Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes, 1935-1940
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).