Yes, there was a sequel to the male nude an it has a similar structure: A banal Quentin Crisp introduction; chapters in relation to period (from 1950-2000), a contemporary update on the picture’s subjects, here often unnecessary as those pictured are often very famous indeed (Yves St Laurent), movie stars (Charlton Heston, Burt Lancaster, Joe Dallesandro, Rupert Everett, Maxwell Caulfield) or later on in the book, porn stars (Jeff Stryker, Ryan Idol, Aiden Shaw. Casey Donovan, Peter Berlin) The racial representation in this is better. But the book feels partial and idiosyncratic; what Leddick likes and could get rather than what was significant or influential: still some Platt Lynes from the 50s (he died in ’55. I only have the 2020 Kindle reprint of INTIMATE STRANGERS which shockingly doesn’t refer to an original publication date –or I can’t find it — but clearly that research fed these coffee table books), a bit of Bob Mizer but less of that whole 1950s Physique Pictorial genre than is warranted, no Tom of Finland, no Bruce Weber, no Herb Ritts. And why is Helmut Newton in this collection? We do see Mapplethorpe pictured and there are some striking Pierre and Gilles photographs and a lot of gorgeous Tom Bianchi photos but it doesn’t cohere as a work of history or analysis. It all gets more explicit, sleazier, and even less satisfying as it progresses, and this in spite of the beauty of particular images. It did introduce me to new photographers and it did win a the Lambda Award and it was a long time ago. But I wouldn’t buy it again.
Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes, 1935-1940 is a book full of beautiful images, overly focussed on George Platt Lynes and his circle, with merely a nod to the other arts (except those practiced by that circle) and to European art production (much less the rest of the world): a Voinquel photo here ; a Duncan Grant painting there …the rest is American, mostly Platt Lynes. The pictures are gorgeous, and some of them are of very famous people (Tennesse Williams, Yul Brynner). And there’s a great central idea behind the book; to search for the subjects of the pictures, find out what they are doing, and juxtapose photographs of them in the present with those of them in their youth (and which some of them had forgotten they’d posed for as many of the photos were only circulated privately).
I used to read Quentin Crisp avidly when he was writing for the gay monthlies in the 80s; but his introduction here seems posy, mannered, thin (and he was that but also much more than that). He talks of his own past posing nude and makes a common distinction between naked and nude; how nude was in the service of art and naked would have frightened the horses and resulted in jail time. Okey Dokey.
The book would have been better titled as Pioneering Male Nudes in the USA or some such. It’s organisation is meant to exude comprehensiveness: The Depression Years, 1935-1940; The War-Years; The Post-War Years, 1945-1950 but there are major photographers missing (Carl Van Vechten) and there is not a single photograph of a black man in the whole book. The work exudes US cultural imperialism in its choices and racism in its absences, and it’s not just because all of these nudes depict a particular Aryan ideal (even in the rare instance when the subjects are Latino).
Continuing with my reading of the Platt Lynes Circle, David Leddick’s INTIMATE COMPANIONS: A TRIOGRAPHY OF GEORGE PLATT LYNES, PAUL CADMUS, LINCOLN KIRSTEIN AND THEIR CIRCLE, is a comparatively lighter work, very readable, with a wider scope. I wish I’d read it first. I learned more about the painters in the circle — Paul Cadmus, Pavel Tchelitchev, Jared French, George Tooker — and their inter-personal, sexual and professional relationships. It well illustrates what Gregory Woods in his great book has conceptualised as the or at least a ‘hominterm’, an international network of lesbians and gays that could be seen as a creative force and/ or as a ‘sinister conspiracy against the moral and material interests of the state’.
This particular grouping can certainly be seen as both; all of them ‘discrete’ to greater or lesser degrees; all of them out to their immediate circle and beyond. Working in art, major institutions such as MOMA, or indeed, like with Kirstein, helping to create the American Ballet Theatre but also discretely working for representation and inclusion; Monroe Wheeler through his influence on what MOMA programmed or published; Glenway Westcott through his work with Kinsey; Kirstein through his financial and institutional patronage of painting and ballet; Platt Lynes through his private nudes, circulated underground; Cadmus needed only his painting, where homosexuality seems ever present.
The book is divided into chapters, covering mainly the trio at various stages of their life, but also others who were important to at least one of the trio: Fidelma Cadmus Kirstein (Cadmus’ sister; Kirstein’s wife), Katherine Anne Porter, Jared French etc. My only reservation is that the book is interspersed with first-hand observations, an eye-witness account, of either the people or events such as parties and funerals. In the end it’s revealed that it’s by a certain ‘Sandusky’. But who is this Sandusky? It’s never as clear as it should be whether this is fiction or an eyewitness who wishes to remain anonymous. If it’s a real person it adds insight; if it’s fiction….well it’s interesting but speculative and potentially undermines aspects of the book. I wish this element had been better handled. It brings to mind a niggle with the title: the tension between ‘a triography’ and ‘their circle’. Why not just eliminate triography? Any biographic work would have to deal with ‘their circle’: INTIMATE COMPANIONS: GEORGE PLATT LYNES, PAUL CADMUS, LINCOLN KIRSTEIN AND THEIR CIRCLE.
I’m grateful to Leddick for enhancing my appreciation of Cadmus’ very beautiful drawings more traditional than his paintings, in a ‘classic’ style that reminds one vaguely of Da Vinci; more lifelike. The paintings I also love. But along with the social commentary, they also remind me of more greatly textured 30s cartoons; the drawings are both representational and also idealised, and in a sexual way. Democratic too. How many people have pictured factory workers like this below:
With all the superb visual materials in circulation, someone could make a great documentary on this. It certainly skewers contemporary notions of the rigidity and fixity of sexual identities between Wilde and Stonewall. This particular circle dances all over the Kinsey scale.