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Photography: Gay Male, Pre-Stonewall  
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Avant-garde Photographers

List was part of a new breed of photographers in both Europe and America who depicted the male nude with an avant-garde sense of composition. Many of these artists were fashion photographers associated with such magazines as Vogue and Harper's Bazaar. They attempted to make a clear break with the pictorialist aspirations to painterly imagery of photographers such as Day and von Gloeden.

Of these new photographers, George Hoyningen-Huene (1900-1968) may have been the most influential. A Baltic baron whose family had fled from the Russian Revolution, Hoyningen-Huene brought a sense of modernity to his photographic work, skillfully fusing bold compositions into his fashion work. He was the presiding fashion photographer at Vogue from 1926 to 1935. His colleague and lover, the German photographer Horst P. Horst (1906-1999), also found a place in the annals of Vogue.

Another young Vogue photographer who achieved commercial success and name recognition was Cecil Beaton (1904-1980). A theatrical designer as well as a photographer, he is best known for his celebrity portraits, often of gay friends. Beaton also worked for Vanity Fair. He covered World War II as a photojournalist, later became the official photographer for the British royal family, and was eventually knighted.

Referred to as the "Dandy Photographer," he rarely addressed gay themes overtly, but several historians and scholars have noted subtle homoerotic elements in his work.

American Fine Art Photography

In 1937, three artist friends--Paul Cadmus (1904-1999), Jared French (1905-1988), and Margaret French (d. 1998)--began to experiment with photography during their trips to Fire Island and Provincetown. Known as the PAJAMA (Paul-Jared-Margaret) Group they photographed their intimate, largely gay and bisexual, circle over two decades, but especially from 1937 to 1945.

Their images document a substratum of gay life during a crucial decade, while also providing insight into a period of great creativity and freedom for the artists. Cadmus and Jared French, who were probably lovers before French's 1937 marriage to Margaret Hoening, are best known for their paintings, and their photographs probably influenced their paintings in various ways.

George Platt Lynes

In an era when erotic photography of the male nude was not only taboo but also illegal, George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) was a true pioneer, creating well-crafted images whose originality reached beyond their sexually charged themes.

Today, Lynes' photographs for George Balanchine's ballet Orpheus are his most widely recognized works. They anticipate the later erotic male nudes, which are startlingly beautiful in their honesty and simplicity. Dr. Alfred C. Kinsey, the pioneering sexologist who published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948, began collecting Lynes' homoerotic work in the 1950s, and today the Kinsey Institute has the largest collection of his work.

Minor White

More cerebral than the work of Lynes are the images of Minor White (1908-1976). Attempting to use the camera to explore spiritual depths, or to transform the carnal into the spiritual, White avoids overt eroticism, even in his highly suggestive images of male nudes. Still, his photographs achieve a subtle homoeroticism that is often more powerful because of the artist's oblique approach.

Physical Culture

As early as 1930, Henry Annas Studio in Texas was producing beefcake images of muscle-bound men in desert settings. By the 1940s, a wide variety of homoerotic imagery began to be available to a wide public through male fitness or physique magazines such as Strength and Health, Muscle Power, Pictorial, Fizeek Art Quarterly, and Tomorrow's Man. Produced for a growing but largely underground gay subculture these magazines used fitness as a pretext for depicting buffed-out and oiled-up athletes.

As the gay subculture grew, so did the variety of magazines available. In the 1950s, a Chicago photographer working under the name "Kris" began creating images of Midwestern men in seedy rooms sporting g-strings. The connection between these photographs and physical fitness was remote indeed.

Similarly, on the West Coast the photographic image was already moving from strict representations of weight-lifters and barbells to pictures of naked young men in campy interior shots or wrestling in the great outdoors. Not surprisingly, given the legal and moral climate of the times, many of the photographers of these pictures published their work anonymously or under pseudonyms.

At the end of the 1950s, photo studios such as Bob Mizer's Athletic Model Guild (AMG), the Western Photography Guild, and Spartan of Hollywood began to emerge. These enterprises marketed their photographs somewhat more openly to gay consumers than had the earlier magazines. Although they gradually dropped the pretense to physical culture or bodybuilding interest, they generally communicated with their audience in coded terms rather than directly.

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