Posts Tagged ‘McCarthyism

26
Jun
14

Photographs and text: George Platt Lynes and the male nude

*PLEASE NOTE THIS POSTING CONTAINS ART PHOTOGRAPHS OF MALE NUDITY – IF YOU DO NOT LIKE PLEASE DO NOT LOOK, FAIR WARNING HAS BEEN GIVEN*

 

Man Ray. 'George Platt Lynes' 1927

 

Man Ray
George Platt Lynes
1927

 

 

The greatest photographer of the male nude the world has ever seen – George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955).

Lynes worked as a fashion photographer in his own studio in New York (which he opened in 1932) before moving to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. Although an artistic success the sojourn was a financial failure and he returned to New York in 1948. Although continuing his commercial work he became disinterested in it, concentrating his energies on photographing the male nude. He began a friendship with Dr Alfred Kinsey of the Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana and helped with his sex research. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey.1 By May 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio. He destroyed much of his print and negative archives particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City where he died.2

Since the early 1930s Lynes had photographed male nudes and distributed the images privately to his circle of friends. He was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines, for he was a gay man “passing” in a homophobic society. Generally his earlier male nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ephebe. As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tend to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older, rougher men shot in close up were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I believe, a certain sadness but much inner strength in his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.

This monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off (see Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball] c. 1942, below). Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution or prosecution. However, this photograph is quite restrained compared to the most striking series of GPL’s photographs which involves an exploration the male anal area (a photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute). This explicit series features other photographs of the same model – in particular one that depicts the male with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart. After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf, and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious.

Further, when undertaking research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute as part of my PhD I noted that most of the photographs had annotations in code on the back of them giving details of age, sexual proclivities of models and what they are prepared to do and where they were found. This information gives a vital social context to GPL’s nude photographs of men and positions them within the moral and ethical framework of the era in which they were made. Most of the photographs list the names of the models used but we are unable to print them due to an agreement between GPL and Dr. Kinsey as to their secrecy.

I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders influenced his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for the Art Blart blog

 

1. Brown, Elspeth. “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia,” on the In The Darkroom blog May 2013 [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.
2. “He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed…We have to remember the time period we’re talking about – America during the post-war Red Scare…”

Quotation from George Platt Lynes, The Male Nudes. Rizzoli International Pub, 2011 cited on “George Platt Lynes” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 24/06/2014.

 

Many thankx to Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown for allowing me to publish her text “Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia”. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

“The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved – he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

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Allen Ellenzweig

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude with tattoo)' 1950-1955

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude with tattoo)
1950-1955
Silver gelatin photograph
24.5 x 19.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' Nd [c. 1951]

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
Nd [c. 1951]
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Jack Fontan' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Jack Fontan
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.22

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.23

Samuel M. Steward,. "George Platt Lynes," in 'The Advocate', No. 332, December 10, 1981, p.24

 

Samuel M. Steward. “George Platt Lynes,” in The Advocate, No. 332, December 10, 1981, pp. 22-24

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled [Charles 'Tex' Smutney, Charles 'Buddy' Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]' c. 1942

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]
c. 1942
Silver gelatin photograph

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According to David Leddick the models are Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball. The image comes from a series of 30 photographs of these three boys undressing and lying on a bed together. Leddick, David. Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes 1935-1955. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, p. 21.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms folded)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)' c. 1950

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)
c. 1950
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (male nude study)' Nd

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (male nude study)
Nd
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Queer Desire and Cold War Homophobia

Associate Professor Elspeth H. Brown

This photograph [above] archives queer, illicit desire in Cold War America. It was made by George Platt Lynes, and is part of a set of male nudes that the photographer made in the decades leading to his death, from lung cancer, in 1955. Because exhibiting these photographs was a impossibility during Lynes’s lifetime due to Cold War homophobia, he circulated them privately among his queer kinship networks.

Lynes was part of a closely connected circle of elite gay men who dominated American arts and letters in the interwar and early post-war years. For 16 years, Lynes lived with the writer Glenway Wescott and museum curator Monroe Wheeler, who were a couple for over fifty years; they had a variety of other sexual partners throughout, including Lynes, who shared a bedroom with Wheeler during their years together. All three of them, as well as friends and colleagues Lincoln Kirstein, Paul Cadmus, and other leading figures, participated in sex parties in the 1940s and 1950s, as documented in their personal papers. However, in the context of 1950s-era red scares, which particularly focused on homosexuals, the more open sexual subcultures of the 1930s and 1940s were driven even further underground.

In April of 1950, Glenway Wescott wrote George Platt Lynes that while the erotic explicitness of George’s nudes didn’t personally concern him, he was worried for Monroe Wheeler, since Wheeler held a public position as a curator at the Museum of Modern Art. “I really don’t mind scabrousness, etc., on my account, as you must know,” he wrote. “Only that our poor M [Monroe] must conclude his career with good effect and honor, I am anxious not to involve him in what is now called (in the nation’s capital) ‘guilty by association’ (have you been reading the columns and columns in the newspapers upon this and correlative points?).”

Although McCarthyism is often understood as the effort to purge suspected communists from the State Department and other branches of the federal government, the Red Scare equally targeted homosexuals, who were forced out of public service and into the closet. Wescott may well have been referring to the front page of the New York Times on March 1, 1950, where Secretary of State Dean Acheson testified about the Alger Hiss trial and the loyalty program at the State Department. Although the article purportedly concerned communism, it shows that the red scare mainly affected homosexuals, as Wescott clearly understood. Senator Bridges asked John E. Peurifoy, Deputy Under-Secretary of State in charge of the security program, how many members of the State Department had resigned since the investigations began in 1947. “Ninety-one persons in the shady category,” Mr. Peurifoy replied, “most of these were homosexuals.” This was not necessarily newsworthy in and of itself, so far as the New York Times was concerned in 1950, and the remainder of the article detailed the testimony relating to other aspects of the hearings.

Lynes continued to make and circulate his portraits, despite this climate of homophobia. He was very concerned that the work find an audience, and published it in several issues of the German homosexual journal Der Kreis in the 1950s. He also became an important informant for Alfred Kinsey’s research, as did Glenway Wescott and other members of their circle. Between 1949 and 1955, Lynes sold and donated much of his erotic nudes to Kinsey, where they are now part of the Kinsey Institute collections in Bloomington, Indiana.

© Elspeth H. Brown 2013
Associate Professor of History
University of Toronto

Reproduced with permission of the author.

Elspeth H. Brown website

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist's apartment)' 1953

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled (Charles Romans in the artist’s apartment)
1953
Silver gelatin photograph
19.5 x 24.5 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Don Cerulli' 1952

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Don Cerulli
1952
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Male nude study' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Male nude study
1951
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1951

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1951
Silver gelatin photograph
22.9 x 19.1 cm

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1936

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Untitled
1936
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'George Tooker' 1945

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
George Tooker
1945
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Tex Smutney' 1943

 

George Platt Lynes (American, April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955)
Tex Smutney
1943
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

Chronology by Jack Woody

1907-1924 Born April 15, 1907, East Orange, New Jersey. Raised in comfortable circumstances and privately educated. Schoolmate Lincoln Kirstein described the young Lynes as “precocious,” crediting him with a subsequent introduction to George Balanchine.

1925 Makes first trip to Europe. Meets lifetime companions Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. Befriends Gertrude Stein, Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Cocteau during his stay. Returns to New York City, works at Brentano’s Bookstore for a short time.

1926 Publishes the ‘As Stable Pamphlets’ in his parents’ house, Englewood, New Jersey. Includes Gertrude Stein’s DESCRIPTIONS OF LITERATURE and Ernest Hemingway’s first published play TODAY IS FRIDAY with cover designs by Pavel Tchelitchew and Jean Codeau. Enters Yale University in Autumn, leaves in December.

1927 Opens Park Place Book Shop in Englewood. The gift of a view camera encourages Lynes to make a career of photography.

1928-1930 During 1928 Lynes exhibits his celebrity portraits at Park Place Book Shop to launch a portrait business in the shop. Continues traveling to Europe, teaching himself by trial-and-error a technical understanding of the medium.

1931 Introduced to Julien Levy. Together they experiment with photographing surrealistic still-lifes. Levy arranges to include Lynes in Surrealism exhibition at Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, Connecticut. Visits and photographs Gertrude Stein at Bilignin.

1932 First important exhibition at the Julien Levy Gallery in tandem with Walker Evans. The death of his father forces Lynes to take up photography as a means of economic support.

1933 Opens first New York City studio on East 50th Street. Continued public showings of his work and interest in his celebrity portraits attracts a large clientele of New York socialites and their families.

1934 Begins publishing his fashion and portrait work in such magazines as Town and Country, Harpers’ Bazaar and Vogue magazines.

1935 Invited by Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine to document the repertoire and principal dancers in their fledgling American Ballet (now New York City Ballet), a collaboration that will continue until Lynes’ death in 1955.

1936 Surrealistic composition ‘The Sleepwalker’ included in New York Museum of Modern Art’s exhibition, ‘Fantastic Art, Dada and Surrealism.’ Lynes undertakes an extensive project to photographically interpret mythological situations.

1937-1940 Continues involvement with mythology series. Successful commercial career now headquartered in a large studio at 604 Madison Avenue. Commercial fashion accounts include Hattie Carnegie, Henri Bendel, Saks Fifth Avenue and Bergdorf Goodman.

1941-1945 Photographs airfield activities for First Air Force’s publicity and documentation. Begins to lose interest in commercial work, a process accelerated by the death of George Tichenor in 1942. Disillusioned with New York and his private life Lynes closes his studio and leaves for Los Angeles to head Vogue Magazine’s Hollywood studio.

1946-1947 Lynes begins to photograph in his rented Hollywood Hills home, experimenting with effects achieved with minimal amounts of available light. Photographs Christopher Isherwood, Igor Stravinsky, Thomas Mann and Aldous Huxley.

1948-1950 Friends sponsor the financially troubled Lynes’ return to New York where he is uninterested in and unable to repeat his earlier commercial successes. Economics force Lynes to experiment with cheaper photographic tools. He is particularly interested in the paper negative. Meets sex researcher Alfred Kinsey; impressed with Lynes’ work, Kinsey arranges to purchase hundreds of photographs for his Bloomington, Indiana institute.

1951-1954 Publishes his male nudes in homoerotic magazine ‘Der Kries’ using the pseudonyms Roberto Rolf and Robert Orville. Declares bankruptcy. Lives in a succession of apartments and studios as illness becomes apparent.

1955 In May diagnosed terminally ill with cancer. Last portrait sitting is June 16 with Monroe Wheeler. Closes studio and undergoes radium and drug therapy. Lynes begins to destroy large portions of his negative and print archives. In the Autumn he leaves for Europe, returning to New York in November to be hospitalized. At night Lynes leaves the hospital to attend the theatre and ballet. He dies on December sixth, forty-eight years old.

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Mel Fillini' 1950

 

George Platt Lynes
Mel Fillini
1950
Silver gelatin photograph

 

George Platt Lynes. 'Robert McVoy' c. 1941

 

George Platt Lynes
Robert McVoy
c. 1941
Silver gelatin photograph

 

 

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09
Jun
13

Exhibition: ‘The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951’ at The Norton Museum of Art, West Palm Beach, Florida

Exhibition dates: 14th March – 16th June 2013

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Conscience of the brave

Bradley Manning.
A slight, bespectacled, intelligent gay man.
A man who has the courage of his convictions.
He revealed truth at the heart of the world’s largest “democracy.”

There is something insidious about the American nation. Not its citizens, not its place, but its government. This government has perpetrated evil in the name of its people. Think of Iraq and Afghanistan, invasions in the name of freedom, the support of puppet governments, the assassinations, the military advisors on the ground, the profits made.

The torture. The deaths.

Bradley Manning revealed all of this because he has a mighty moral compass. He knows right from wrong. He was not afraid to expose the hypocrisy that for many years has beaten, unfettered, in the breast of a nation. The home of the brave and the free is sadly under attack from within. In the name of its people.

And why is this text relevant to this posting?
So often in the history of America, dissension is shut down because of some imagined menace, from within or without. Here another group of people (photographers documenting American social conditions) were persecuted for standing up for social causes, for the freedom to expose injustice where it lives. The paranoia of patriotism.

Marcus

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Many thankx to The Norton Museum of Art for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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“When the persecution of an individual who has exposed an evil is pursued so ruthlessly and yet the evil itself is studiedly ignored, all of us know that there is something very wrong with the way that our society is conducting itself. And if we do not protest in the strongest terms about what is being done in our name, then we become complicit.”

Alan Moore

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“The US has shown remarkable energy in its pursuit of alleged whistleblowers. Has it investigated the deaths of those innocent civilians with the same vigour? With any vigour whatsoever? And which would you consider a crime? To conceal the deaths of innocent civilians, or to reveal them? I know what my answer would be.”

Les Barker

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“To suggest that lives were put in danger by the release of the WikiLeaks documents is the most cynical of statements. Lives were put in danger the night we invaded the sovereign nation of Iraq, an act that had nothing to do with what the Bradley Mannings of this country signed up for: to defend our people from attack. It was a war based on a complete lie and lives were not only put in danger, hundreds of thousands of them were exterminated. For those who organised this massacre to point a finger at Bradley Manning is the ultimate example of Orwellian hypocrisy.” 

Michael Moore

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“Private Manning is the world’s pre-eminent prisoner of conscience, having remained true to the Nuremberg principle that every soldier has the right to ‘a moral choice.’ His suffering mocks the notion of the land of the free.” 

John Pilger

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Alexander Alland (1902-1989, born Sevastopol, Ukraine) 'Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)' 1938

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Alexander Alland (1902-1989, born Sevastopol, Ukraine)
Untitled (Brooklyn Bridge)
1938
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: William and Jane Schloss Family Foundation Fund

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Louis Stettner (born 1922, Brooklyn, New York) 'Coming  to America' c. 1951

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Louis Stettner (born 1922, Brooklyn, New York)
Coming  to America
c. 1951
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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Erika Stone (born 1924, Frankfurt, Germany) 'Lower Eastside Facade' 1947

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Erika Stone (born 1924, Frankfurt, Germany)
Lower Eastside Facade
1947
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund,
John S. and Catherine Chapin Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

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Stone’s adroit cropping of this image emphasizes the coy upward gaze of the woman in the advertisement,
away from the laundry line (emblem of poverty), and suggests the social mobility of the postwar era.

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Marvin E. Newman (born 1927, Manhattan, New York) 'Halloween, South Side' 1951

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Marvin E. Newman (born 1927, Manhattan, New York)
Halloween, South Side
1951
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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Marvin Newman

Born in New York; Newman attended Brooklyn College, where he studied sculpture with Burgoyne Diller and photography with Walter Rosenblum. Following Rosenblum’s suggestion, he joined the Photo League in 1948, taking classes with John Ebstel. The Photo League, founded in 1936, blazed a trail for serious photographers for 15 years, providing a forum for ideas, cheap darkroom space, and the vision of using the art of picture taking to change the world. Newman then attended the Institute of Design, Chicago (1949-52), where, after studying with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind, he received one of the first MS degrees in photography (1952).

During this time, Newman won national contests, including one sponsored by American Photography (1950) and another by Time, Inc. (1951). His work appeared in the Always a Young Stranger exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and in a one-man show at Roy De Carava’s A Photographer’s Gallery (1956). Well-known as a photojournalist, Newman has been a major contributor to Sports Illustrated since its inception (1953), as well as to Life, Look, Newsweek, and Smithsonian magazines. In addition, he has been the national president of the American Society of Magazine Photographers, authored or coauthored eight books on photography, and received the Art Director’s Gold Medal for Editorial Photography.

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Ida Wyman (born 1926, Malden, Massachusetts) 'Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York' 1945

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Ida Wyman (born 1926, Malden, Massachusetts)
Spaghetti 25 Cents, New York
1945
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Photography Acquisitions Committee Fund

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This Italian restaurant was near the offices of Acme Newspictures, where Wyman became the company’s first
female photo printer in 1943. After the war she lost her job at the agency. The “Ladies Invited” sign on the
window is a reminder of a time when unescorted women were not always welcome in public dining establishments.

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Ida Wyman

When I began working in the 1940s, few women were doing magazine photography in a field that was almost exclusively male. As I progressed from box camera to Speed Graphic (my first professional camera), and then to a Rolleiflex, I stopped thinking about the mechanics of film speed, f-stops, shutter speed, and began focusing on subject matter that interested me. What interested me so much were ordinary people and their everyday activities. Early on, I had documented children’s games and unusual architectural details in my Bronx neighborhood. I decided to expand, to go elsewhere, taking the subway to Harlem, Chinatown, and lower Manhattan, exploring those neighborhoods and looking for photos.

I became a member of the Photo League in 1946. I considered myself a documentary photographer and the League’s philosophy of honest photography appealed to me. I also began to understand the power of photos to help improve the social order by showing the conditions under which many people lived and worked. Even after leaving the League the following year, I continued to emphasize visual and social realities in my straightforward photographs.

Beginning with my earliest photos seeing New York City with my feet, and in whatever part of the country I was in, I continued my own walkabout, learning the area, engaging my subject, listening, and respecting their dignity. This continued to be my approach when taking photos. My photographs depicted daily life in America’s modern metropolitan centers, including Chicago and Los Angeles as well as New York.

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Aaron Siskind (1903-1991, born Manhattan, New York) 'The Wishing Tree' 1937

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Aaron Siskind (1903-1991, born Manhattan, New York)
The Wishing Tree
1937, printed later
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Lillian Gordon Bequest

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Harlem’s legendary Wishing Tree, bringer of good fortune, was once a tall elm that stood outside a theater at
132nd Street and Seventh Avenue. When it was cut down in 1934 Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, the celebrated tap
dancer, moved the stump to a nearby block and planted a new Tree of Hope beside it to assume wishgranting duties.
A piece of the original trunk is preserved in the Apollo Theater on 125th Street, where performers still touch
it for luck before going onstage.

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Sonia Handelman Meyer (born 1920, Lakewood, New Jersey) 'Hebrew Immigration Aid Society' c. 1946

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Sonia Handelman Meyer (born 1920, Lakewood, New Jersey)
Hebrew Immigration Aid Society
c. 1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin in memory of Max Alperin

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The efforts of the New York­ based Hebrew Immigration Aid Society (HIAS) to rescue European Jews during
the war were severely hampered by US immigration laws. After the war it aided in the resettlement of some
150,000 displaced persons, including, presumably, these three, whom Handelman Meyer has chosen to
photograph in close­up. She conveys both their common suffering and their individuality, emphasizing
differences in body language and dress.

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Sonia Handelman Meyer

I first heard of the Photo League from Lou Stoumen in Puerto Rico in 1942. I was working for the U.S. Army Signal Corps and Lou was preparing to join Yank Magazine.  When I returned to New York City, I walked up the rickety stairs to League Headquarters and took a beginners class with Johnny Ebstel. I bought a used Rolleicord for a precious $100, and dared to go out on the city streets to photograph the life around me. Soon the guys began to come back from the war and the heady life of Photo League workshops, exhibits, lectures, photo hunts, and committee assignments intensified. I took eye-heart-soul opening workshops with Sid Grossman, worked as the paid (!) secretary for a year or so, and worked on the Lewis Hine Committee under Marynn Ausubel.

I photographed in Spanish Harlem, Greenwich Village, midtown Manhattan, at the Hebrew Immigration Aid Society, at an anti-lynching rally in Madison Square Park, at a Jehovah’s Witness convention in Yankee Stadium, and on Coney Island. Mostly, I photographed children and reflections of my city – rough-edged, tender, and very beautiful in its diversity. Some of this work was shown in the major 1949 exhibition, This is the Photo League.

The heartbreaking end of the League coincided with a huge change in my personal life. I got married and my husband began to go to college and we were out of NY for a while. And then the biggest change: our own family arrived and the joys of our son, and later our daughter, absorbed my time. Prints and negatives were stashed away in boxes and I lost track of all the old friends at the League. After so many years of being in the shadows, you can imagine my pleasure, at 90+ years of age, to have my photographs out of their boxes and onto walls where they can be seen, thought about, and enjoyed – and perhaps again take their place in the history of the Photo League.

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York) 'Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn' 1950

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York)
Chalk Games, Prospect Place, Brooklyn
1950
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Rictavia Schiff Bequest

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Arnold Eagle. 'Chatham Square Platform, New York City' c. 1939

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Arnold Eagle
Chatham Square Platform, New York City
c. 1939
Silver gelatin print

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Joe Schwartz (born 1913, Brooklyn, New York) 'Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York' c. 1936

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Joe Schwartz (born 1913, Brooklyn, New York)
Slums Must Go! May Day Parade, New York
c. 1936
Gelatin silver print
Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, Photo League Collection
Museum Purchase with funds provided by Elizabeth M. Ross, the Derby Fund, John S. and Catherine Chapin
Kobacker, and the Friends of the Photo League

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Morris Huberland (1909-2003, born Warsaw, Poland) 'Union Square, New York' c. 1942

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Morris Huberland (1909-2003, born Warsaw, Poland)
Union Square, New York
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund

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“The Norton Museum of Art’s newest special exhibition, The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936 – 1951, is a formidable survey of the League’s history, and its artistic, cultural, social, and political significance. Opening March 14 and on view through June 16, 2013, this striking exhibition includes nearly 150 vintage photographs from Photo League collections at the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, and The Jewish Museum in New York City.

The exhibition is organized by Mason Klein, Curator of Fine Arts at The Jewish Museum and Catherine Evans, the William and Sarah Ross Soter Curator of Photography of the Columbus Museum of Art. It premiered in at The Jewish Museum in 2011 to rave reviews. The New York Times called The Radical Camera a “stirring show,” and the New York Photo Review hailed it as “nothing short of splendid.” The New Yorker named the exhibition one of the top 10 photography exhibitions of 2011. The Norton is the final venue on the exhibition’s tour.

The exhibition explores the fascinating blend of aesthetics and social activism at the heart of the Photo League. League members were known for capturing sharply revealing, compelling moments from everyday life. The League focused on New York City and its vibrant streets – a shoeshine boy, a brass band on a bustling corner, a crowded beach at Coney Island. Many of the images are beautiful, yet harbor strong social commentary on issues of class, race, and opportunity. The organization’s members included some of the most noted photographers of the mid-20th century – W. Eugene Smith, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), Lisette Model, Berenice Abbott and Aaron Siskind, to name a few.

In 1936, a group of young, idealistic photographers, most of them Jewish, first-generation Americans, formed an organization in Manhattan called the Photo League. Their solidarity centered on a belief in the expressive power of the documentary photograph, and on a progressive alliance in the 1930s of socialist ideas and art. (The Photo League also helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers.) The Radical Camera presents the development of the documentary photograph during a tumultuous period that spanned the New Deal reforms of the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Offering classes, mounting exhibitions, and fostering community, members of the Photo League focused on social reform and the power of the photograph to motivate change. At the height of their influence, their membership included the most important photographers of their day including Berenice Abbot, Aaron Siskind, Barbara Morgan, Sid Grossman, Weegee (Arthur Fellig), and Lisette Model. Featuring more than 175 works by these artists as well as many more Photo League members, The Radical Camera traces the organization’s interests, attitudes toward photography, and impact during its 15-year lifespan.

The innovative contributions of the Photo League during its 15-year existence (1936-1951) were significant. As it grew, the League mirrored monumental shifts in the world starting with the Depression, through World War II, and ending with the Red Scare. Born of the worker’s movement, the Photo League was an organization of young, idealistic, first-generation American photographers, most of them Jewish, who believed in documentary photography as an expressive medium and powerful tool for exposing social problems. It was also a school with teachers such as Sid Grossman, who encouraged students to take their cameras to the streets and discover the meaning of their work as well as their relationship to it. The League had a darkroom for printing, published an acclaimed newsletter called Photo Notes, offered exhibition space, and was a place to socialize.

The Photo League helped validate photography as a fine art, presenting student work and guest exhibitions by established photographers such as Eugène Atget, Henri Cartier-Bresson, and Edward Weston, among others. These affecting black and white photographs show life as it was lived mostly on the streets, sidewalks and subways of New York. Joy and playfulness as well as poverty and hardship are in evidence. In addition to their urban focus, “Leaguers” photographed rural America, and during World War II, took their cameras to Latin America and Europe. The exhibition also addresses the active participation of women who found rare access and recognition at the League. The Radical Camera presents the League within a critical, historical context. Developments in photojournalism were catalyzing a new information era in which photo essays were appearing for the first time in magazines such as Life and Look. As time went on, its social documentary roots evolved toward a more experimental approach, laying the foundation for the next generation of street photographers.

In 1947, the League came under the pall of McCarthyism and was blacklisted for its alleged involvement with the Communist Party. Ironically, the Photo League had just begun a national campaign to broaden its base as a “Center for American Photography.” Despite the support of Ansel Adams, Beaumont and Nancy Newhall, Paul Strand, and many other national figures, this vision of a national photography center could not overcome the Red Scare. As paranoia and fear spread, the Photo League was forced to disband in 1951. The Radical Camera: New York’s Photo League, 1936-1951 has been organized by The Jewish Museum, New York, and the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio. Major support was provided by the Phillip and Edith Leonian Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Limited Brands Foundation.”

Press release from The Norton Museum of Art website

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Sy Kattelson (born 1923, Manhattan, New York) 'Untitled (Subway Car)' 1949

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Sy Kattelson (born 1923, Manhattan, New York)
Untitled (Subway Car)
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Jerome Liebling (United States, 1924-2011) 'Butterfly Boy, New York' 1949

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Jerome Liebling (United States, 1924-2011)
Butterfly Boy, New York
1949
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York, Purchase: Mimi and Barry J. Alperin Fund
© Estate of Jerome Liebling

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Lee Sievan (1907-1990, born Manhattan, New York) 'Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store' c. 1940

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Lee Sievan (1907-1990, born Manhattan, New York)
Salvation Army Lassie in Front of a Woolworth Store
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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This is a classic photograph. Look at the triangle that forms the central part of the image, from the girl at left looking with disdain at the matriarch singing then down to the look on the organ players face. Notice the girl at right covering her ears so she cannot hear the racket. Imagine the legs of the organ player going up and down, pumping air into the organ; and finally observe the shadow of a man’s face captured by reflection in the shop window as he walks past the scene. Magic.

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Rosalie Gwathmey (1908-2001, born Charlotte, North Carolina) 'Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina' c. 1948

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Rosalie Gwathmey (1908-2001, born Charlotte, North Carolina)
Shout Freedom, Charlotte, North Carolina
c. 1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Gay Block and Malka Drucker Fund of the Houston Jewish Community Foundation

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Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968, born Zloczów, Galicia, now Ukraine) 'Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade' c. 1940

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Weegee (Arthur Fellig) (1899-1968, born Zloczów, Galicia, now Ukraine)
Max Is Rushing in the Bagels to a Restaurant on Second Avenue for the Morning Trade
c. 1940
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Joan B. and Richard L. Barovick Family Foundation and Bunny and Jim Weinberg Gifts

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Bernard Cole (1911-1992, born London, England) 'Shoemaker’s Lunch' 1944

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Bernard Cole (1911-1992, born London, England)
Shoemaker’s Lunch
1944
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York,
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Rebecca Lepkoff (American, born 1916) 'Broken Window on South Street, New York' 1948

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Rebecca Lepkoff (American, born 1916)
Broken Window on South Street, New York
1948
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York) 'Ideal Laundry' 1946

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Arthur Leipzig (born 1918, Brooklyn, New York)
Ideal Laundry
1946
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Esther Leah Ritz Bequest

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Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978, born Astoria, Oregon) 'Untitled (Tenements, New York)' c. 1937

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Consuelo Kanaga (1894-1978, born Astoria, Oregon)
Untitled (Tenements, New York)
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: The Paul Strand Trust for the benefit of Virginia Stevens Gift

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Leftist political activism was a strong element in Kanaga’s work, beginning with her photographs of a labor
strike in San Francisco in 1934. She provided photographs for progressive publications such as New Masses,
Labor Defender,
 and Sunday Worker. Underlying this formal study of tenement laundry lines (a common
motif in League imagery) is Kanaga’s empathy for the living conditions of the working class.

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Ruth Orkin (1921-1985, born Boston, Massachusetts) 'Boy Jumping into Hudson River' 1948

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Ruth Orkin (1921-1985, born Boston, Massachusetts)
Boy Jumping into Hudson River
1948
Gelatin silver print The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant) (1906-1989, born Brooklyn, New York) 'Untitled (Dancing School)' 1938

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Sol Prom (Solomon Fabricant) (1906-1989, born Brooklyn, New York)
Untitled (Dancing School)
1938
from Harlem Document, 1936-40
Gelatin silver print
The Jewish Museum, New York
Purchase: Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation Fund

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Mary Bruce opened a dancing school in Harlem in 1937. For fifty years she taught ballet and tap, giving free lessons to those who could not afford them. Her illustrious pupils included Katherine Dunham, Nat King Cole, Ruby Dee, and Marlon Brando.

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The Norton Museum of Art
1451 S. Olive Avenue
West Palm Beach, FL 33401
T: (561) 832-5196

Opening hours:

Tuesday           10 am – 5 pm
Wednesday     10 am – 5 pm
Thursday         10 am – 9 pm
Friday              10 am – 5 pm
Saturday          10 am – 5 pm
Sunday             11 am – 5 pm

Closed Mondays

The Norton Museum of Art website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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