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Photography: Gay Male, Post-Stonewall  
 
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Pierre et Gilles

Working collaboratively since the mid-1970s when they first met, fell in love, and began making art together, Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard have managed to create images that speak to a generation of gay men.

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Using traditional photo-retouching techniques, painted backdrops, and display items such as fake flowers and fake snow, all combined with their predilection for buff-bodied pretty boys, they create camp-infused confections from classic themes, transforming religious saints and sailors into sexy celebrities.

Because of its unashamed sentimentality and unapologetic gay overtones, their work exists somewhere between high art and low culture. It has been seen more often in reproduction and advertisements than in originals.

However, recently Pierre et Gilles were the subject of a traveling retrospective exhibition, organized by New York's New Museum for Contemporary Art, which also showed at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. The exhibition included 56 of their ornately framed portraits and launched their new Swatch watch complete with a photo of a mermaid and a sailor.

Jack Pierson

Born in Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1960, Jack Pierson lives and works in both Provincetown and New York City. Working with found objects, photography, and installation, Pierson creates work that has less to do with traditional fine art photography than it does with photography as an extension of his own conceptual art practice.

Indebted to the snapshot tradition, Pierson's images present a fragmented world infused with haunting solitude. Quickly taken and often blurry, the photographs juxtapose sexy young men in disheveled bedrooms with grainy images of flowers, found signs, and even American flags, cumulatively suggesting a groggy-eyed look at a media-saturated culture in which everything is already reminiscent of something else.

Pierson's work has been shown in galleries and museums. His books All of a Sudden (1995) and The Lonely Life (1997) display Pierson's signature style: soft focus, grainy, saturated colors, flowers, fragmented bodies all printed to the end of the page, texture against texture.

In one spread, one sees a distant village set against a blurry flower in the foreground; in another palm trees sway in a pink sky. These books, like his exhibitions, suggest a kind of post-disco melancholia that superbly melds emotional longing with hangovers and ennui.

Ken Probst

An American born in Switzerland, Probst is best known for his book (por ne-graf'ik), which takes a behind the scenes look at California's porn industry. Adopting a semi-documentary style, it offers a surprising look at the difficult and often mundane work of creating erotic videos.

Probst captures on film those in-between and often awkward moments that describe the real space of the set, as opposed to the highly constructed fantasy of erotic desire.

Compositionally, the images are charged by a modernist desire for line, texture and form, at times nearly abstracting the events portrayed. A single sock is both a humorous detail and a compositional device to move the eye. A difficult camera angle becomes a humorous mise en scène. A bottle of lubricant is little more than a mundane fact. Even the pictures of actors resting between shoots tell us that creating desire can be a lot of work.

John Rand

Born in Oakland, California in 1956, Rand currently lives in Los Angeles. His photographs have been included in a variety of publications including Artweek, Bear, American Bear, and International Drummer.

Working in black and white photography, Rand reflects a curious blend of documentary and erotic photography traditions. He is engaged in documenting "Bear" culture, one of the most prominent subcultures within the gay community.

His work is driven by a personal engagement within this community and as such his project stands as a re-evaluation of the idealized male form. In eroticizing hairy, heavyset bodies, Rand hopes to challenge the dominance of the gym body as the apex of gay male culture.

Herb Ritts

Born in Los Angeles, Ritts (1952-2002) studied economics at Bard College. His first success as a photographer came in 1978 when Ritts shot actors Jon Voight and Ricky Schroeder. Throughout the late 1970s and early 1980s, he continued working in the entertainment industry in Los Angeles as a celebrity portraitist.

His photographs have appeared in Interview, Harper's Bazaar, Vogue, and Elle. In 1985, Ritts exhibited his photographs in a gallery setting for the first time.

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