightwood 659. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for part two of The First Homosexuals in an exhibition which will travel internationally and be accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

The exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

PLEASE NOTE: This exhibition contains sexually explicit content. For mature audiences only.

 

 

Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952) 'Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts' 1891

 

Alice Austen (American, 1866-1952)
Trude & I Masked, Short Skirts
1891
Print, 4 x 5 in
Historic Richmond Town

 

 

Elizabeth Alice Austen (March 17, 1866 – June 9, 1952) was an American photographer working in Staten Island.

One of America’s first female photographers to work outside of the studio, Austen often transported up to 50 pounds of photographic equipment on her bicycle to capture her world.[citation needed] Her photographs represent street and private life through the lens of a lesbian woman whose life spanned from 1866 to 1952. Austen was a rebel who broke away from the constraints of her Victorian environment and forged an independent life that broke boundaries of acceptable female behaviour and social rules. …

Alice Austen’s life and relationships with other women are crucial to an understanding of her work. Until very recently many interpretations of Austen’s work overlooked her intimate relationships. What is especially significant about Austen’s photographs is that they provide rare documentation of intimate relationships between Victorian women. Her non-traditional lifestyle and that of her friends, although intended for private viewing, is the subject of some of her most critically acclaimed photographs. Austen would spend 53 years in a devoted loving relationship with Gertrude Tate, 30 years of which were spent living together in her home which is now the site of the Alice Austen House Museum and a nationally designated site of LGBTQ history.

Austen’s wealth was lost in the stock market crash of 1929 and she and Tate were evicted from their beloved home in 1945. Tate and Austen were finally separated by family rejection of their relationship and poverty. Austen was moved to the Staten Island Farm Colony where Tate would visit her weekly. In 1951 Austen’s photographs were rediscovered by historian Oliver Jensen and money was raised by the publication of her photographs to place Austen in private nursing home care. On June 9, 1952 Austen passed away. The final wishes of Austen and Tate to be buried together were denied by their families.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961) 'Edith Emerson Lecturing' c. 1935

 

Violet Oakley (American, 1874-1961)
Edith Emerson Lecturing
c. 1935
Oil on canvas
35 x 45 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 2012
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

 

 

Violet Oakley (June 10, 1874 – February 25, 1961) was an American artist. She was the first American woman to receive a public mural commission. During the first quarter of the twentieth century, she was renowned as a pathbreaker in mural decoration, a field that had been exclusively practiced by men. Oakley excelled at murals and stained glass designs that addressed themes from history and literature in Renaissance-revival styles.

 

Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981) 'Portrait of Violet Oakley' Date unknown

 

Edith Emerson (American, 1888-1981)
Portrait of Violet Oakley
Date unknown
Oil on canvas
25 x 30 in.
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia, PA: gift of Jane and Noble Hall, 1998
Courtesy of Woodmere Art Museum

 

 

Edith Emerson (July 27, 1888 – November 21, 1981) was an American painter, muralist, illustrator, writer, and curator. She was the life partner of acclaimed muralist Violet Oakley and served as the vice-president, president, and curator of the Woodmere Art Museum in the Chestnut Hill neighbourhood of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from 1940 to 1978. …

[Oakley’s] life partner, Edith Emerson, was a painter and, at one time, a student of Oakley’s. In 1916, Emerson moved into Oakley’s Mount Airy home, Cogslea, where Oakley had formed a communal household with three other women artists, calling themselves the Red Rose Girls. Emerson and Oakley’s relationship endured until Oakley’s death and Emerson subsequently established a foundation to memorialise Oakley’s life and legacy. The foundation dissolved in 1988 and the assets donated to the Smithsonian Museum.

Following Violet Oakley’s death in 1961, Emerson created the Violet Oakley Memorial Foundation to keep her teacher and companion’s memory and ideals alive. The foundation also sought to house and preserve the contents of Oakley’s studio, which was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977 as the Violet Oakley Studio. Emerson served as the foundation’s president, as well as curator and general caretaker of the studio. The studio was opened to the public as a kind of museum, and Emerson organised various activities there, including concerts, exhibitions, poetry readings, and lectures on American art and illustration. Following Emerson’s death, the foundation dispersed the contents, sold the house, and disbanded.

In 1979, Emerson was instrumental in mounting an Oakley revival as an exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984) 'Model Act' 1919

 

Owe Zerge (Swedish, 1894-1984)
Model Act
1919
Oil on canvas
53.1 x 19.7 in.
Private Collection

 

 

Role of Art in the Modern Construction of Same-Sex Desire Explored for First Time in Groundbreaking Two-Part Exhibition at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, begins in the year 1869, when the word “homosexual” was coined in Europe, inaugurating the idea of same-sex desire as the basis for a new identity category. With more than 100 paintings, drawings, prints, photographs, and film clips – drawn from public and private collections around the globe and including works which have never before been allowed to travel outside their countries – this large-scale international exhibition offers the first multi-media survey of some of the founding works of queer art. The First Homosexuals explores what the earliest homosexuals understood themselves to be, how dominant culture understood them, and how the codes of representation they employed offer previously unknown glimpses into the social and cultural meanings of same-sex desire.

The First Homosexuals is organised in two parts, due to Covid-related delays, with Part I on view only at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago from October 1 through December 17, 2022. Three years from now, in 2025, 250 masterworks will be gathered at Wrightwood 659 for Part II, in a major exhibition that will travel internationally, accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue.

Already three years in the making, the exhibition is being developed by a team of 23 international scholars, led by art historian Jonathan D. Katz, Professor of Practice in the History of Art and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, with associate curator Johnny Willis.

The First Homosexuals rewrites conventional art history, in part by deepening the reading of works of art by familiar artists – whether it be Henry Fuseli, Thomas Eakins, or George Bellows – and in part by lifting the cover off works that previously have not been widely understood as declarations of same-sex attachment. The exhibition also introduces American museum goers to a number of artists who are little known in the United States but revered in their own countries, including Gerda Wegener (Denmark); Eugéne Jansson (Sweden); and Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand).

The First Homosexuals explores the cohesion of a new global identity at a liminal moment, one that art can tell uniquely well. While the written archive of the period must necessarily use accepted words to describe ideas, art is notably free of such consensus, allowing for the emergence of more idiosyncratic, contested, and exploratory forms.

The First Homosexuals is an international project of an incredible scale. It perfectly fulfils our mission of presenting novel, socially engaged exhibitions,” says Chirag G. Badlani, Executive Director of Alphawood Foundation Chicago, which is presenting The First Homosexuals through Alphawood Exhibitions. “We are thrilled that the community can experience an important exhibition like this at Wrightwood 659 – given the content, it otherwise might not be seen.” He added, “We are particularly proud to show a collection of early Russian queer works borrowed from the Odesa Fine Arts Museum in Ukraine, amidst the ongoing war, helping to safeguard these important pieces of queer history from potential damage or destruction.”

Dr. Katz, notes, “The First Homosexuals demonstrates that as the language used to name same-sex desire narrowed into a simple binary of homosexual / heterosexual, art went the opposite direction, giving form to a range of sexualities and genders that can best be described as queer. Art became the place where the simplistic sexual binary could be nuanced and particularised, evoking emotions and responses that language couldn’t yet express.”

Dr. Katz continues, “The reality is that current-day conceptions about homosexuality are only roughly as old as the oldest living Americans. Our goal in this exhibition is to read queer desire as it manifested itself in this not-so-long-ago past, while being alert to the very different forms it took globally.”

 

The Exhibition

Part I of The First Homosexuals is installed in nine sections, occupying the entire second floor of the Tadao Ando-designed galleries of Wrightwood 659. The first section, entitled Before Homosexuality, features 19th-century works that suggest how unself-consciously same-sex eroticism was portrayed before the coinage of the word homosexual. A highlight is a print depicting a sexual act between two men by Hokusai, the ukiyo-e master of Japan’s Edo period. Hokusai’s image would have been entirely uncontroversial in its day.

Among the works installed in Couples, the second section, is a leisurely boating scene by the French painter Louise Abbéma, showing herself in masculinate garb with her lover, the celebrated actress Sarah Bernhardt. Two other paintings represent reverse homages, wherein the American artist Edith Emerson paints her lover Violet Oakley and Oakley returns the favour by producing an oil study of Emerson. Also on view in this section is an illustration by Oakley that ran in the December 1903 issue of the popular The Century Magazine, depicting heaven as populated entirely by lithe young women in flowing gold and white robes.

Especially notable in Between Genders is a seductive reclining nude, a painting of one of the first modern transgender women: Gerda Wegener’s Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1929. Nearby, the Russian artist Konstantin Somov’s delicate Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, appears to portray an 18th-century aristocratic beauty; however, the face is the artist’s own.

Between Genders abounds with photographs documenting the social experiments of the time, including a postcard of the French chanteuse Josephine Baker in male evening attire; the Norwegian Marie Høeg dressed as a man in a variety of carte de visite poses, the calling cards of their day; the French surrealist Claude Cahun in a meditative position with a shaved head looking neither male nor female; and, from across the Atlantic, c. 1890s sepia-toned photographs of an African American man, perhaps once enslaved, performing female drag on the vaudeville stage. A film segment featuring Loïe Fuller performing her legendary Serpentine Dance, 1905, contrasts with another film clip by the Frères Lumière of a male dancer performing the same dance and dressed like Fuller in flowing, billowing robes.

In the section Pose is a famous portrait by the Mexican artist Roberto Montenegro of his friend, the antique and antiquities dealer Chucho Reyes. The limp wrist, the tilted chin, and the amused smile are legible tropes of queer codes even today. As well as picturing Reyes ensconced proudly among his treasures, including an oval miniature of a woman, Montenegro included in the foreground a silver ball reflecting his own visage, thus bringing himself into the picture.

A contrasting note is hit nearby where a recording of “Ma” Rainey’s blues song, “Prove It On Me,” will be played and a vintage advertisement for the vinyl record displayed. Rainey had been arrested for participating in a lesbian sex orgy, a notorious event that she shrewdly parlayed into the #1 best-selling record within the African American community in 1928.

Dr. Katz anchors the exhibition section called Archetypes around an acknowledged masterpiece of American painting, Thomas Eakins’s Salutat,1898. The painting is shown in The First Homosexuals as an example of a scene engineered to focus attention on an erotic part of the young male body. Dr. Katz observes that the crowd appears to be not so much cheering a boxing victory as absorbing a perfect specimen of male beauty.

Throughout this section, the viewer can track the ideal of male beauty evolving beyond the 19th-century ephebic (youthful male beauty idealised in ancient times) to a more masculinised ideal of perfection. A defining work here is a study by Swedish artist Eugène Jansson for his most famous painting, The Naval Bath House, 1907. The custom of young men swimming nude in all-male settings was universal in the West – as seen elsewhere in The First Homosexuals. In this drawing, Jansson carefully employs Cezanne-like strokes to work out seven different poses for as many young men.

The section entitled Desire brings together works of art that are stylistically varied, according to the visual language of the artist’s national culture and training, but alike in depicting same-gender sex or magnifying parts of the body for erotic effect. These include erotica from China, Japan, Iran, and India and a pair of seemingly sedate figure drawings by the French artist Jane Poupelet focusing on the rear view of female models, so as to eroticise women in a way that works to exclude the heterosexual male gaze.

In the section entitled Colonizing, the art on view reflects a number of dynamics, including the Euro-centric definition of early homosexuality, which often clashed with more indigenous forms, and the Western presumption that the East was decadent. European interlopers employed the latter to excuse otherwise forbidden sexual alliances as well as to justify political domination. Here are works as disparate as the Sri Lankan painter David Paynter’s modernist oil, L’après midi, 1935; F. Holland Day’s haunting double exposure photograph, The Vision, (Orpheus Scene), 1907; and a propaganda piece dropped by Japanese nationals into Russian territory to demoralise Russian troops during the Russo-Japanese War.

Following, in the section Public and Private, comes Charles Demuth’s ‘morning after’ scene of three young men in pyjamas and underwear in a stylish domestic interior; lesbian genre scenes set in Eastern Europe; and Marsden Hartley’s Berlin Ante War, 1914, a painting charting life, death, faith, sunrise, and sunset in symbolic forms and colours.

The centrepiece of the final thematic section, Past and Future, is a little-known masterpiece by the Finnish artist, Magnus Enckell, an impressionist-styled painting that reverses the classical myth of Leda and the swan, illustrating a nude man strangling the rapacious figure of Zeus in the form of a swan. Other works here evidence what is likely the earliest use of the rainbow as a symbol of same-sex love; photographs by Wilhelm von Gloeden that combine classical ruins and Sicilian youth; and the desire to acknowledge same-sex precedents in ancient history, as in the colour lithograph, Hadrian and Antinous, 1906, by Paul Avril (Édouard-Henri Avril).

The First Homosexuals documents The Elisarion, a temple to the arts built by the same-sex cultist and visionary Elisar von Kupffer in 1926 in Minusio, a tiny principality in Switzerland. Paintings of scenes illustrating same-sex desire once covered the walls of von Kupffer’s Sanctuarium. A cache of these were discovered recently in a municipal warehouse in Minusio by Dr. Katz and his team. This fall, the paintings will be seen for the first time in documentary photographs. In 2025, the actual large-scale paintings will be exhibited for the first time outside Switzerland in Part II of The First Homosexuals: Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930.

Press release from Wrightwood 659

 

Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]' c. 1895-1903

 

Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Untitled [Marie Høeg and her brother in the studio]
c. 1895-1903
Print, 2.4 x 3.1 in
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway

 

Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949) 'Marie Høeg dressed as a man' 1895-1903

 

Berg & Høeg (Horten)
Bolette Berg (Norwegian, 1872-1944)
Marie Høeg (Norwegian, 1866-1949)
Marie Høeg dressed as a man
1895-1903
Owner: Preus Museum Collection, Norway

 

Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915) 'Bath house study' Nd

 

Eugène Jansson (Swedish, 1862-1915)
Bath house study
Nd
Black chalk on paper
33 1/2 x 39 inches

 

 

Eugène Fredrik Jansson (18 March 1862, Stockholm – 15 June 1915, Skara) was a Swedish painter known for his night-time land- and cityscapes dominated by shades of blue. Towards the end of his life, from about 1904, he mainly painted male nudes. The earlier of these phases has caused him to sometimes be referred to as blåmålaren, “the blue-painter”. …

After 1904, when he had already achieved success with his Stockholm views, Jansson confessed to a friend that he felt absolutely exhausted and had no more wish to continue with what he had done until then. He stopped participating in exhibitions for several years and went over to figure painting. To combat the health issues he had suffered from since childhood, he became a diligent swimmer and winter bather, often visiting the navy bathhouse, where he found the new subjects for his paintings. He painted groups of sunbathing sailors, and young muscular nude men lifting weights or doing other physical exercises.

Art historians and critics have long avoided the issue of any possible homoerotic tendencies in this later phase of his art, but later studies (see Brummer 1999) have established that Jansson was in all probability homosexual and appears to have had a relationship with at least one of his models. His brother, Adrian Jansson, who was himself homosexual and survived Eugène by many years, burnt all his letters and many other papers, possibly to avoid scandal (homosexuality was illegal in Sweden until 1944).

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'The Vision (Orpheus Scene)' 1907

 

F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
The Vision (Orpheus Scene)
1907
Platinum print

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Guest, Venice' 1913

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Guest, Venice
1913
Oil on canvas
28.9 x 15 in
Woodstock Art Gallery, Woodstock, Ontario, gift of Lenora McCartney
Photo Credit: John Tamblyn

 

 

Florence Carlyle

Florence Carlyle (1864-1923) was a Canadian painter born in Ontario. Carlyle studied painting in Paris beginning in 1890, where she exhibited work at Paris Salons while gaining recognition in Canada and the United States – achievements unusual for women of her time. After Carlyle returned to Canada in 1896, she continued to exhibit widely and contributed artworks to major exhibitions and museum collections. Influenced by the French Barbizon School, Impressionism, and the work of fellow female painters, Carlyle was known for intimate, domestic scenes of middle-class women’s lives.

In 1911, Carlyle traveled to Italy and England, where she met Judith Hastings, who would become her lifelong companion and model. In 1913, Carlyle and Hastings settled in Yew Tree Cottage in East Sussex. The Guest, Venice shows Hastings and Carlyle in conversation at sunset in a scene dominated by warm reds and yellows. The women’s poses and gestures seem to reflect each other – Hastings, seated, invitingly pulls on a long necklace while Carlyle leans comfortably on a windowsill, their complimentary poses suggesting an intimate relationship. The Threshold depicts Hastings as a bride. In place of a groom, Hastings stands across from an empty chair and a vase of flowers, this absence perhaps a subtle allusion to her relationship with Carlyle.

The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930 is the first exhibition to display Carlyle’s artwork in the context of same-sex desire and relationships.

On view: Self Portrait, c. 1901, Oil on canvas; The Threshold, 1913, Oil on canvas; The Guest, Venice, 1913, Oil on canvas.

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923) 'The Threshold' 1913

 

Florence Carlyle (Canadian, 1864-1923)
The Threshold
1913
Oil on canvas
117 x 96.5cm

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954) 'Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]' 1920

 

Claude Cahun (French, 1894-1954)
Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged]
1920
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore

Claude Cahun (1894-1954) was a French photographer and writer known for works created in collaboration with their artistic and life partner Marcel Moore (1892-1972), an illustrator for magazines and avant-garde dance and theatre productions. Both artists adopted androgynous names in the 1910s and lived together in Paris by the early 1920s. In Paris, Cahun made theatrical and surrealist self-portraits, often dressing in masculine clothing with a shaved head or short-cropped hair and in elaborate costume, makeup, or masks.

Although Cahun considered themself a surrealist, and their images and writings presaged the 1924 Surrealist Manifesto, they were not aways readily accepted by Surrealist circles who celebrated images of women but rejected female artists. Despite this, many surrealists held Cahun in high regard, including Andre Breton, who recognised Cahun as, “one of the most curious spirits of our time.” Cahun’s 1930 surrealist autobiographical text Aveux non avenus combines non-linear stories and ideas with photomontages and self-portraits. In this text, Cahun also draws connections between their gender-fluid self-portraiture and identity, declaring that “neuter is the only gender that invariably suits me.”

On view: Illustration for Vues et Visions, 1919, Exhibition print; Untitled [Self portrait in profile, sitting cross legged], 1920, Exhibition print.

 

Anonymous photographer (France). 'Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]' c. 1903

 

Anonymous photographer (France)
Untitled [Two Black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage]
c. 1903
Print, 5.5 x 3.5 in
Wellcome Collection

 

 

Charles Gregory and Jack Brown

Charles Gregory and Jack Brown were American performing artists credited with introducing the wildly popular Cake-Walk dance to Paris in 1902. The Cake-Walk, which often featured gaudy and ostentatious costumes worn by both men and women, began as a parody of the European “Grand March” performed by Black enslaved people on antebellum Southern plantations. Although the dance was originally performed by and for Black communities, the Cake-Walk became popular with white slaveholders as well, who incorporated the dance into minstrel shows where it would be performed in blackface.

In the late 19th century, the Cake Walk took off as a dance craze, in the United States and Europe. Around the same time, the dance was also adopted by the underground Black queer community. William Dorsey Swann, the first self-proclaimed “queen of drag”, held the first drag balls in Washington, D.C., which featured Cake-Walk dances performed by men in women’s clothing. Drag balls went on to become a mainstay of Black queer and trans expression, becoming popular during the Harlem Renaissance and later in Chicago, Detroit, New Orleans, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, and San Francisco. This film of Jack Brown and Charles Gregory is the first extant drag film, produced by those famed early innovators in cinema, the Lumière Brothers.

On view: Unknown artist, Le cake-walk. Dansé au Nouveau Cirque. Les nègres [Two black actors, Charles Gregory and Jack Brown, one in drag, dancing the Cake-Walk in Paris], 1903, Exhibition print; Untitled [Two black actors (Charles Gregory and Jack Brown), one in drag, dance together on stage], c. 1903, Exhibition print; Auguste and Louis Lumière, Nègres, [I], c. 1902-1903, Digital reproduction of film.

 

 

Nègres, [I] (1903) Lumière [incomplete]

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Venus and Amor' Nd

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Venus and Amor
Nd
Oil on canvas
81 by 116cm (31 3/4 by 45 3/4in.)

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940) 'Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)' 1929

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe)
1929
Watercolour on paper
20.8 x 26.9 in
The Shin Collection, New York
Image Courtesy of Shin Gallery, New York

 

 

Gerda Wegener and Lili Elbe

Gerda Wegener (1885-1940) and Lili Elbe (1882-1931) were Danish artists active in the early 20th century. The two met while students at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where Elbe was known by her birth name Einar Wegener. The couple married in 1904 and both worked as artists. Wegener was known for her illustrations, including female same-sex erotica; Elbe produced landscape paintings.

Lili Elbe began to understand herself as a woman as early as 1904. In 1912, Elbe and Wegener moved from Copenhagen to Paris, where Elbe openly dressed and identified as a woman. Throughout their partnership, Elbe was a favoured muse of Wegener and modelled for many of her paintings, including Art Deco and Art Nouveau images of the independent “New Woman.” Many of Wegener’s images depict female characters in erotic or homosocial environments – in the case of Venus and Amor, feminine and androgynous figures populate an idyllic allegorical scene. In 1930, Elbe traveled to Germany for the first of four sex reassignment surgeries, which was completed under the supervision of physician Magnus Hirschfeld, who had coined the term “transsexual” in 1923. Elbe died from complications of a fourth surgery in 1931.

In 2000, David Ebershoff depicted Wegener and Elbe’s relationship in his book The Danish Girl, which was adapted into a film in 2015.

On view: Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener), An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles, 1917, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Reclining Nude (Lili Elbe), 1919, Watercolour; Gerda Wegener, Venus and Amor, c. 1920, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Ulla Poulsen (Ballerina), c. 1927, Oil on canvas; Gerda Wegener, Erotic Scene, Ink and watercolour on paper.

 

Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931) 'An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles' 1917

 

Lili Elbe (Einar Wegener) (Danish, 1882-1931)
An Autumn Day at Bassin de Flore at Versailles
1917
Oil on canvas
Height: 61cm (24 in); width: 81cm (31.8 in)

 

Gerda Wegener. 'The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana' Paris, 1927

 

Gerda Wegener (Danish, 1885-1940)
The Ballerina Ulla Poulsen in the Ballet Chopiniana
Paris, 1927
Oil on canvas

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Portrait of Cécile de Volanges' 1934

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Portrait of Cécile de Volanges
1934
Pencils on paper

 

 

Konstantin Somov

Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) was a Russian painter and a leading figure in the inter-disciplinary artistic movement and eponymous journal Mir iskusstva (World of Art), active from 1897 to the mid-1920s. Somov often depicted doll-like harlequin characters, women wearing masks, and French Rococo-style costume in his work. Some of these romantic or erotic compositions reference works by Aubrey Beardsley, an English illustrator who also evoked erotic masquerades in his artwork.

In Somov’s scenes, costumes often obscure the gender of couples engaging in romantic activity and reference an excessive game of love and emotion – a theme common to other artists associated with the Decadent movement and Russian Symbolism. Somov was also known for portraying women as ugly or masculine in images he described as encapsulating his frustration with his own same-sex attraction. Along with his erotic scenes, Somov painted male nudes and portraits of his close friends and partners. Somov also adopted the rainbow as a reference to homosexuality via the story of the biblical flood, in which the rainbow represents absolution and acceptance after divine punishment for corporeal sin.

On view: Standing Male Model from Back, 1896, Crayons and sauce-crayon on paper; A Shepard and a Dog, 1898, Exhibition print; Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks), 1910, Watercolours and whitewash on paper; Les Tribades illustration for Le Livre de la Marquise, Watercolours and zincography on paper; Landscape with Rainbows, 1915, Oil on canvas; Portrait of Cécile de Volanges, 1917, Pencils on paper.

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939) 'Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)' 1910

 

Konstantin Somov (Russian, 1869-1939)
Pierrot and Lady (The Fireworks)
1910
Watercolours and whitewash on paper
46 × 35cm

 

Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944) 'Nude with a light bulb' c. 1935

 

Lionel Wendt (Sri Lankan, 1900-1944)
Nude with a light bulb
c. 1935
Gelatin silver print

 

 

Lionel Wendt

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) was a photographer, pianist, critic, and filmmaker born in Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka) to a Burgher father and a Sinhalese mother. As a young man, Wendt traveled to London, where he studied music and earned a law degree. In 1924, Wendt returned to Ceylon and became associated with prominent artists including Geoffrey Beyling, Ivan Peries, and George Keyt, with whom he founded the 43 Group. Recognised as the first modern art group in Ceylon, the 43 Group promoted artwork that departed from academic style and colonial tradition in favour of free expression.

Wendt is known for his photographs of Sinhalese subjects, documentation of indigenous ways of life, intimate portraits, and his experimental images, which deployed techniques the artist observed in Surrealist photography. Some of these images use photography to complicate the act of viewing or trouble the cohesion of Wendt’s subject. For example, Wendt’s Nude with a light bulb (c. 1935) deals with the concept of exposure in multiple registers. The image’s composition alternately exposes the male body and refuses identification, perhaps commenting on the alternately public and private nature of homosexuality. The image also references the techniques of photography itself; a single lightbulb literally exposes a domestic interior to reveal an assembly of jars, pitchers, and timer-tools; items often present in a dark room where a photographer makes an “exposure” of a negative to produce a print.

On view: Nude with a light bulb, c. 1935, Gelatin silver print.

 

Circle of Eakins. 'Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude' c. 1883

 

Circle of Eakins
Thomas Eakins and students, swimming nude
c. 1883
Platinum print
8 15/16 x 11 1/16 in. (22.7 x 28.1cm)
Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Philadelphia
Charles Bregler’s Thomas Eakins Collection, purchased with the partial support of the Pew Memorial Trust

 

 

Thomas Cowperthwait Eakins (July 25, 1844 – June 25, 1916) was an American realist painter, photographer, sculptor, and fine arts educator. He is widely acknowledged to be one of the most important American artists.

For the length of his professional career, from the early 1870s until his health began to fail some 40 years later, Eakins worked exactingly from life, choosing as his subject the people of his hometown of Philadelphia. He painted several hundred portraits, usually of friends, family members, or prominent people in the arts, sciences, medicine, and clergy. Taken en masse, the portraits offer an overview of the intellectual life of contemporary Philadelphia; individually, they are incisive depictions of thinking persons.

In addition, Eakins produced a number of large paintings that brought the portrait out of the drawing room and into the offices, streets, parks, rivers, arenas, and surgical amphitheaters of his city. These active outdoor venues allowed him to paint the subject that most inspired him: the nude or lightly clad figure in motion. In the process, he could model the forms of the body in full sunlight, and create images of deep space utilising his studies in perspective. Eakins also took a keen interest in the new technologies of motion photography, a field in which he is now seen as an innovator.

No less important in Eakins’ life was his work as a teacher. As an instructor he was a highly influential presence in American art. The difficulties which beset him as an artist seeking to paint the portrait and figure realistically were paralleled and even amplified in his career as an educator, where behavioural and sexual scandals truncated his success and damaged his reputation.

Eakins was a controversial figure whose work received little by way of official recognition during his lifetime. Since his death, he has been celebrated by American art historians as “the strongest, most profound realist in nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century American art”. …

The Swimming Hole (1884-1885) features Eakins’ finest studies of the nude, in his most successfully constructed outdoor picture. The figures are those of his friends and students, and include a self-portrait. Although there are photographs by Eakins which relate to the painting, the picture’s powerful pyramidal composition and sculptural conception of the individual bodies are completely distinctive pictorial resolutions. The work was painted on commission, but was refused.

In the late 1890s Eakins returned to the male figure, this time in a more urban setting. Taking the Count (1896), a painting of a prizefight, was his second largest canvas, but not his most successful composition. The same may be said of Wrestlers (1899). More successful was Between Rounds (1899), for which boxer Billy Smith posed seated in his corner at Philadelphia’s Arena; in fact, all the principal figures were posed by models re-enacting what had been an actual fight. Salutat (1898), a frieze-like composition in which the main figure is isolated, “is one of Eakins’ finest achievements in figure-painting.” …

 

Personal life and marriage

The nature of Eakins’ sexuality and its impact on his art is a matter of intense scholarly debate. Strong circumstantial evidence points to discussion during Eakins’s lifetime that he had homosexual leanings, and there is little doubt that he was attracted to men, as evidenced in his photography, and three major paintings where male buttocks are a focal point: The Gross Clinic, Salutat, and The Swimming Hole. The last, in which Eakins appears, is increasingly seen as sensuous and autobiographical.

Until recently, major Eakins scholars persistently denied he was homosexual, and such discussion was marginalised. While there is still no consensus, today discussion of homoerotic desire plays a large role in Eakins scholarship. The discovery of a large trove of Eakins’ personal papers in 1984 has also driven reassessment of his life.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Salutat, Between Rounds (a portion of which was executed separately as Billy Smith) and Taking the Count are a series of three large boxing paintings done by Eakins. The former two depict events surrounding a boxing match that took place on April 22, 1898. Featherweight Tim Callahan fought featherweight Billy Smith in a match that was close until the final round, when Callahan gained the advantage and won the fight. However, for Salutat, Eakins chose to depict Smith as the winner. In the work, Smith raises his hand to salute the audience, in the style of a gladiator. On the painting’s original frame Eakins carved the words “DEXTRA VICTRICE CONCLAMANTES SALVTAT” (With the victorious right hand, he salutes those shouting [their approval]).

As with a number of other Eakins works, the rendering of the figures is extremely precise, such that it has allowed art historians to identify individual members of the audience. While working on the boxing pictures, friends would visit the studio, and Eakins invited them to “stay a while and I’ll put you in the picture.” For Salutat, audience members include Eakins’s friend Louis Kenton (wearing eyeglasses and a bow tie), sportswriter Clarence Cranmer (wearing a bowler hat), David Jordan (brother of Letitia Wilson Jordan, whom Eakins painted in Portrait of Letitia Wilson Jordan), photographer Louis Husson (next to Jordan), Eakins’s student Samuel Murray, and Eakins’s father Benjamin Eakins.

Smith is bathed in soft white light, which illuminates his muscles. Amid a general tonality of warm greys and browns that contains no strong chromatic notes, the skin tones of the three main figures are pale. All three men have the quality of relief sculpture, and with Smith’s figure separate from those of his seconds, they appear to move across the canvas in an arrangement reminiscent of a frieze.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916) 'Salutat' 1898

 

Thomas Eakins (American, 1844-1916)
Salutat
1898
Oil on canvas
50 in. x 40 in. (127 cm x 101.6cm)
Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts, gift of anonymous donor
Replica of Thomas Eakins’ original frame created and given as a partial gift by Eli Wilner & Company with the additional support of Maureen Barden and David Othmer

 

 

Katz told Windy City Times that being defined as a homosexual “was both a gift and a problem” for queer people during those years, depending on how the word affected their daily lives. For some, it clarified who they were and that was a benefit to them while for others their sexual possibilities were limited otherwise people would define them as a homosexual.

“The reason this is important is previously same-sex desire was understood not as a noun but as a verb,” said Katz. “It was something you did, not something you are. What we are trying to do is assess what happens after the identity category was created and a group of people fell under that name. The important theoretical point I am trying to make is that as language grew increasingly strict and binary, the menu of sexual and gender possibilities that was open to everybody grew increasingly constricted. What resulted out of that is as language became increasingly impoverished regarding sexuality and gender, art took up the slack. Art started to represent all sorts of sexual possibilities that language could no longer understand or name.” …

“These works will be looked at not just in the Euro-American frame, but in a global frame,” said Katz. “We are also assessing how, for example, following the lines of colonial domination European ideas were imposed over more local sexual definitions and names. What we have really is the first imaging of the first homosexuals. What is remarkable about this is some of these are among the most famous paintings among the most famous painters in their respective regions, but they have not been gathered under this rubric. The images are known, they just have not been interpreted in this way.” …

“This show resolutely demonstrates that we, as queer people, have a history, too – a rich, complex history that has been left out of the prevailing accounts of art history,” said Willis. “Too often we hear the accusation that queer, trans, and non-binary identities are something ‘new,’ and thus something without a history. The exhibition shuts down any such allegation, resurfacing this ‘lost’ generation of modern LGBTQ ancestry.” …

“I think this exhibition will begin to open up or underscore the way in which our language of binaries is way too delimited and poor of frame to understand the complexities of human behavior,” said Katz. “What this show does, and what art is great at because it does not have to use language, is depict all these variations. You will see therefore a range of possibilities of gender and sexual desire that our language does not have words for.”

Carrie Maxwell. “Jonathan D. Katz previews his upcoming ‘First Homosexuals’ exhibit,” on the Windy City Times website 17th September 2022 [Online] Cited 05/11/2022

 

Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927) 'Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac' 1883

 

Louise Abbéma (French, 1853-1927)
Sarah Bernhardt et Louise Abbéma sur un lac
1883
Oil on canvas
63 x 82.7 x 1.2 in (framed)
Collections Comédie-Française

 

 

Louise Abbéma (30 October 1853 – 29 July 1927) was a French painter, sculptor, and designer of the Belle Époque. …

She was a regular exhibitor at the Paris Salon, where she received an honourable mention for her panels in 1881. Abbéma was also among the female artists whose works were exhibited in the Women’s Building at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. A bust Sarah Bernhardt sculpted of Abbéma was also exhibited at the exposition.

Abbéma specialised in oil portraits and watercolours, and many of her works showed the influence from Chinese and Japanese painters, as well as contemporary masters such as Édouard Manet. She frequently depicted flowers in her works. Among her best-known works are The Seasons, April Morning, Place de la Concorde, Among the Flowers, Winter, and portraits of actress Jeanne Samary, Emperor Dom Pedro II of Brazil, Ferdinand de Lesseps, and Charles Garnier. …

 

New Woman

As educational opportunities were made more available in the 19th century, women artists became part of professional enterprises, including founding their own art associations. Artwork made by women was considered to be inferior, and to help overcome that stereotype women became “increasingly vocal and confident” in promoting women’s work, and thus became part of the emerging image of the educated, modern and freer “New Woman”. Artists then, “played crucial roles in representing the New Woman, both by drawing images of the icon and exemplifying this emerging type through their own lives,” including Abbéma who created androgynous self-portraits to “link intellectual life through emphasis on ocularity”. Many other portraits included androgynously dressed women, and women participating in intellectual and other pastimes traditionally associated with men.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943) 'Berlin Ante War' 1914

 

Marsden Hartley (American, 1877-1943)
Berlin Ante War
1914
Oil on canvas with painted wood frame
34 x 43 in.
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio: gift of Ferdinand Howald

 

“Berlin Ante War” (1914), or “Prewar,” explores the profound impact the city had on the artist.

 

 

Marsden Hartley (January 4, 1877 – September 2, 1943) was an American Modernist painter, poet, and essayist. Hartley developed his painting abilities by observing Cubist artists in Paris and Berlin. …

 

German sympathies

In April 1913 Hartley relocated to Berlin, the capital of the German Empire where he continued to paint, and became friends with the painters Wassily Kandinsky and Franz Marc. He also collected Bavarian folk art. His work during this period was a combination of abstraction and German Expressionism, fuelled by his personal brand of mysticism. Many of Hartley’s Berlin paintings were further inspired by the German military pageantry then on display, though his view of this subject changed after the outbreak of World War I, once war was no longer “a romantic but a real reality”.

Two of Hartley’s Cézanne-inspired still life paintings and six charcoal drawings were selected to be included in the landmark 1913 Armory Show in New York.

In Berlin, Hartley developed a close relationship with a Prussian lieutenant, Karl von Freyburg, who was the cousin of Hartley’s friend Arnold Ronnebeck. References to Freyburg were a recurring motif in Hartley’s work, most notably in Portrait of a German Officer (1914). Freyburg’s subsequent death during the war hit Hartley hard, and he afterward idealised their relationship. Many scholars interpreted his work regarding Freyburg as embodying homosexual feelings for him. Hartley lived in Berlin until December 1915.

Hartley returned to the U.S. from Berlin as a German sympathiser following World War I. Hartley created paintings with much German iconography. The homoerotic tones were overlooked as critics focused on the German point of view. According to Arthur Lubow, Hartley was disingenuous in arguing that there was “no hidden symbolism whatsoever”. …

Hartley was not overt about his homosexuality, often redirecting attention towards other aspects of his work. Works such as Portrait of a German Officer and Handsome Drinks are coded. The compositions honour lovers, friends, and inspirational sources. Hartley no longer felt unease at what people thought of his work once he reached his sixties. His figure paintings of athletic, muscular males, often nude or garbed only in briefs or thongs, became more intimate, such as Flaming American (Swim Champ), 1940 or Madawaska – Acadian Light-Heavy – Second Arrangement (both from 1940). As with Hartley’s German officer paintings, his late paintings of virile males are now assessed in terms of his affirmation of his homosexuality.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978) 'Bathers at the Pond' 1920-1921

 

Duncan Grant (British, 1885-1978)
Bathers at the Pond
1920-1921
Oil on canvas
35 x 19 in.
© Estate of Duncan Grant. All rights reserved, DACS London / ARS, New York

 

 

Duncan James Corrowr Grant (21 January 1885 – 8 May 1978) was a British painter and designer of textiles, pottery, theatre sets and costumes. He was a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

 

Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947) 'Friends (Double Portrait)' [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders] 1922-1923

 

Frances Hodgkins (New Zealand, 1869-1947)
Friends (Double Portrait) [Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders]
1922-1923
Oil on canvas
24 x 30.3 in.
Hocken Collections, Uare Taoka o Hākena, University of Otago

 

 

Frances Mary Hodgkins (28 April 1869 – 13 May 1947) was a New Zealand painter chiefly of landscape and still life, and for a short period was a designer of textiles. She was born and raised in New Zealand, but spent most of her working life in England. She is considered one of New Zealand’s most prestigious and influential painters, although it is the work from her life in Europe, rather than her home country, on which her reputation rests.

Hannah Ritchie and Jane Saunders were artists and taught art at the Manchester Girls High School. They were friends and supporters of artist Frances Hodgkins.

 

There is in Hodgkins’s life, however, evidence of an unconventional existence, supported, populated, and propelled by a roll call of LGBTQI+ people, including: Jane Saunders, Hannah Ritchie, Amy Krause, Dorothy Selby, Arthur Lett Haines, Cedric Morris, Norman Notley, David Brynley, Geoffrey Gorer, Christopher Wood, Philip and Lady Ottoline Morrell, Duncan Grant … and many more. While this is not proof that Hodgkins was a lesbian (if that should even be necessary), it signals an openness to a queer world – its people and their relationships – that makes for a fascinating investigation. …

In the early-to-mid-1920s, she lived off and on with lesbian partners Jane Saunders and Hannah Ritchie. These were desperate years for Hodgkins. Ritchie and Saunders housed and fed her, and gave her financial support in the form of an allowance. When Hodgkins was seriously thinking of returning to New Zealand, they gave her reason to stay in the United Kingdom. …

Ritchie and Saunders, both students of Hodgkins since 1911 and 1912, drew her into their milieu of influential literary and artistic friends. Their network included Forrest Hewit, chairman of the Calico Printers’ Association who helped her secure a job as a designer on a salary of £500 a year. The job-offer came just a month before Hodgkins was due to return home to New Zealand and changed the course of her life forever.

Joanne Drayton. “Frances Hodgkins: A portrait of queer love,” on the Te Papa Tongarewa website Nd [Online] Cited 06/11/2022

 

Unknown photographer. 'Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden' c. 1925

 

Unknown photographer
Hannah Richie, Frances Hodgkins, and Jane Saunders seated in a garden
c. 1925
Cellulose triacetate copy negative
12.5 x 10cm
National Library of New Zealand

Please note: Photograph not in exhibition

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Berlin Ante War by Mardsen Hartley.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses Salutat by Thomas Eakins.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.
Introductory clip: A Representation of Loïe Fuller and her “Serpentine Dance” produced by Pathé Frères in 1905.

 

 

Curator of The First Homosexuals: Global Depictions of a New Identity, 1869-1930, Jonathan D. Katz, discusses the work of Louise Abbéma.
Videography by Steve Rosofsky.

 

 

Wrightwood 659
659 W. Wrightwood
Chicago, IL 60614

Opening hours:
Friday 12 – 7pm
Saturday 10am – 5pm

Wrightwood 659 website

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26
Nov
22

Exhibition: ‘Baldwin Lee’ at Joseph Bellows Gallery, La Jolla, California

Exhibition dates: 22nd October – 10th December 2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

“The work of two contemporary photographers, Bill Brandt of England and the American, Walker Evans, have influenced me. When I first looked at Walker Evans’ photographs, I thought of something Malraux wrote: “To transform destiny into awareness.” One is embarrassed to want so much for oneself. But, how else are you going to justify your failure and your effort?”

.
Robert Frank, ‘U.S. Camera Annual’, 1958, p. 115

 

 

In terms of training as a photographer, Baldwin Lee couldn’t have done much better than study with those two photographic greats, Minor White and Walker Evans. His work is suffused with their glow, especially the influence of Walker Evans. Lee’s works continues that wonderful tradition of documenting with frankness, things that are placed before the lens. In his photographs of “Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature”, Lee responds with understanding and a “a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity” to the plight of the lower echelons of American society, in work that “exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past.” And though his photographs he tries to transform the destiny (of a race) into awareness (of their plight).

“In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South.” Lee received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1984, and a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in 1984 and 1987 to continue his project until the end of the decade. The resultant photographs show “attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots” … “Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs.”

At their best, Lee’s photographs (such as Vicksburg, Mississippi, 1983 above) have an incisive presence which illuminates the human condition through a revelation of spirit, the spirit of a people with the strength to survive and flourish against the forces of tyranny, discrimination and oppression. The proud stare of the child, the placement in of his hands, his large belt buckle, and the attitude of the father make this photograph a masterpiece of observation and composition. Other powerful photographs such as New Orleans, Louisiana (1984, below), Columbia, South Carolina (1984, below), Valdosta, Georgia (1984, below) and Valdosta, Georgia (1986, below) intimately capture the inter-generational strength that courses through generations of survivors – survivors of life, of hardship, of disenfranchisement. And then we must place those portraits in a historical context for their wider import to be understood: Vicksburg, Mississippi and its political and racial unrest after the Civil War; Montgomery, Alabama and the bus boycott that changed a nation; Mobile, Alabama and its race riots during the Second World War and the desegregation of the school system in 1964. And so it still goes…

Other photographs, such as Montgomery, Alabama (1984, below), Lula, Mississippi (1984, below), Natchez, Mississippi (1984, below) and Garnett, South Carolina (1985, below) are an extension of the work of Walker Evans. They really have no signature of the individual artist but continue the tradition, the story, of documentary photography in America. In the camera magazines of the mid- 60s to mid- 70s the photographer who was published would also have a small image check-list in the last pages of the magazine with technical information – aperture / developer / paper etc… Instead, for these pages, Minor White would say: “For technical information, the camera was faithfully used.” And one could imagine this artist saying the same thing, for there are no attempts at obfuscation or anything that would alter the intensity of his vision.

Of the remaining photographs in the posting… I have rather ambivalent feelings about them. All of the photographs possess a calmness and quietness to them, have balanced (perhaps too balanced) composition, but some leave me feeling rather cold. It’s almost as if I am looking at a “scene” from reality, rather than reality itself. Much like Edward S. Curtis and his storytelling of the First Nations peoples, that is, the myth that he wanted to tell of a “vanishing race” – some of Lee’s photographs are too staged, to constructed by the photographer that real life gets put in the deep freeze. A good example of this is the photograph Canton, Mississippi (1985, below). Imagine the time it would have taken Lee to set up his large format camera, to check the light, to focus the ground glass, and then to place the figures in such a deliberate arrangement. Did the subjects have a say in how they wanted to be portrayed? With this arrangement, especially the figure at left with her hand in the air, I suspect not… it’s all just so stilted and unmoving, particularly the spacing between the figures. Certainly, in this one particular photograph, the image does not balance photographer’s presence and the subject’s will. It’s a story that the photographer wants to tell in a particular way.

Other photographs teeter either side of this line, between seemingly spontaneous and obviously staged compositions. I don’t believe Vicksburg, Mississippi (1984, below) whereas I do feel Walls, Mississippi (1984, below), mainly because of the to stiff pose of the standing boy in the former and the languid pose and look of the girl in the latter. I believe in the direct stares of the children in Boyle, Mississippi (1985, below) and yet in the photograph below (Columbia, South Carolina 1984, below), that trust is dissolved. It is so difficult with a large format camera to stop the images becoming a facsimile of real life… something that appeals to the direction of the photographer but is a creation of their imagination, not a portrait of the real life of the subjects. In other words, the images do not go into that world with equal drama (usually the feeling is modified by Walker Evans directness), for there is a range of using this “drama” trope.

Here I am not appealing for something close to Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment” for that is almost impossible with a large format camera, but rather something more akin to the work of Minor White than that of Walker Evans – more a revelation of spirit rather than a humanist “family of man”. As with any portrait, whether it is in the objective but slightly surreal portraits by August Sander or the dynamic exposures by Diane Arbus, it is the ability of the photographer to reveal the Self behind the mask that creates memorable portraits.

This is why Lee’s photograph Vicksburg, Mississippi 1983 stands head and shoulders above all the other photographs in this posting. The portrait challenges our preconceptions of what is it to live this life, to be Black in America, and with fierce resolve that echoes down through the generations, it says, we will survive and flourish… for we are whole and free.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
PS. Sometimes we say something about an image which is “after the case” of its place in the world. Knowing the boundaries of when this stops and starts is the big challenge…

.
Many thankx to Joseph Bellows Gallery for allowing me to publish the photograph in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Vicksburg, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Vicksburg, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Vicksburg, Mississippi

Civil War

During the American Civil War, the city finally surrendered during the Siege of Vicksburg, after which the Union Army gained control of the entire Mississippi River. The 47-day siege was intended to starve the city into submission. Its location atop a high bluff overlooking the Mississippi River proved otherwise impregnable to assault by federal troops. The surrender of Vicksburg by Confederate General John C. Pemberton on July 4, 1863, together with the defeat of General Robert E. Lee at Gettysburg the day before, has historically marked the turning point of the Civil War in the Union’s favour.

From the surrender of Vicksburg until the end of the war in 1865, the area was under Union military occupation. The Confederate president, Jefferson Davis, was based at his family plantation at Brierfield, just south of the city.

 

Political and racial unrest after Civil War

In the first few years after the Civil War, white Confederate veterans developed the Ku Klux Klan, beginning in Tennessee; it had chapters throughout the South and attacked freedmen and their supporters. It was suppressed about 1870. By the mid-1870s, new white paramilitary groups had arisen in the Deep South, including the Red Shirts [white supremacist paramilitary terrorist groups that were active in the late 19th century] in Mississippi, as whites struggled to regain political and social power over the black majority. Elections were marked by violence and fraud as white Democrats worked to suppress black Republican voting.

In August 1874, a black sheriff, Peter Crosby, was elected in Vicksburg. Letters by a white planter, Batchelor, detail the preparations of whites for what he described as a “race war,” including acquisition of the newest guns, Winchester 16 mm. On December 7, 1874, white men disrupted a black Republican meeting celebrating Crosby’s victory and held him in custody before running him out of town. He advised blacks from rural areas to return home; along the way, some were attacked by armed whites. During the next several days, armed white mobs swept through black areas, killing other men at home or out in the fields. Sources differ as to total fatalities, with 29-50 blacks and 2 whites reported dead at the time. Twenty-first-century historian Emilye Crosby estimates that 300 blacks were killed in the city and the surrounding area of Claiborne County, Mississippi. The Red Shirts were active in Vicksburg and other Mississippi areas, and black pleas to the federal government for protection were not met.

At the request of Republican Governor Adelbert Ames, who had left the state during the violence, President Ulysses S. Grant sent federal troops to Vicksburg in January 1875. In addition, a congressional committee investigated what was called the “Vicksburg Riot” at the time (and reported as the “Vicksburg Massacre” by northern newspapers.) They took testimony from both black and white residents, as reported by the New York Times, but no one was ever prosecuted for the deaths. The Red Shirts and other white insurgents suppressed Republican voting by both whites and blacks; smaller-scale riots were staged in the state up to the 1875 elections, at which time white Democrats regained control of a majority of seats in the state legislature.

Under new constitutions, amendments and laws passed between 1890 in Mississippi and 1908 in the remaining southern states, white Democrats disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites by creating barriers to voter registration, such as poll taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses. They passed laws imposing Jim Crow [laws enforcing racial segregation in the Southern United States] and racial segregation of public facilities.

 

20th century to present

The exclusion of most blacks from the political system lasted for decades until after Congressional passage of civil rights legislation in the mid-1960s. Lynchings of blacks and other forms of white racial terrorism against them continued to occur in Vicksburg after the start of the 20th century. In May 1903, for instance, two black men charged with murdering a planter were taken from jail by a mob of 200 farmers and lynched before they could go to trial. In May 1919, as many as a thousand white men broke down three sets of steel doors to abduct, hang, burn and shoot a black prisoner, Lloyd Clay, who was falsely accused of raping a white woman. From 1877 to 1950 in Warren County, 14 African Americans were lynched by whites, most in the decades near the turn of the century…

Particularly after World War II, in which many blacks served, returning veterans began to be active in the civil rights movement, wanting to have full citizenship after fighting in the war. In Mississippi, activists in the Vicksburg Movement became prominent during the 1960s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Montgomery, Alabama' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Montgomery, Alabama
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Montgomery, Alabama

In the post-World War II era, returning African-American veterans were among those who became active in pushing to regain their civil rights in the South: to be allowed to vote and participate in politics, to freely use public places, to end segregation. According to the historian David Beito of the University of Alabama, African Americans in Montgomery “nurtured the modern civil rights movement.” African Americans comprised most of the customers on the city buses, but were forced to give up seats and even stand in order to make room for whites. On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to give up her bus seat to a white man, sparking the Montgomery bus boycott. Martin Luther King Jr., then the pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church, and E.D. Nixon, a local civil rights advocate, founded the Montgomery Improvement Association to organise the boycott. In June 1956, the US District Court Judge Frank M. Johnson ruled that Montgomery’s bus racial segregation was unconstitutional. After the US Supreme Court upheld the ruling in November, the city desegregated the bus system, and the boycott was ended.

In separate action, integrated teams of Freedom Riders rode South on interstate buses. In violation of federal law and the constitution, bus companies had for decades acceded to state laws and required passengers to occupy segregated seating in Southern states. Opponents of the push for integration organised mob violence at stops along the Freedom Ride. In Montgomery, there was police collaboration when a white mob attacked Freedom Riders at the Greyhound Bus Station in May 1961. Outraged national reaction resulted in the enforcement of desegregation of interstate public transportation.

Martin Luther King Jr. returned to Montgomery in 1965. Local civil rights leaders in Selma had been protesting Jim Crow laws and practices that raised barriers to blacks registering to vote. Following the shooting of a man after a civil rights rally, the leaders decided to march to Montgomery to petition Governor George Wallace to allow free voter registration. The violence they encountered from county and state highway police outraged the country. The federal government ordered National Guard and troops to protect the marchers. Thousands more joined the marchers on the way to Montgomery, and an estimated 25,000 marchers entered the capital to press for voting rights. These actions contributed to Congressional passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to authorise federal supervision and enforcement of the rights of African Americans and other minorities to vote.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Montgomery bus boycott

The Montgomery bus boycott was a political and social protest campaign against the policy of racial segregation on the public transit system of Montgomery, Alabama. It was a foundational event in the civil rights movement in the United States. The campaign lasted from December 5, 1955 – the Monday after Rosa Parks, an African-American woman, was arrested for her refusal to surrender her seat to a white person – to December 20, 1956, when the federal ruling Browder v. Gayle took effect, and led to a United States Supreme Court decision that declared the Alabama and Montgomery laws that segregated buses were unconstitutional. …

 

Background

Before the bus boycott, Jim Crow laws mandated the racial segregation of the Montgomery Bus Line. As a result of this segregation, African Americans were not hired as drivers, were forced to ride in the back of the bus, and were frequently ordered to surrender their seats to white people even though black passengers made up 75% of the bus system’s riders. Many bus drivers treated their black passengers poorly beyond the law: African-Americans were assaulted, shortchanged, and left stranded after paying their fares.

The year before the bus boycott began, the Supreme Court decided unanimously, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education, that racial segregation in schools was unconstitutional. The reaction by the white population of the Deep South was “noisy and stubborn”. Many white bus drivers joined the White Citizens’ Council as a result of the decision.

Although it is often framed as the start of the civil rights movement, the boycott occurred at the end of many black communities’ struggles in the South to protect black women, such as Recy Taylor, from racial violence. The boycott also took place within a larger statewide and national movement for civil rights, including court cases such as Morgan v. Virginia, the earlier Baton Rouge bus boycott, and the arrest of Claudette Colvin for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus. …

 

History

Under the system of segregation used on Montgomery buses, the ten front seats were reserved for white people at all times. The ten back seats were supposed to be reserved for black people at all times. The middle section of the bus consisted of sixteen unreserved seats for white and black people on a segregated basis.[22] White people filled the middle seats from the front to back, and black people filled seats from the back to front until the bus was full. If other black people boarded the bus, they were required to stand. If another white person boarded the bus, then everyone in the black row nearest the front had to get up and stand so that a new row for white people could be created; it was illegal for white and black people to sit next to each other. When Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat for a white person, she was sitting in the first row of the middle section.

Often when boarding the buses, black people were required to pay at the front, get off, and reenter the bus through a separate door at the back. Occasionally, bus drivers would drive away before black passengers were able to reboard. National City Lines owned the Montgomery Bus Line at the time of the Montgomery bus boycott. Under the leadership of Walter Reuther, the United Auto Workers donated almost $5,000 (equivalent to $51,000 in 2021) to the boycott’s organising committee.

 

Boycott

See the full details of the bus boycott on the Wikipedia website

 

Aftermath

White backlash against the court victory was quick, brutal, and, in the short term, effective. Two days after the inauguration of desegregated seating, someone fired a shotgun through the front door of Martin Luther King’s home. A day later, on Christmas Eve, white men attacked a black teenager as she exited a bus. Four days after that, two buses were fired upon by snipers. In one sniper incident, a pregnant woman was shot in both legs. On January 10, 1957, bombs destroyed five black churches and the home of Reverend Robert S. Graetz, one of the few white Montgomerians who had publicly sided with the MIA.

The City suspended bus service for several weeks on account of the violence. According to legal historian Randall Kennedy, “When the violence subsided and service was restored, many black Montgomerians enjoyed their newly recognised right only abstractly … In practically every other setting, Montgomery remained overwhelmingly segregated …” On January 23, a group of Klansmen (who would later be charged for the bombings) lynched a black man, Willie Edwards, on the pretext that he was dating a white woman.

The city’s elite moved to strengthen segregation in other areas, and in March 1957 passed an ordinance making it “unlawful for white and colored persons to play together, or, in company with each other … in any game of cards, dice, dominoes, checkers, pool, billiards, softball, basketball, baseball, football, golf, track, and at swimming pools, beaches, lakes or ponds or any other game or games or athletic contests, either indoors or outdoors.”

Later in the year, Montgomery police charged seven Klansmen with the bombings, but all of the defendants were acquitted. About the same time, the Alabama Supreme Court ruled against Martin Luther King’s appeal of his “illegal boycott” conviction. Rosa Parks left Montgomery due to death threats and employment blacklisting. According to Charles Silberman, “by 1963, most Negroes in Montgomery had returned to the old custom of riding in the back of the bus.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Shreveport, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Shreveport, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Walls, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Walls, Mississippi
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Lula, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Lula, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Helena, Arkansas' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Helena, Arkansas
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Natchez, Mississippi' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Natchez, Mississippi
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming exhibition, Baldwin Lee. The exhibition will open with a reception for the artist on Saturday, the 22nd of October, from 4 – 6pm, and continue through December 10th. This will be the second solo exhibition of the photographer’s work presented by Joseph Bellows Gallery. The gallery first showcased Lee’s epic project online, from April 18th – June 26, 2020.

The upcoming show will present a remarkable selection of vintage prints from this critically acclaimed and highly celebrated body of work taken within Black communities in the South, that began in 1983, and continued throughout that decade. The resulting collection of images from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives taken with a 4 x 5-inch view camera. Lee’s graceful pictures from this project perfectly balance the photographer’s presence and the subject’s will, honouring both through the resulting, beautifully printed 16 x 20-inch black-and-white photographs. The esteemed photography curator Joshua Chuang has noted that, “The pictures stand apart, not because they are depictions of Black subjects by a first-generation Chinese-American, but because they were made by a photographer of rare perception and instinct.”

Baldwin Lee studied photography with Minor White at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in 1972. Lee then continued his education at Yale University, where he studied with Walker Evans. He received a Master of Fine Arts in 1975. After school, Lee began teaching photography at the Massachusetts College of Art and then at Yale, while creating his own photographs, which at the time were rooted in the exploration of the contemporary built environment. Lee’s later work from the early to late-1980s entitled, Black Americans in the South (from which this exhibition is drawn), is a compelling and empathic portrait that represents its subjects within their rural environments, expressing the joys of childhood, the gravity of adult life, and the places in between. Images from Lee’s Southern work were featured in Aperture Magazine, Issue 115, ‘New Southern Photography: Between Myth and Reality’ (1989), and now form the newly published monograph, Baldwin Lee (Hunters Point Press, 2022).

Lee’s work has been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the Chrysler Museum of Art, the Knoxville Museum of Art, the Southeast Center for Contemporary Art, and the Museum of Contemporary Art of Georgia. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art, the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the University of Michigan Museum of Art, the University of Kentucky Art Museum, the Yale University Art Gallery, The Morgan Library, and the Museum of the City of New York. He has been honoured with fellowships from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation (1984) and the National Endowment for the Arts (1984 and 1990).

Text from the Joseph Bellows Gallery website [Online] Cited 28/10/2022

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Boyle, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Boyle, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Rosedale, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Rosedale, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Monroe, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Monroe, Louisiana
1985
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Mobile, Alabama' 1983

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Mobile, Alabama
1983
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Mobile, Alabama

20th century

The turn of the 20th century brought the Progressive Era to Mobile. The economic structure developed with new industries, generating new jobs and attracting a significant increase in population.[50] The population increased from around 40,000 in 1900 to 60,000 by 1920. During this time the city received $3 million in federal grants for harbour improvements to deepen the shipping channels. During and after World War I, manufacturing became increasingly vital to Mobile’s economic health, with shipbuilding and steel production being two of the most important industries.

During this time, social justice and race relations in Mobile worsened, however. The state passed a new constitution in 1901 that disenfranchised most blacks and many poor whites; and the white Democratic-dominated legislature passed other discriminatory legislation. In 1902, the city government passed Mobile’s first racial segregation ordinance, segregating the city streetcars. It legislated what had been informal practice, enforced by convention. Mobile’s African-American population responded to this with a two-month boycott, but the law was not repealed. After this, Mobile’s de facto segregation was increasingly replaced with legislated segregation as whites imposed Jim Crow laws to maintain supremacy.

In 1911 the city adopted a commission form of government, which had three members elected by at-large voting. Considered to be progressive, as it would reduce the power of ward bosses, this change resulted in the elite white majority strengthening its power, as only the majority could gain election of at-large candidates. In addition, poor whites and blacks had already been disenfranchised. Mobile was one of the last cities to retain this form of government, which prevented smaller groups from electing candidates of their choice. But Alabama’s white yeomanry had historically favoured single-member districts in order to elect candidates of their choice. …

A race riot broke out in May 1943 of whites against blacks. ADDSCO management had long maintained segregated conditions at the shipyards, although the Roosevelt administration had ordered defence contractors to integrate facilities. That year ADDSCO promoted 12 blacks to positions as welders, previously reserved for whites; and whites objected to the change by rioting on May 24. The mayor appealed to the governor to call in the National Guard to restore order, but it was weeks before officials allowed African Americans to return to work, keeping them away for their safety.

In the late 1940s, the transition to the postwar economy was hard for the city, as thousands of jobs were lost at the shipyards with the decline in the defence industry. Eventually the city’s social structure began to become more liberal. Replacing shipbuilding as a primary economic force, the paper and chemical industries began to expand. No longer needed for defence, most of the old military bases were converted to civilian uses. Following the war, in which many African Americans had served, veterans and their supporters stepped up activism to gain enforcement of their constitutional rights and social justice, especially in the Jim Crow South. During the 1950s the City of Mobile integrated its police force and Spring Hill College accepted students of all races. Unlike in the rest of the state, by the early 1960s the city buses and lunch counters voluntarily desegregated. …

In 1963, three African-American students brought a case against the Mobile County School Board for being denied admission to Murphy High School. This was nearly a decade after the United States Supreme Court had ruled in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that segregation of public schools was unconstitutional. The federal district court ordered that the three students be admitted to Murphy for the 1964 school year, leading to the desegregation of Mobile County’s school system.

The civil rights movement gained congressional passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965, eventually ending legal segregation and regaining effective suffrage for African Americans. But whites in the state had more than one way to reduce African Americans’ voting power. Maintaining the city commission form of government with at-large voting resulted in all positions being elected by the white majority, as African Americans could not command a majority for their candidates in the informally segregated city. …

Mobile’s city commission form of government was challenged and finally overturned in 1982 in City of Mobile v. Bolden, which was remanded by the United States Supreme Court to the district court. Finding that the city had adopted a commission form of government in 1911 and at-large positions with discriminatory intent, the court proposed that the three members of the city commission should be elected from single-member districts, likely ending their division of executive functions among them. Mobile’s state legislative delegation in 1985 finally enacted a mayor-council form of government, with seven members elected from single-member districts. This was approved by voters. As white conservatives increasingly entered the Republican Party in the late 20th century, African-American residents of the city have elected members of the Democratic Party as their candidates of choice. Since the change to single-member districts, more women and African Americans were elected to the council than under the at-large system.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'New Orleans, Louisiana' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
New Orleans, Louisiana
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Canton, Mississippi' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Canton, Mississippi
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Plain Dealing, Louisiana' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Plain Dealing, Louisiana
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Plain Dealing is a town in Bossier Parish, Louisiana, United States. The population was 893 in 2020.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Columbia, South Carolina' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Columbia, South Carolina
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Quitman, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Quitman, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Quitman is a city in and the county seat of Brooks County, Georgia, United States. The population was 3,850 at the 2010 census.

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1984

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1984
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

 

Valdosta, Georgia

Valdosta is a city in and the county seat of Lowndes County, Georgia, United States. As of 2019, Valdosta had an estimated population of 56,457.

On May 16, 1918, a white planter named Hampton Smith was shot and killed at his house near Morven, Georgia, by a black farm worker named Sidney Johnson who was routinely mistreated by Smith. Johnson also shot Smith’s wife but she later recovered. Johnson hid for several days in Valdosta without discovery. Lynch mobs formed in Valdosta ransacking Lowndes and Brooks counties for a week looking for Johnson and his alleged accomplices. These mobs lynched at least 13 African Americans, among them Mary Turner and her unborn eight-month-old baby who was cut from her body and murdered. Mary Turner’s husband Hazel Turner was also lynched the day before.

Sidney Johnson was turned in by an acquaintance, and on May 22 Police Chief Calvin Dampier led a shootout at the Valdosta house where he was hiding. Following his death, a crowd of more than 700 castrated Johnson’s body, then dragged it behind a vehicle down Patterson Street and all the way to Morven, Georgia, near the site of Smith’s murder. There the body of Johnson was hanged and burned on a tree. That afternoon, Governor Hugh Dorsey ordered the state militia to be dispatched to Valdosta to halt the lynch mobs, but they arrived too late for many victims. Dorsey later denounced the lynchings, but none of the participants were ever prosecuted.

Following the violence, more than 500 African Americans fled from Lowndes and Brooks counties to escape such oppressive conditions and violence. From 1880 to 1930, Brooks County had the highest number of lynchings in the state of Georgia. By 1922 local chapters of the Ku Klux Klan, which had been revived starting in 1915, were holding rallies openly in Valdosta.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Valdosta, Georgia' 1986

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Valdosta, Georgia
1986
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Garnett, South Carolina' 1985

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Garnett, South Carolina
1985
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

In 1983, Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) left his home in Knoxville, Tennessee, with his 4 × 5 view camera and set out on the first of a series of road trips to photograph the American South. The subject of his pictures were Black Americans: at home, at work, and at play, in the street, and among nature. This project would consume Lee – a first-generation Chinese American – for the remainder of that decade, and it would forever transform his perception of his country, its people, and himself. The resulting archive from this seven-year period contains nearly ten thousand black-and-white negatives. This monograph, Baldwin Lee, presents a selection of eighty-eight images edited by the photographer Barney Kulok, accompanied by an interview with Lee by the curator Jessica Bell Brown and an essay by the writer Casey Gerald. Arriving almost four decades after Lee began his journey, this publication reveals the artist’s unique commitment to picturing life in America and, in turn, one of the most piercing and poignant bodies of work of its time.

“A new book – the first-ever collection of [Baldwin] Lee’s work – and a solo exhibition in New York make the case that he is one of the great overlooked luminaries of American picture-making. It’s not often that a body of photography is hoisted up from obscurity and straight into the canon.”

~ Chris Wiley, The New Yorker

“The warmth and soulfulness of his work is not the result of intellectual effort; it’s grounded in understanding, a combination of intensity and restraint, and, surely, a shared sense of otherness.”

~ Vince Aletti, Photograph Magazine

“… Walker Evans was one of Lee’s teachers. Like Evans, Lee has a sensitive eye for both poverty and dignity. But Lee’s southern exposure wasn’t overwhelmingly white, as it was in Evans’s classic “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men.” Quite the contrary, Lee is a witness to those at the bottom of U.S. stratification, and their refusal to swallow that status. … The work is political, because it exposes the violence of poverty inherited from the plantation-economy past. But it is most of all attentiveness to the composure of his subjects that is echoed masterfully in the composition of his shots. …We are a motley assortment of people in the United States. Our relations are not tidy, not in their beauty, nor in their disastrous disaffection and cruelty. ”

~ Imani Perry, The Atlantic

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951) 'Untitled' 1983-1989

 

Baldwin Lee (Chinese-American, b. 1951)
Untitled
1983-1989
Vintage gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

 

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23
Nov
22

Text: “Bench Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

November 2022

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925) 'Instructions for the use of Sandow's spring grip dumb-bells' Between 1900 and 1909 (detail)

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925)
Instructions for the use of Sandow’s spring grip dumb-bells (detail)
Between 1900 and 1909
(23 pages): illustrations; 18 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra viewed 10 November 2022

 

 

Since the demise of my old website, my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001) has no longer been available online.

I have now republished the second of twelve chapters, “Bench Press”, so that it is available to read. More chapters will be added as I get time. I hope the text is of some interest. Other chapters include Historical Pressings which investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it.

Dr Marcus Bunyan November 2022

 

 

“Bench Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’1, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it. The text also examines the positive and negative effects of this culture on the individual and collective lives and bodies of gay men.

NB. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Historical Pressings and Re-Pressentation chapters for a fuller overview of the development of the muscular male body. This chapter also contains descriptions of sexual activity.

 

Keywords

The Cult of Muscularity, male bodies, queer bodies, bodybuilding, gym culture, masculinity, images of masculinity, development of gym culture, gay men and gym culture, muscular mesomorph, gay lifestyle, self-esteem, body-esteem, Polite Porn, phallic armoured body, desire, HIV/AIDS, photography and the body, before/after photographs, gay desire

 

Sections

  • The Cult of Muscularity
  • The Body and the Social Environment
  • Science, Photography and the Body
  • Before / after photographs
  • Power and the Muscular Body
  • The Phallic Armoured Body
  • Muscle Gods, Hot Jocks, and Gay Desire
  • The Muscular Male Body: Positive and Negative Effects

Word count 7,036

 

 

Bench Press

 

The Cult of Muscularity

 

“… muscularity is a key term in appraising men’s bodies … this comes from men themselves. Muscularity is the sign of power – natural, achieved, phallic.”

.
Richard Dyer 2

 

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925) 'Instructions for the use of Sandow's spring grip dumb-bells' Between 1900 and 1909 (detail)

 

Eugen Sandow (German, 1867-1925)
Instructions for the use of Sandow’s spring grip dumb-bells (detail)
Between 1900 and 1909
(23 pages): illustrations; 18 cm
National Library of Australia, Canberra viewed 10 November 2022

 

 

‘The Cult of Muscularity’ was formed in the last decade of the 19th century and the early decades of the 20th century in a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. Sporting and war heroes became national icons. Muscle proved the ‘masculinity’ of men, fit for power, fit to dominate women and less powerful men. The ‘ideal’ of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world.3

The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the fist time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’. (Remember that it was in this decade the trials of Oscar Wilde had taken place in England after he was accused of being a sodomite by The Marquis of Queensbury. It is perhaps no coincidence that the rules that governed boxing, a very masculine sport in which a man could become a popular hero, were named after his accuser. By all accounts he was a brute of a man who despised and beat his son Lord Alfred Douglas and sought revenge on his partner, Oscar Wilde, for their sexual adventures).

Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’.

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled [Gym group possibly German/Prussian]' c. 1890-1910

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled [Gym group possibly German/Prussian]
c. 1890-1910
Silver gelatin photograph
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Ultimately, going to the gym has more to do with fitting a certain ‘ideal’ image of ‘masculinity’, that of the muscular mesomorph, than it has to do with getting fit. Aerobic activity such as swimming or running are much more effective ways of getting fit. But what gym work does much better than aerobic activity is that it builds muscle mass. And for a man that wants to be recognised for his physical presence, having more muscle is the epitome of the ‘ideal’.

In a patriarchal society, in other words in a society where men have power over women and other men, to have a masculine body was / is seen as the opposite of being feminine or gay – it emphasises the difference between the position of men and women / gays in society. They are seen as inferior whilst a mesomorphic body confirms ‘real’ men in positions of power over others. No wonder homosexuals found muscular working class men (‘rough trade’) so enticing a sexual fantasy in the early part of this century, and still do to this day.

Still, in being named by the majority limp-wristed ‘nancies’ and by accepting that label now historically ourselves, we forget that not all gay men were pansies with effeminate mannerisms, even in those times.

In contemporary society the division between straight and gay ‘masculine’ bodies has diminished. At dance parties it is now difficult to tell which is the gay body and which is the straight. In seeking acceptance and assimilation into the general society gay men have moulded their bodies on the ‘ideal’ of the muscular mesomorphic model. Both gay and straight men are likely to be striving after the same muscular mesomorphic ideal so much so that they may both become homogenised into a non-feminine, paradoxical asexual masculinity, where very little sexuality exudes from any-body at all!

 

Siegmund Klein – 'Strength & Health' (March 1933) Vol. 1 No. 4

 

Siegmund Klein – Strength & Health (March 1933) Vol. 1 No. 4

 

 

The Body and the Social Environment

The development of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ may also have parallels in other social environments which were evolving at the turn of the century. For example, I think that the construction of the muscular mesomorphic body can be linked to the appearance of the first skyscrapers in cities in the United States of America. Skyscrapers were a way increasing visibility and surface area within the limited space of a crowded city. One of the benefits of owning a skyscraper like the Chrysler Building in New York, with its increased surface area, was that it got the company noticed. The same can be said of the muscular body. Living and interacting in the city, the body itself is inscribed by social interaction with its environment, its systems of regulation and its memories and historicities (his-tor-i-city, ‘tor’ being a large hill or formation of rocks).

Like a skyscraper, the muscular body has more surface area, is more visible, attracts more attention to its owner and is more admired. The owner of this body is desired because of his external appearance which may give him a feeling of superiority and power over others. However, this body image may also lead to low self-esteem and heightened body dissatisfaction in the owner (causing anxiety and insecurity in his identity) as he constantly strives to maintain and enhance his body to fulfil expectations he has of himself.

Of course, body image is never a static concept as the power of muscular images of the male body resides in their perceived value as a commodity. This value is re-enforced through social moral values, through fluid personal interactions, and through the desire of self and others for this type of body image; it is a hierarchical system of valuation. It relies on what type of body is seen as socially desirable and ‘beautiful’ in a collective sense, even though physical attractiveness is very much a personal choice.

In the four photographs from the 1930s (below) we can see a range of ethnic men portrayed, all seeking the attainment of what was, for them, the perfection of the muscular human form. Indian, Chinese, Black American and Phillipino are all represented. Compare this to today’s cast of body types from a gay muscle fitness video (soft core pornography video aimed squarely at the gay market) and you can see how the broad inclusion of different ethnic types has been tailored to the demographics of its particular buying public (‘masculine’ white gay male).

Today what is desirable in a masculine body seems to be even more limited in its stereotyping than was the case in the 1930s. Then, at least, there was a diversified range of ethnicity. Now, within the ‘lifestyle’ health and fitness magazines, the paradigm for the desirable male body is predominantly the tanned, toned, muscular white male. Thankfully, professional buff, body-builders do still come in all colours!

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Anselus T. Del Rosario' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
Anselus T. Del Rosario
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 78
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

“There is something unusual about the back of this young Phillipino, Anselus T. Del Rosario. The pose is rather original and offers suggestion to others.”

 

Anonymous photographers. 'Three bodybuilders' c. 1930

 

(left to right)

Anonymous photographer
Cheah Chin Poh
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 261
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Prof. C. C. Shah
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 261
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Wesley Williams
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 154
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Science, Photography and the Body

In the Victorian and Edwardian eras the knowledge of science, such as the science of physical fitness for example, allowed the body to become an object that was subject to technical expertise. Physical fitness was taken up by governments and their armies to enforce standards of fitness for recruits, the medical examination ensuring suitability for service and the fitness regime ensuring that all bodies were interchangeable and replaceable in the event of death on the battlefield. The body became a site of intervention; it became malleable and plastic, subject to the demands of the self and State. This trend continues at an unabated pace today especially within the personal sphere; in the ‘miracles’ of steroid enhancement, plastic surgery, implants and liposuction all there to help you attain the ‘perfect’ body. Now ALL bodies can start to look alike, interchangeable one with another.

Photography, also a relatively new science in that era (photography is both an art and a science), confirmed the ‘truth’ of the power of the muscular body through documentary evidence. The camera acted to legitimise the concerns of men over their body image through relationship of power to the practice of representation. Surveillance of the self became a major factor in the construction of your social identity. Through photographs you could judge for yourself whether you measured up to the ‘ideals’ put forward as valuable by society. Therefore images of muscular mesomorphs can and do affect the self-esteem of individuals through a powerful semiotic system that is embedded in the idealised body factually re-presented in a photograph.

This power is validated because people know the key to interpret the coded ‘sign’ language through which photographs, and indeed all images, speak. In neglecting to acknowledge alternative significations present within this semiotically coded power structure there is the opportunity for one dominant image to be chosen selectively over other types of less ‘valuable’ body images, eventually leading to the possible loss of the key to decode the desirability of ‘other’ body images.

The problem with dominant images that promote the masculinity and power of the muscular mesomorphic body is that they portray one supposed objective truth which is impossible, for there can be can many changing ‘truths’ (viewed from many subjective and objective positions).4 Personally, I believe we should see things not solely as they are from an objective point of view and not purely from an appeal to an “actively struggled for” subjectivity (as argued for by David Smail), but perhaps emerging from a knowledge of the fluid nature of truth, an ever changing combination of many variable truths. Being true to ourselves does not require a one-eyed point of view for we must try to see things from many different points of view to appreciate that there are many shifting, non-final subjective, objective and variable ‘truths’ in life.

Images can be a fabrication just as easily as they are supposed to speak the language of an objective ‘truth’. For example, in the 1870s Dr. Barnardo had photographs taken that showed rough, dirty, and dishevelled children arriving at his homes, and then paired them with photographs of the same children bright as a new pin, happy and working in the homes afterwards. These photographs were used to sell the story of children saved from poverty and oppression and happy in the homes; they appeared on cards which were sold to raise money to support the work of these homes. Dr. Barnardo was taken to court when one such pair of photographs was found to be a fabrication, an ‘artistic fiction’.5

Photographs can be used not only as a tool of observation but as a commodity, to advertise, support and sell the existence of a regime of power that controls the body, in the case of Dr. Barnardo the body of the child. In this way the body of the child becomes a commodity too.

 

Before / after photographs

Anonymous photographer. 'M. J. Poncela' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
M. J. Poncela
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 211
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'George Renzi, Jr.' c. 1930

 

Anonymous photographer
George Renzi, Jr.
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 210
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' c. 1952

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
c. 1952
‘Before photo/after photo, 35 day Johnson bodybuilding program advertisement’, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, pp. 26-27.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer. 'The New Theory of Evolution (Unretouched photographs taken over a period of less than 12 weeks)' 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
The New Theory of Evolution (Unretouched photographs taken over a period of less than 12 weeks)
1998
Experimental and Applied Sciences advertisement, 1998, in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, pp. 2-3.

 

 

The same process of commodification of the body can be seen in the ‘Before and After’ photographs from the 1930’s. The science of physical fitness has always sold product to go with its ideals and the use of before and after photos echoes those of Dr. Barnardo. Here I am looking at my own weak and puny body and then looking at these photographs and advertisements that are telling me: ‘You can have a bigger, better body in only (substitute x amount of time) days or weeks!’ You can attain the perfect male body. But it will cost you. In time, in money, in sacrifices, perhaps in failure. But you desire that body don’t you, you want that body, you want to belong!

The photographs from the 1930s show examples of bodily improvement over a period of one year, a reasonable amount of time given the improvement shown. As the century progressed however, the claims for products became more outlandish and photography was used to bolster these claims. In the 1952 photographs above for example, the photograph is used to authenticate the models physical improvement in just 35 days! Note, however, that in the second photograph the model is standing closer to the camera than in the first one, he has a tan which makes him look healthier, is oiled up, and his hair is bigger to give him more physical presence. He is also engaging the gaze of the viewer, returning his look, which in itself is a more challenging, defiant act.

Nothing much has changed in advertising claims from the 1950s until today. In the unretouched sequence of photographs (above) from 1998 (for a leading supplier of sports nutritional supplements), we are asked to believe a new, super-fast “Theory of Evolution” exists, all achieved in less than 12 weeks.

I am not suggesting for one minute that these photographs actually lie. But they do restructure the ‘truth’. Firstly, the model does not have an ‘ordinary’ body to start with. You only have to look at the legs and arms in all four photographs to realise that this man is probably a bodybuilder who is out of condition and training. In the first photograph he is stooped, unkempt, unshaven, hairy, flat-footed & slovenly. Much the same as the photographs of children arriving at the Dr. Barnardo’s homes in the 1870s. Funny about that. As the sequence progresses he becomes happier, taller, more ‘pumped’ and ‘cut’ till he positively shines like burnished steel, his muscles glowing as he strides on the balls of his feet into the future. His fists become clenched to emphasise his bulging muscles and his manliness.

Hey, its a ‘lifestyle’ thing. Muscular men look after their bodies, have no moral disorders and are happier and more successful!

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Bill Good executing Stretching Exercise course' c. 1930 and 'Bill Good executing Free Motion exercises' c. 1930

 

(left and right)

Anonymous photographer
Bill Good executing Stretching Exercise course
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. I. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 143
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
Bill Good executing Free Motion exercises
c. 1930
in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. I. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 127
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

Power and the Muscular Body

Increasingly, the body was not only able to exercise on its way to muscularity it was also able to exercise the ritual semiotic language of the hyper-masculine body as power over the social body in general. A sociology of the body was constructed based on the interaction with history, memory and context. Men sought to transform their body and the social body through the structures and rituals of power, naming deviants such as homosexuals as ‘other’ and therefore reducing them to an inferior status. It is not surprising that homosexual men are attracted to this power. For a long time they have been subject to persecution & derision, and saw themselves as inferior. Now, with the adoption of hyper-masculine bodies as the epitome of gay male image, gay men seek to be ‘real’ men perhaps even more than straight men. Unfortunately this may reinforce traditional patriarchal stereotypes within the gay community, a community that is supposed to pride itself on equality and diversity. The very things that homosexuals have long fought against, oppression and discrimination, may be confirmed in the exercising of power by the muscular ‘ideal’ within the gay community.

In the conformation of the power of the muscular body I suggest that gay men may have adopted a mask to cover their own insecurities in order to seek acceptance for themselves into the gay and general population. This mask has become more than just a facade for some gay men, it has become their reality. The owner of a body that measures up to the ideal may seek acceptance of him- self in the perfection of his own reflection. What he sees in this reflection is, perhaps, not his ‘true’ self but a mask that is put on, a pre-formed surface that reflects the values of the society from which it emanates, perhaps a surface that is only skin deep inscribed by his social enculturation and assimilation. Once put on this mask is very difficult to take off; how many times do we see the words “straight acting” in newspaper advertisements in the gay press describing what is sexually offered and wanted, as though being str8-acting enables our gay masculinity and makes us ‘real’ men? I believe it is no longer an ironic act for gay men to try and fulfil the straight hyper-masculine ideal, not a ‘camp’ ironic comment as it used to be, but a deadly serious endeavour. This has important repercussions for the psyche of all gay men and I discuss these repercussions later in this chapter and also in the (S)ex-press chapter.

As can be seen from the photographs within this text, there has been a development of the complete ‘look’ of the body over the last century. Beautiful muscles compliment a beautiful ‘lifestyle’6 and an equally beautiful tan. Appearance and the power of that appearance is now of the essence. The appearance of this ideal ‘lifestyle’ is available to everyone of us, regardless of social status or age, how rich or poor we are as gay men – yeah, right!

 

Raymond Vino. 'Steve Downs' 1998

 

Raymond Vino
Steve Downs
1998
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 103.

 

Bob Jones (American) 'Short Mens Class', 'Untitled', 'Untitled' 1952

 

(top to bottom)

Bob Jones (American)
Short Mens Class
Untitled
Untitled
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 8
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Now aren’t there some good looking men amongst this lot! I wonder how many of them were gay? Not an effeminate man to be seen here, you can bet your life. These are all ‘real’ he-men: strong, masculine and ruggedly virile examples of manhood. There is still a range of ethnicities present in these 1950s photographs, from Brazilians to Afro-Americans & men of Asian origin but there is not a hairy man amongst them. They probably shaved for the event, a very feminine thing for a man to do! These photographs also serve to illustrate another point: that although body shape might be slightly different when compared to each other, overall the bodies seem to form a homogenised whole, forms which seem to have been pressed from the same mould (‘template man’).

 

 

We observe the billboards with the fashionable ‘lifestyle’ Calvin Klein underwear ads, featuring some truly amazing bodies. We desire these bodies in all their airbrushed glory, ‘simulations’ of an ideal world where bodies are perfect, not all sorts of shapes and sizes as in the real world.

We lust after the perfect idealisation of the muscular body and the projected power that this ‘ideal’ body image and its lifestyle proposes. This perfection is never obtainable, of course, because we can always have bigger muscles, a better tan, more fashionable clothes, etc. … The ‘ideal’ is like a carrot on a stick, always just beyond our reach, like an ever receding dream.

 

Anonymous. 'Untitled [Posing straps]' 1952

 

Anonymous
Untitled [Posing straps]
1952
Athletic Model Guild advertisement, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 50.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

 

The Phallic Armoured Body

In much of the imagery of the muscular male the body becomes a substitute for the undisclosed and hidden power of the penis. The body becomes a huge phallus, hard and rigid, strong, erect, and powerful. The muscular body acts as a phallic symbol, surrounding itself with an implied sexual mystique, the physical embodiment of the male phallic power. But the penis can never live up to these expectations.7 After all the penis is just an appendage of limp flesh and looks faintly ridiculous most of the time!

Thus, the muscular body becomes a form of dominance display; hard, bulging muscles embodying the mystical potency and virility implied in its phallic construction. Gay men are attracted to the fantasy of a powerful phallus. They too want to be powerful. In some sections of the gay community (especially the ‘Muscle Marys’ as they are known) the muscular body is seen as the epitome of physical attractiveness. This body type has a powerful image, as much for the supposed power of its hidden penis as anything else. A big body can stand as a metaphor for the power of a big dick, something which some gay men seem obsessed with. Muscular gay men are often derided by other gay men by saying that ‘he must have a big body because he can’t have a big dick’, or if a gay man is obviously on steroids then his balls, ‘will have shrivelled up like walnuts and he will have no sex drive’.

I wonder whether this a truth or are some gay men just jealous?

The body as phallus has also become an armoured body, supposedly able to protect its occupant from the anxieties and stress of modern life. This body
allows the occupant to control his environment through his body, not allowing any transgressive pleasures / messy secretions / intimacy / love to interject into his controlled armoured existence – no a(r)mour, no love. The body surface becomes an impervious barrier, all orifices closed to seepage across its boundaries. Hard, shiny and smooth nothing can penetrate this perfect projectile. This is especially significant with the onset of the HIV/AIDS virus. A big body was and is perhaps still seen as a healthy body, muscles becoming a sign and symbol of health within the gay community.

“Burn off more than you can chew” (below) is a contemporary advertisement that I believe illustrates the linkage between the phallic smooth, white muscular mesomorphic body and product. Advertising helps encourage the body to become a consumer of the product and postulates the body as a perfect product for consumption itself, at one and the same time. The model with the 6-pak looks longingly at the phallic, erect, penis shaped bar (a ‘bar’ in gay slang is a stiff cock), eats the bar to burn fat, to become ‘ripped’, so other men can gaze at and desire the perfection of his body as a product they wish to consume themselves by having sex with him. His body, his (chocolate) bar becomes a metaphor for the mythological power of his bulging (just) hidden penis.

 

Iron Man

1950s bodybuilders

 

(left to right)

Douglas (photographer)
“Vic Seipke of the N.E.YMCA of Detroit. Height 5’9″. 186 pounds, neck 18, chest 48, arm 17, waist 29, thigh 25, calf 16, ankle 9 and a half. Won Mr. Michigan, 3rd in Mr. Mid-America 7th in Mr. America.”
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 23.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer. “Bill Pearl, another pupil of the Stern gym is 21 and at a height of 5’9″ weighs 209, with a 17″ neck, 47″ chest, 32″ waist, 18″ arm, 8″ wrist, 25 and a half thigh and 16″ calf.”
1952,
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 22.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Bob Jones (photographer). “Jim Park, Mr. World”
1952, in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 7.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Fritshe (photographer)
“Mike Barrilli, a pupil of Fritshe, won the Jr. Mr. Atlantic title in 1950. At 20 years of age he is 5’6″ tall and weighs 160 pounds of perfectly proportioned muscle.”
1952
in Rader, Peary (ed.,). Iron Man. Vol. 12. Dec-Feb. 1952, No. 4. Alliance, Nebraska: Iron Man Publishing Co., 1952, p. 21.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

 

Anonymous photographer/designer. "Burn off more than you can chew" c. 1999

 

Anonymous photographer/designer
“Burn off more than you can chew”
c. 1999
Aussie Bodies advertisement in Clifton, Paul and Gennari, Isabelle (eds.,). Midsumma Festival 2000 guide. Melbourne: Midsumma Festival, 1999.

 

Body Builders

 

(left to right)

Carl Hensel
Untitled
Nd
in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 193

Anonymous photographer
Bob Paris
Nd
in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 248

 

 

Muscle Gods, Hot Jocks, and Gay Desire

 

“It was my dream to get a body … I would see all of those guys with their muscles and I wanted to be one of them … It’s not even like I want to really even hang out with the muscle gods, I mean, after I do get into bed with one, it usually is a letdown. Beyond the sex, which is sometimes really dull, I’m usually saying to myself, why did you obsess over getting this guy? We never have anything in common. They’re usually so involved in their bodies – and it really is an all-consuming project to be a muscle god, and work out, like, all the time – that they don’t have any interests beyond talking about the gym and the scene. But that’s the thing about it. It’s the private club, the world of the muscle gods, and you don’t want to be excluded from it …”

.
Mark, 44 year-old New Yorker quoted in Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p. 168.

 

In the relationship between gay men and going to the gym to muscle up a sense of belonging to the group is an important factor. Often having been persecuted in early life gay men want to belong to a team, and if belonging to the team that is seen as the most desirable means getting a bigger body then so be it, they will do anything to get that body. Gay men can become muscle gods too!

In the above photograph by Carl Hensel we can see one of these muscle gods, his body pumped up like a hooded cobra about to strike. The importance of his genital area is reduced thanks to the smallness of his posing pouch. In serious bodybuilding reducing the eroticism of the body is important in containing the possibility of homoerotic attraction when men view other men’s bodies. The supposed lack of homoeroticism in bodybuilding is upset when one of the fold, for example Bob Paris (above right), openly declares himself to be gay.

Men do lust after and desire other men’s bodies in any context.

This desire has been commodified in contemporary muscular male imagery. The ‘hot jock’ stereotype has been legitimised as a site of lust and desire. The advertisement below comes from a magazine entitled Exercise for Men Only, a publication aimed primarily at ‘lifestyle’ straight and gay men. These images are not aimed at women. They reveal, as the ad says, “Every shape of their Stunning, Young, Muscular Bodies,” and appeal to men who admire, come along and “feel the heat” of these types of physique. This is soft porn of the entire body a la 1990s style, clothed in the justification of beautiful, artistic cinematography much as the photographers of the 1950s used the devise of association with classical ‘ideals’ to justify the publication of their images. Note how in this advertisement all the bodies conform to the stereotypical ‘ideal’ of the muscular, buff, tanned, white male.

To a great extent this ‘ideal’ has been promulgated and propagated by the imagery used in American gay porn videos since the early 1980s. The imagery of Muscleforce (below) is a good example, linking as it does muscle and power within an eroticism of homosexual lust and desire.

(For more detailed information about the development of the imagery of gay pornography in the media please visit the gay male pornography section in the In-Press chapter).

 

The Muscular Male Body: Positive and Negative Effects

 

“Given their poor reception in the outside world, men who are physically weak understandably experience low self-confidence. What’s surprising is that their mirror opposites – the hunks and superjocks – often suffer from the same problem.”

.
Barry Glasner8

 

Looking at the positive side of developing a muscular body we find several benefits. Increased fitness is healthy and the gym provides a raised awareness of the bodies capabilities. The sense of belonging to a socially powerful group of people that comes with being part of a team may increase your self-esteem; your self-esteem may also be improved through the admiration of others for your body. More sexual intercourse may also occur because your body-type is seen as more desirable by men. James Hatzi from Colts Gym in Melbourne, Australia, sees no negative aspects to the pressure exerted on gay men to get a muscular body:

“They’ve got to eat right to look that way, they’ve got to exercise. So all the things they are doing are positive. If they build themselves up and look good, they’re always going to have a positive outlook. I can see only positive effects of people wanting to improve themselves.”9

 

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Muscle Heatwave' Vista Video advertisement, c. 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Muscle Heatwave
Vista Video advertisement, c. 1998
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 47.

 

Join Eight Muscular Young Fitness Stars in this Steamy Sequel to “Muscles in Paradise”
Exciting Sequences and Remarkable Photography reveal every shape of their Stunning, Young, Muscular Bodies
Come Along… Live the Adventure and Feel the Heat!
(Includes Beautiful Artistic Cinematography of the ENTIRE Male body)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Muscleforce' c. 1996

 

Anonymous photographer
Muscleforce
c. 1996
Cover of Fox Studios pornography video

 

 

My research suggests that there are positive effects, such as higher levels of self-esteem (but not necessarily), more confidence in themselves, greater fitness and management of health, and the ability to have sex with more desirable partners. But there are also many negative effects which James Hatzi does not mention. Perhaps because he runs a gym?

Dr. Lina Ricciardelli, researcher on body image and eating disorders in The School of Psychology at Deakin University, Melbourne, conducted a study that found that gay men had the second highest level of body dissatisfaction after heterosexual women.10 Further, Arthur Blouin and Gary Goldfield have noted that,

“A relationship among self-esteem, proneness to depression, and body dissatisfaction has been reported among both males and females … Among males, body image concerns appear to be greatest for those who are below average weight for height with serious negative effects on self-esteem and social adjustment. As a result, it has been suggested that men who see themselves as underweight may pursue bodybuilding, male hormones, and steroids in order to attain an exaggerated “hypermesomorphic” look.”11

.
But becoming a bodybuilder does not alleviate these problems and indeed probably exacerbates them. Blouin and Goldfield go on to comment that,

“In addition to the body image dissatisfaction and abnormal eating practices exhibited in bodybuilders, bodybuilders reported perfectionism, feelings of ineffectiveness, low interoceptive awareness, and low self-esteem.”11

.
So much for James Hatzi not seeing any negative effects in bodybuilding!

 

One of the most important studies on the muscular mesomorphic body has been undertaken by Marc Mishkind, Linda Rodin, Lisa Silberstein and Ruth Striegel-Moore. They found that a majority of all men preferred the mesomorphic shape body over the ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (fat). Within the mesomorphic category most men preferred the hypermesomorphic or muscular mesomorphic body. They found that men have a greater degree of body satisfaction when their body shape fits this ‘ideal’. When there is a gap between their actual and ‘ideal’ body types, and the greater this gap, the lower their self-esteem. They observed that,

“The discrepancy between self and ideal is problematic only when men believe that those closest to the ideal reap certain benefits not available to those further away. Research strongly suggests that this is true, both because physical appearance is so important generally in our society and because of the specific benefits that accrue to mesomorphic men.”12

.
This is particularly true within the gay community, where attraction and sex are based primarily on physical appearance and the muscular mesomorphic shape is seen as the ‘ideal’. Indeed, Mishkind et al found that gay men, who place increased importance on aspects such as body build, grooming, dress and handsomeness,

“Expressed greater dissatisfaction with body build, waist, biceps, arms and stomach. Gay men also indicated a greater discrepancy between their actual and ideal body shapes than did “straight” men and showed higher scores on measures of eating disregulation and food and weight preoccupation.”12

.
(For a longer extract from the paper by Mishkind et al please see Appendix A after the footnotes)

 

In this research project I have taken this obsession with possessing the ideal muscular body in the gay community into largely unexplored territory. As can be seen from two of the interviews that I have conducted (See Story 4 and Story 5 in the Personal Press chapter) gay men are placing themselves at greater risk of contraction of the HIV/AIDS virus because of their need to possess the body of the ‘ideal’. This may mean taking risks such as having sex without a condom in order to achieve their desires.

Personally I suffered from an acute lack of self-esteem in respect to my body image; I went to gym for years wanting a bigger body, desiring this kind of body for myself and in others. I could never achieve what I wanted and this made me really depressed; it undermined my self-esteem. But I learnt to live with the body I had and came to enjoy its familiarity. Now as I get older the youth and beauty thing is passing and I am no longer ‘forever young’. This is a difficult time for gay men and a lot (of gay men) enter counselling after the age of 35 to cope with this situation. Magazines with covers, articles and quotations like the one below, using the imagery of young men when advertising an issue on anti-ageing, don’t help either. You might not be this young but you can drool over (t)his aspect of youth that WE ALL strive to maintain.

 

Martin Ryter. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Martin Ryter
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, Cover

 

“Talk about anti-ageing – our cover model looks as if he just graduated high school. The important thing to remember is that Martin Ryter’s cover shot reflects the aspects of youth that we all strive to maintain. You may not always look quite this young, but there is no reason why you can’t look your best at any age.”

 

100 anti-ageing tips.
Special Longevity/Anti-Ageing Issue.
Age-Defying Shoulder Regimen for men Over 35
(as though all our shoulders fall apart after 35!)
Human Growth Hormone: Nature’s Fountain of Youth.
Total Body Training Builds Muscle after 40.
Power Chest Routine Halts the March of Time.

 

 

Nothing halts the march of time I’m afraid. What you have to get used to is accepting the fact, accepting that your body is getting older and changing, and you move on from there. Using a model that, as they say, looks as if he has just graduated high school is promoting the ‘ideal’ of the eternal youth. Gay men are obsessed by youth and beauty, and this magazine panders to their insecurities, telling them that they can beat the march of time, remaining ever youthful and desirable. This is a fallacy much as the strong muscular body is a deceptive phallacy, a hard armoured body that signifies the supposed sexual mystique of the phallus and the omnipotence of the hidden penis.

Another tool ‘Polite Porn’13 magazines such as ‘Exercise For Men Only’use are the poses of the models. ‘Shredded, ageless abs in just 6 weeks’ scream the headlines and there is the model with his hands wandering seductively down to his genital region via his unbuttoned trousers – the suggestiveness of the pose has nothing to do with abs at all and everything to do with sex.

 

Atomic Studio/Mark Howland. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Atomic Studio/Mark Howland
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 36

 

J. Neu. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

J. Neu
Untitled
Nd
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 20.

 

 

Many of the poses in these magazines come straight out of pornography magazines and videos. Arms raised behind head to reveal the erotic under- arm area, genitals pressing against skimpy Lycra outfits so the outline of the cock can be seen, as in the example above. This has to be one of my favourite photographs from this issue, probably close to my ideal body-type (his height, smoothness, size of his arms, magnificent abs, lats, pecs, his button nose and his blue eyes). What would I do to have sex with him?

The body in all its glory becomes both an active and a passive site of desire. In the Prevail Sport advertisement (below) from the same issue of Exercise for Men Only, we can see the gaze of the model at top left actively challenging the desiring gaze of the viewer. At bottom left the hard body as phallus compliments the outlines of the erect penis in the underwear, hinting at its hidden power. At middle left and right the body becomes a passive masturbatory landscape for the viewer as the model is seemingly asleep, allowing the viewer to caress the body with his eyes without fear of rejection. The crotch and arse become the focus of this desire.

(For more information on the gaze please go to the Eye-Pressure chapter)

 

Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' Nd in Exercise for Men Only 1998

 

Anonymous photographer
Untitled
Nd
Prevail Sport underwear advertisement
in Low, Cheh N. (ed.,). Exercise for Men Only. New York: Chelo Publishing, December 1998, p. 15

 

 

It is very difficult not to take binary positions in regard to the positive and negative contributions of gym culture to the gay community throughout the Western world. Nothing in the world is ever solely black / white, straight / gay, masculine / feminine, but many shades of grey in-between. There are both positive and negative effects that emanate from gym culture and the desire of many gay men to attain a muscular mesomorphic body but on balance I believe that gym culture and its ‘lifestyle’ are quite exclusive and elitist. I would suggest that if you are going to try and attain the body that you desire then the best way to go about it is to fully understand the implications of your decision to try and attain that body before you start, and the reasons that lie behind your decision.

Brian Pronger has observed that,

“The ‘new gay man’ … is the man who has developed his body to reflect his desires and therefore his understanding of himself.”14

.
I disagree with this statement.

Contrary to what Brain Pronger proposes I suggest that the ‘new gay man’ who has developed his body has not necessarily developed a greater understanding of himself compared to any other gay man. I propose that what gay men are attracted to is a reflection, and it is only a reflection, a mirror image of how they would like to see themselves; this is not a greater understanding of themselves and having a developed body does not necessarily lead to a greater understanding of the Self. The (self)reflection of a person’s desires through the development of their body may indeed tell them (and you) something about their desires (for a similar body?), but I suggest that this desire has, in many cases, been directed by external forces; by society, reflected appraisal, social comparison and rituals of learned behaviour for example.

In some instances developing the body can be seen as a cure all by gay men to the problems that beset them – insecurities, fear of rejection, and the lack of love, intimacy and connection with other men to name just a few. Unfortunately the development of a muscular mesomorphic body may mask these problems behind a hard, armoured facade where no one can see what is going on, least of all the person that lives in the body. I believe that this is not encouraging or developing a greater understanding of the Self but is perhaps just the self gratification of personal desires enacted through the (self)reflexivity of a perfect image.

Is it not ironic that in a community that prides itself on diversity, the reliance of that community on one type of physical ideal of attractiveness mirrors the discrimination that so many gay men have suffered over the years at the hands of heterosexuals. The muscular mesomorphic stereotype, much as the stereotyping of gay men as effeminate in the past, does not serve the gay community well. It just provides a reinforcement of traditional ‘masculinity’ and its values in the form of the muscular mesomorphic body. I suggest that this type of body has become the outward sign of a patriarchal homosexuality, the dominance of some gay men over other gay men through a desirable visible symbology.

Dr Marcus Bunyan
2001

 

 

Footnotes

1/ Throughout my PhD and project notes (including the development of interview questions, the analysis of data, and the development of evolving theory), I have used the quotation below as the basis for my definition of the term ‘masculinity’.
“The category of “masculinity” should be seen as always ambivalent, always complicated, always dependent on the exigencies [meaning: necessary conditions and requirements] of personal and institutional power … [masculinity is] an interplay of emotional and intellectual factors – an interplay that directly implicates women as well as men, and is mediated by other social factors, including race, sexuality, nationality, and class … Far from being just about men, the idea of masculinity engages, inflects, and shapes everyone.”
Berger, Maurice, Wallis, Brian and Watson, Simon (eds.,). Constructing Masculinity. New York: Routledge, 1995, pp. 3-7. Introduction.

2/ Dyer, Richard. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 114, quoted in Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996, p. 195.

3/ See Gorn, Elliott. The Manly Art. London: Robson Books, 1986.

4/ “Where objective knowing is passive, subjective knowing is active – rather than giving allegiance to a set of methodological rules which are designed to deliver up truth through some kind of automatic process [in this case the image], the subjective knower takes a personal risk in entering into the meaning of the phenomena to be known…
Those who have some time for the validity of subjective experience but intellectual qualms about any kind of ‘truth’ which is not ‘objective’, are apt to solve their problem by appealing to some kind of relativity. For example, it might be felt that we all have our own versions of the truth about which we must tolerantly agree to differ. While in some ways this kind of approach represents an advance on the brute domination of ‘objective truth’, it in fact undercuts and betrays the reality of the world given to our subjectivity. Subjective truth has to be actively struggled for: we need the courage to differ until we can agree.
Though the truth is not just a matter of personal perspective, neither is it fixed and certain, objectively ‘out there’ and independent of human knowing. ‘The truth’ changes according to, among other things, developments and alterations in our values and understandings … the ‘non-finality’ of truth is not to be confused with a simple relativity of ‘truths’.”
Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, pp. 152-153.

5/ See Tagg, John. The Burden of Representation: Essays on Photographies and Histories. Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1988, p. 85.

6/ ‘Lifestyle’ was a term conceived by the Viennese psychiatrist Alfred Adler in the 1920s in order to describe the attitudes that inform a person’s experience of life. By the 1960s style, fashion and consumerism had overlaid its original meaning and now a ‘lifestyle’ is perhaps a style of life based on your ability to have, compete and move in valued social circles. It has become a combination of both materialism and psychiatry. Much as ‘homosexuality’ was medically named as a deviancy in the 1870s in order to control that deviancy through treatment and regulation, ‘lifestyle’ has links to the medical profession which names its [lifestyles that is] effects on the identity of the self.
“Lifestyle refers to a relatively integrated set of practices chosen by an individual in order to give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. The more tradition loses its ability to provide people with a secure and stable sense of self, the more individuals have to negotiate lifestyle choices, and attach importance to these choices.”
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp. 181-183.

7/ “The penis can never live up to the mystique implied by the phallus. Hence the excessive, even hysterical quality of so much male imagery. The clenched fists, the bulging muscles, the hardened jaws, the proliferation of phallic symbols – they are all straining after what can hardly ever be achieved, the embodiment of the phallic physique.” (My italics).
Dyer, R. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 116, quoted in Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996, p. 195.

8/ Glassner, Barry. Bodies – Why We Look the Way We Do (And How We Feel About It). New York: G.P. Puttnam, 1988, p. 122.

9/ Hatzi, James, quoted in Cho, Natasha. “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” in Melbourne Star Observer. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 6th June, 1997, p. 9.

10/ Riccciardelli, Lina, commenting on her study in Cho, Natasha. “The Mirror Has Two Faces,” in Melbourne Star Observer. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 6th June, 1997, p. 9.

11/ Blouin, Arthur and Goldfield, Gary. “Body Image and Steroid Use in Male Bodybuilders,” in International Journal of Eating Disorders Vol. 18. No. 2. John Wiley and Sons Inc., 1995, pp. 160-164.

12/ Mishkind, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

13/ McKee, Alan. “Polite Porn,” in Brother Sister. Melbourne. 18th May, 1995, p. 13.

14/ Pronger, Brain. The Arena Of Masculinity: Sport, Homosexuality, and the Meaning of Sex. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990.

 

 

Appendix A

Extract from Mishkind, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

 

How Men Feel About Their Bodies

One index of men’s bodily concern is their degree of satisfaction with their physical appearance … Studies suggest that men carry with them images of both their own body and also their ideal body, and that these two images are non identical … Dissatisfaction [amongst men] is not general and diffuse but highly specific and differentiated. Men consistently express their greatest dissatisfaction toward chest, weight and waist … Given that men experience significant body dissatisfaction because they see themselves as deviating from the ideal, it becomes crucial to determine the ideal male body type. When asked about physique preferences, the overwhelming majority of males report that they would prefer to be mesomorphic (ie., of well-proportioned, average build) as opposed to ectomorphic (thin) or endomorphic (fat).

This preference is expressed by boys as young as 5 and 6 (R. Lerner and E. Gellert. “Body Build Identifications, Preference, and Aversion in Children,” in Developmental Psychology 1. 1969, pp. 456-462; and R. Lerner and C. Schroeder. “Physique Identification, Preference and Aversion in Kindergarten Children,” in Developmental Psychology 5. 1971, p. 538) and also by college-age men (L. A. Tucker. “Relationship between perceived somatotype and body cathexis of college males,” in Psychological Reports 50. 1982, pp. 983-989). Within the mesomorphic category, a majority select what we shall refer to as the hypermesomorphic or muscular mesomorphic body as preferred (Tucker, 1982). This physique is the “muscle-man”-type body characterized by well-developed chest and arm muscles and wide shoulders tapering down to a narrow waist. Men indicate greater body satisfaction to the extent that their self- reported (Tucker, 1982) or actual (S. Jourard and P. Secord. “Body Size and Body Cathexis,” in Journal of Consulting Psychology 18. 1954, p. 184; and A. Sugerman and F. Haronian. “Body Type and Sophistication of Body Concept,” in Journal of Personality 32. 1964, pp. 380-394) body shape resembles this ideal.

That many men feel bodily dissatisfaction because they do not resemble the mesomorphic or hypermesomorphic ideal might not in itself be particularly distressing. The discrepancy between self an ideal is problematic only when men believe that those closest to the ideal reap certain benefits not available to those further away. Research strongly suggests that this is true, both because physical appearance is so important generally in our society and because of the specific benefits that accrue to mesomorphic men.

 

Mesomorphy and Masculinity

We believe that the muscular mesomorph is the ideal because it is intimately tied to cultural views of masculinity and the male sex role, which prescribes that men be powerful, strong, efficacious – even domineering and destructive. The embodiment of masculinity, the muscular mesomorph is seen as more efficacious, experiencing greater mastery and control over the environment, and feeling more invulnerable … and men consider physical attractiveness virtually equivalent to physical potency (R. M. Lerner, J. B. Orlos and J. R. Knapp. “Physical attractiveness, physical effectiveness, and self-concept in late adolescents,” in Adolescence 11. 1976, pp. 313-326). Hence they experience an intimate relationship between body image and potency – that is, masculinity – with the muscular mesomorph representing the masculine ideal. A man who fails to resemble the body ideal is, by implication, failing to live up to sex-role norms, and may thus experience the consequences of violating such norms.

 

MARCUS: This is very interesting in regards to the relationship between gay men and the ‘ideal’ body image of the muscular mesomorph. I believe that gay men have a very strong relationship between body image and potency. The hard, armoured, muscular body can be seen as a huge phallus, a metaphor for the power of the hidden penis. From my own experience I know that most gay men have a thing about penis size (“he was hung like a cashew,” meaning he had a very small cock, or “he was hung like a donkey,” meaning he had a very large cock are common phrases) and some are real ‘size queens’. When the penis is hidden the external form of the body becomes a conduit for its power. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why gay men desire the muscular mesomorphic body so much, because of the perceived relationship between potency, the hidden size of the cock and the hard body. I do not agree with Mishkind et al that potency equates solely to masculinity. I think that potency is about a sexual virility and desire that is independent from, but connected to, masculinity. Masculinity is not just about men, it is about history, identity, women, society, culture, behaviour and many more perspectives. To equate potency with masculinity without qualifying that masculinity operates from multiple perspectives and in many diverse areas is I think a mistake.

 

A Man’s Body And His Sense Of Self

Studies have revealed consistently a significant correlation between men’s body satisfaction and self-esteem, the average correlation of these studies being around 0.5. Although some studies have found a stronger relationship between body-esteem and self-esteem for women than for men (R. M. Lerner, S. A. Karabenick and J. L. Stuart. “Relations among physical attractiveness, body attitudes, and self concept in male and female college students,” in Journal of Psychology 85. 1973, pp. 119-129; and P. F. Secord and S. M. Jourard. “The appraisal of body cathexis: Body cathexis and the self,” in Journal of Consulting Psychology 17. 1953, pp. 343-347), others have found comparable or even greater relationships between body satisfaction and measures of self-esteem, anxiety, and depression for men than for women (S. Franzoi and S. Shields. “The Body Esteem Scale: Multidimensional Structure and Sex Differences in a College Population,” in Journal of Personality Assessment 48. 1984, pp. 173-178; and B. Goldberg and C. Folkins. “Relationship of Body-Image to Negative Emotional Attitudes,” in Perceptual and Motor Skills 39. 1974, pp. 1053-1054). How a man feels about himself is thus tied closely to how he feels about his body. It remains for researchers to examine the relative importance of body image to a man’s sense of self when compared to other variables such as career achievement, but the data already available suggest that feeling about body play a significant role in self-esteem.

 

Efforts To Decrease The Gap Between Actual And Ideal Body Shape

We have seen that a great number of men acknowledge a gap between their actual and ideal body types, and that the greater this gap, the lower their self-esteem. As a result, men feel motivated to close this gap. This often depends upon which parts of the body are the foci of dissatisfaction. In a large-scale factor-analytic study, Franzoi and Shields (1984) found three primary dimensions along which men’s bodily satisfaction and dissatisfaction occur …

 

MARCUS: According to Mishkind et al basically:

    1. physical attractiveness (face);
    2. upper body strength (muscles); and
    3. physical conditioning (fitness)

 

Given that the physical effects of endurance workouts may be less readily visible than the effects of bodybuilding, we surmise that men who want to be recognized for their physical masculinity are more likely to opt for muscle building as their form of physical exercise … A man who strives to bridge the self-denial gap will experience a heightened attentiveness to and focus on his body. This may render his standards more perfectionist (and hence more out of reach) and enhance his perceptions of his shortcomings. Both his limitations and the gap itself can become increasingly salient. To the extent that he feels he falls short, he will experience the shame of failure. He may also feel ashamed at being so focused on his body, presumably because this has been associated traditionally with the female sex-role type …

Thus far we have focused only on the negative consequences of trying to attain the masculine body ideal. There a powerfully positive consequences. The more a man experiences himself as closing the self-ideal gap – for example, through exercising – the more positive he will feel toward body and self … (My italics). The more a man works toward attaining his body ideal and the closer he perceives himself to approximating it, the greater his sense of self-efficacy.

 

Subcultures Of High Bodily Concern

The increased cultural attention given to the male body and the increasing demands placed on men to achieve the mesomorphic build push men further along the continuum of bodily concern. Men are likely experiencing more body dissatisfaction, preoccupation with weight, and concern with their physical attractiveness and body shape now than they did even two decades ago … we might expect that subgroups of men that place relatively greater emphasis on physical appearance would be at greater risk or excessive weight control behaviours and even eating disorders.

An illustrative group is the gay male subculture, which places an elevated importance on all aspects of a man’s physical self – body build, grooming, dress, handsomeness (S. Kleinberg. Alienated Affections: Being Gay in America. New York: St. Martin’s, 1980; and R. Lakoff and R. Scherr. Face Value: The Politics of Beauty. Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984). We predicted that gay men would be at a heightened risk of body dissatisfaction and for eating disorders. In a sample of heterosexual and homosexual college men, gay men expressed greater dissatisfaction with body build, waist, biceps, arms, and stomach. Gay men also indicated a greater discrepancy between their actual and ideal body shapes than did “straight” men and showed higher scores on measures of eating disregulation and food and weight preoccupation. If the increased focus on appearance continues for men in general, such concerns and eating disorders may begin to increase among all men. (My italics).

 

Conclusions

The body plays a central role in men’s self-esteem, and men are striving in growing numbers to achieve the male body image. This may have a profound impact on their psychological and physical health. We suspect that the causes and consequences of bodily concern reviewed here represent a growing cultural trend, attributable to increased emphasis on self-determination of health and the ambiguity of current male and female sex roles. (My italics).

.
Mishkind
, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47.

 

 

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Text: “Historical Pressings” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

November 2022

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801–1887) 'Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man' 1840

 

Hippolyte Bayard (French, 1801-1887)
Self-Portrait as a Drowned Man
1840
Direct Positive Print
Public domain

 

 

Since the demise of my old website, my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001) has no longer been available online.

I have now republished the first of twelve chapters, “Historical Pressings”, so that it is available to read. More chapters will be added as I get time. I hope the text is of some interest. Other chapters include Bench Press which investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it.

Dr Marcus Bunyan November 2022

 

 

“Historical Pressings” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter examines the history of photographic images of the male body, including the male body as desired by gay men, and the portrayal in photography of the gay male body.

NB. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Bench Press and Re-Pressentation chapters for a fuller overview of the development of the muscular male body. This chapter also contains descriptions of sexual activity.

 

Keywords

male body image, gay beauty myth, history of photographs of the male body, development of bodybuilding, queer body, gay male body, gay male body and HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS, photographic images of the male body, male2male sex, ephebe, muscular mesomorph, muscular male body, photography, art, erotic art, physique photography, Kinsey Institute, One Institute, gay pornography magazines, Physique Pictorial, Tom of Finland, cult of muscularity.

 

Sections

  • Beginnings
  • Frederick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden
  • The Development of Bodybuilding
  • WWI, Nature Worship, The Body and Propaganda
  • Surrealism and the Body: George Platt Lynes
  • 1930s Australian Body Architecture
  • Minor White
  • Physique Culture after WW2 (Tom of Finland, 1950s Australia, Later Physique Culture and gay pornography photographs)
  • Diane Arbus
  • Robert Mapplethorpe
  • Arthur Tress, Bill Henson and Bruce Weber
  • Herb Ritts, Queer Press, Queer body
  • And so it goes…

Word count 10,600

 

 

Historical Pressings

 

Beginnings

Since the invention of the camera people have taken photographs of the male body. The 1840 image by Hippolyte Bayard, Self-portrait as a drowned man (above) is a self-portrait by the photographer depicting his fake suicide, taken in protest at being ignored as one of the inventors of photography. It is interesting because it is one of the earliest known photographic images of the unclothed male body and also a reflection of his self, an act of self-reflexivity. It is not his actual body but a reflection on how he would like to be seen by himself and others. This undercurrent of being seen, of projecting an image of the male body, has gradually been sexualised over the history of photography. The body in a photograph has become a canvas, able to mask or reveal the sexuality, identity and desires of the body and its owner. The male body in photography has become an object of desire for both the male and female viewer. The body is on display, open to the viewers gaze, possibly a desiring gaze. In the latter half of the twentieth century it is the muscular male body in particular that has become eroticised as an object of a desiring male2male gaze. In consumer society the muscular male body now acts as a sexualised marketable asset, used by ourselves and others, by the media and by companies to sell product. How has this sexual image of the muscular male body developed?

Within the history of art there is a profundity of depictions of the nude female form upon which the desiring gaze of the male could linger. With the advent of photography images of the nude male body became an accessible space for men desiring to look upon the bodies of other men. The nude male images featured in the early history of photography are endearing in their supposed lack of artifice. The bodies are of a natural type: everyday, normal run of the mill bodies reveal themselves directly to the camera as can be seen in the anonymous c. 1843 French daguerreotype, “Male Nude Study”.1 Although posed and required to hold the stance for a long period of time in order to expose the mercury plate, the model in this daguerreotype assumes a quiet confidence and comfort in his own body, staring directly at the camera whilst revealing his manhood for all to see. This period sees the first true revealing of the male body since the Renaissance, and the beginning of the eroticising of the male body as a visual ‘spectacle’ in the modern era.

Artists with an inclination towards the beauty of naked men were drawn towards the new medium. The photograph opened up the male body to the desiring gaze of the male viewer. The photograph reflected both reality and deception: the reality that these bodies existed in the flesh and the deception that they could be ‘had’, that the viewer could possess the body by looking, by eroticising, and through purchasing the photograph. Friendship between men was generally accepted up until the 18th century but in Victorian times homosexuality was named and classified as a sexual orientation in the early 1870’s. According to Michel Foucault2 this ‘friendship’ only became a problem with the rise of the powers of the police and the judiciary, who saw it as a deviant act; of course photography, as an instrument of ‘truth’, could prove the criminal activities of homosexuals and lead to their prosecution. When homosexual acts did come to the attention of the police and the medical profession it led to great scandals such as the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for sodomy.

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904) 'Nude men wrestling, lock' (plate 345) 1884/1886

 

Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Nude men wrestling, lock (plate 345)
1884/1886
Public domain

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887

 

 

On reflection there seems to have been an explosion of images around the late 1880’s to early 1890’s onwards of what we can now call homoerotic imagery; to contemporary eyes the 1887 photographs of nude wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge have a distinct air of homo-eroticism about them. To keep such images above moral condemnation and within the bounds of propriety men where photographed in poses that were used for scientific studies (as in the case of the Muybridge photographs), as studies for other artists, or in religious poses. They appealed to the classical Greek ideal of masculinity and therefore avoided the sanctions of a society that was, on the surface, deeply conservative. For a brief moment imagine being a homosexual man in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, gazing for the first time at men in close physical proximity, touching each other in the nude, pressing each others flesh when such behaviour was thought of as subversive and illegal – what erotic desires photographs of the male body must have caused to those that appreciated such delicious pleasures, seeing them for the first time!

 

Frederick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden

Two of the most famous photographers of the late Victorian and early Edwardian era who used the male body significantly in their work were Frederick Holland Day in America and Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden in Europe. Frederick Holland Day’s photographs of the male body concentrated on mythological and religious subject matter. In these photographs he tried to reveal a transcendence of spirit through an aesthetic vision of androgynous physical perfection. He revelled in the sensuous hedonistic beauty of what he saw as the perfection of the youthful male body. In the 1904 photograph “St. Sebastian,” for example, the young male body is presented for our adoring gaze in the combined ecstasy and agony of suffering. In his mythological photographs Holland Day used the idealism of Ancient Greece as the basis for his directed and staged images. These are not the bodies of muscular men but of youthful boys (ephebes) in their adolescence; they seem to have an ambiguous sexuality. The models genitalia are rarely shown and when they are, the penis is usually hidden in dark shadow, imbuing the photographs with a sexual mystery. The images are suffused with an erotic beauty of the male body never seen before, a photographic reflection of a seductive utopian beauty seen through the desiring eye of a homosexual photographer.

 

Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Saint Sebastian' c. 1906

 

Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Saint Sebastian
c. 1906
Platinum print

See Frederick Holland Day. “Saint Sebastian.” Platinum print, c. 1906, in Woody, Jack and Crump, James. F. Holland Day: Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 1995, Plate 53. Courtesy: Library of Congress

 

 

In Europe Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs of young ephebes (males between boy and man) have a much more open and confronting sexual presence. Using heavily set Sicilian peasant youths with rough hands and feet von Gloeden turned some of these bodies into heroic images of Grecian legend, usually photographing his nude figures in their entirety. In undertaking research into von Gloedens’ photographs at The Kinsey Institute, I was quite surprised at how little von Gloeden used classical props such as togas and vases in his photographs, relying instead on just the form of the body with perhaps a ribbon in the hair. His photographs depict the penis and the male rump quite openly and he hints at possible erotic sexual encounters between models through their intimate gaze and physical contact.

The photographs were collected by some people for their chaste and idyllic nature but for others, such as homosexual men, there is a subtext of latent homo-eroticism present in the positioning and presentation of the youthful male body. The imagery of the penis and the male rump can be seen as totally innocent, but to homosexual men desire can be aroused by the depiction of such erogenous zones within these photographs.

In both photographers work there is a reliance on the ‘natural’ body. In von Gloeden’s case it is the smooth peasant body with rough hands and feet; in Holland Day’s it is the smooth sinuous body of the adolescent. At the same time in both Europe and America, however, there began to emerge a new form for the body of a man, that of the muscular mesomorph, the V-shaped masculine ‘ideal’ expressed through the image of the bodybuilder, photographed in all his muscular splendour!

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899

 

Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print

 

 

The Development of Bodybuilding

Frederick Mueller, better known to the world as the Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, was launched on the public at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He was the world’s first true bodybuilder and he had a thick set muscular body with an outstanding back and abdominal muscles.

Bodybuilding came into existence as a result of the perceived effeminization of men brought on by the effects of the industrial revolution – boxing, gymnastics and weightlifting were undertaken to combat slothfulness, lack of exercise and unmanliness. This led to the formation of what Elliott Gorn in his book The Manly Art (Robson Books, 1986) has called ‘The Cult of Muscularity’,3 where the ‘ideal’ of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world. Sandow promoted himself not as the strongest man in the world but as the man with the most perfect physique, the first time this had ever happened in the history of the male body. He projected an ideal of physical perfection. He used photography of his muscular torso to promote himself and his products such as books, dumbbells and a brand of cocoa. He often performed and was photographed in the nude by leading photographers in Europe and America and was not at all bashful about exposing his naked body to the admiring gaze of both men and women.

His torso appeared on numerous cartes de visite, inspiring other young men to take up bodybuilding and gradually the muscular male body became an object of adulation for middle-class men and boys. The popularity of the image of his perfect body encouraged other men to purchase images of such muscular edifices and allowed them to desire to have a body like Sandow’s themselves. It also allowed homosexual men to eroticise the body of the male through their desiring gaze. But the ‘normal’ standards of heterosexual masculinity had to be defended. A desiring male gaze (men looking at the bodies of other men) could not be allowed to be homosexual; homosexuals were portrayed by the popular press and society as effete and feminine in order to deny the fact that a ‘real’ man could desire other men.4 (See the Femi-nancy Press chapter for more details on how homosexuals were portrayed as feminine). A man had to be a ‘real’ man otherwise he could be queer, an arse bandit!

 

Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896) 'Eugen Sandow' 1893

 

Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896)
Eugen Sandow
1893
Photographic print on cabinet card
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.

 

 

Still, photographs of Greco-Roman wrestling continued to offer the opportunity for homosexual men to look upon the muscular bodies of other men in close physical proximity and intimacy. A classical wrestling style and classical props legitimised the subject matter. In static poses, which most photographs were at this time because of the length of the exposure, the genitalia were usually covered with a discreetly placed fig leaf or loin cloth, or the fig leaf / posing pouch were added later by retouching the photograph (as can be seen in the anonymous undated image of two wrestlers, “Otto Arco and Adrian Deraiz”).5 People such as Bernard MacFadden, publisher of Physical Culture, said these images were not at all erotic when viewed by other men. I think I would have found these images very horny (if a little illicit), if I had been a poof back in those days.

The physique of the muscular body had appeal across all class boundaries and bodybuilding was one of the first social activities that could be undertaken by any man no matter what his social position. Bodybuilding reinforced the power of traditional heterosexual behaviour – to be the breadwinner and provider for women, men had to see themselves as strong, tough and masculine. A fit, strong body is a productive body able to do more work through its shear physical bulk and endurance. Unlike the anonymous bodies in the photographs of Holland Day and von Gloeden here the bodies are named as individuals, men proud of their masculine bodies. It is the photographers that are anonymous, as though they are of little consequence in comparison to the flesh that is placed before their lenses.

I suggest that the impression the muscular body made on individual men was also linked to developments in other areas (art, construction and architecture for example), which were themselves influenced by industrialisation and its affect on social structure. In her book Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (Routledge, 1995), Elizabeth Grosz says that the city is an important element in the social production of sexually active bodies. As the cities became further industrialised and the population of cities increased in the Victorian era, space to build new buildings was at a premium. The 1890s saw the building of the first skyscrapers in America, impressive pieces of engineering that towered above the city skyline. Their object was to get more internal volume and external surface area into the same amount of space so that the building held more and was more visible to the human eye. I believe this construction has parallels in the similar development of the muscular male body, a facade with more surface area than other men’s bodies, which makes that man more visible, admired and (secretly) desired.

Further, in art the Futurists believed in the ultimate power of the machine and portrayed both the machine and the body in a blur of speed and motion. In the Age of the Machine the construction of the body became industrialised, the body becoming armoured against the outside world and the difficulty of living in it. The body became a machine, indestructible, superhuman. Within this demanding world men sought to confirm their dominance over women (especially after women achieved the ability to vote), and other men. Domination was affirmed partially through images of the muscular male (as can be seen in the image Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” below), although viewed through contemporary eyes a definite homo-erotic element is also present.

Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” also presents us with a man who challenged the fame of Eugen Sandow. His name was Tony Sansone and he emerged as the new hero of bodybuilding around the year 1925. Graced with a perfect physique for a taller man, Sansone was more lithe than the stocky, muscular Sandow and can be seen to represent a classical heroic Grecian body, perfect in it’s form. He had Valentino like features, perfect bone structure and was very photogenic, always a useful asset when selling a book of photographs of yourself.

 

Grace Salon of Art. 'Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in "The Slave"' 1930s

 

Grace Salon of Art
Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave”
1930s

 

Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948) 'Portrait of Tony Sansone' Nd

 

Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948)
Portrait of Tony Sansone
Nd (1930s)

 

 

WWI, Nature Worship, The Body and Propaganda

The First World War caused a huge amount of devastation to the morale and confidence of the male population of Europe and America. Millions of young men were slaughtered on the killing fields of Flanders and Galipolli as the reality of trench warfare set in. Here it did not matter what kind of body a man had – every body was fodder for the machine guns that constantly ranged the lines of advancing men during an assault. A bullet or nerve gas kills a strong, muscular body just as well as a thin, natural body. The war created anxieties and conflicts in men and undermined their confidence and ability to cope in the world after peace came. During the war images of men were used to reinforce the patriotic message of fighting for your country. After the