Sunday, December 30, 2007

The Academic Nude: 19th Century Science, Photography, and the Nude Male Human Form

As part of the series of Journal entries about contemporary alternative gay male art versus traditional gay male art I explore the history and relationship of photography in general to gay male photography in particular.

Photography did not escape the Nineteenth Century fascination with classification and categorization. Production was also often based on scientific exploration of the medium itself and/or applied study of the encountered object/subject. I explore two such (heterosexual) 19th century photographers briefly.
Eadweard Muybridge’s ‘zoopraxiscopic’ studies of human and animal motion photography led to the development of motion picture photography precisely because they stirred interest in the seeming conquest of time and space through captured motion. Muybridge also influenced the work of Thomas Eakins and indirectly Marcel Duchamp.1 Duchamp's "Nude Descending a Staircase" in particular is an abstracted quote of Muybridge. Additionally, the human subjects of Muybridge’s studies were beautifully formed physical specimens because of Muybridge's need to show human anatomy performing in motion. Never the less, I’m certain that the perusal of these works would have fascinated homosexual men at the time of their production, and they fascinate and titillate to this day precisely because of the persuasive presence of the flickering but vigorous figures in motion.2

Additionally, Gaudenzio Marconi (1841-1885)is known for his recreation of photographic tableau based in Renaissance and classical art, and because he prepared photographic studies of works for August Rodin. I must emphasize that Marconi was not making photographs for a gay male audience, though I surmise that men of the time with the inclination and sufficient means must have perused Marconi’s work as erotica.

Despite the original intent of Marconi and Muybridge, I feel it necessary to include them at the beginning of my examination of gay male photography precisely because they provide early examples of the photographer as he beheld the nude male form.


Google Search, “Eadweard Muybridge,” Monday, December 17, 2007, 10:01 AM EST.

Muybridge, Eadweard, The Human Figure in Motion. Mineola, NY. Dover, 1989

1 Muybridge, Eadweard, “Eadweard Muybridge,” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Modified December 14, 2007, viewed Monday, December 17, 2007, 11:07 AM EST.

2 Muybridge, Eadweard, “Man Ascending Stairs,” Wikimedia Commons, last modified November 22, 2007, viewed Monday, December, 17, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Charles Demuth: Gay Male 20th Century Artist of Lancaster Pennsylvania

Warning! If you find images that express gay male sexuality disturbing, do not look below.

There, I’ve said it. “Gay,” and “male” are the primary focus of my discussion of Charles Demuth. I am intent on doing so because, as a former resident of Lancaster, Pennsylvania of 38 years, I almost always encountered an aversion to the fact of Charles Demuth’s gay identity. It was similar to the Clinton solution to gays in the military. For instance, Today I went to the Website of the Demuth Foundation, and explored it carefully. There is one overt reference to Chares Demuth’s homosexuality. And in opposition to that, there is an entire section of carefully worded references to his friendships with women. Of course, I know that most people in our culture would express the opinion that his sexuality had nothing whatsoever to do with those beautiful floral watercolors and fundamental precisionist paintings that earned him his place as an important American artist of the Twentieth Century.

Never the less, the view from one of my studio windows in Lancaster included Charles Demuth’s back yard just a half block away, and I always felt as though I was his neighbor, at least in place if not time. I always found Charles' (“Deme" as his friends called him) early paintings, so many of which were centered on his marginalized homosexual lifestyle fascinatingly subversive. These works - among them, the two I’ve used here, “Turkish Bath with Self Portrait,” and “Three Sailors,” give an indication of how strongly Charles felt his gay male sexuality at a time when such a sexuality was one of the most taboo characteristics of any gay individual’s life.* The images were the vehicle Charles used to express his homosexual identity with such conviction in the Art World sub culture. I often wonder if he hoped and/or knew that these images would escape their subversive location.

I placed these two images in my first category, art about the male body. However, they reach beyond the confines of my easy categorization because they demonstrate Charles' happy exploration of his sexual identity. The images show no guilt, no remorse, no pain. Charles Demuth reveled in his gay male sexual identity at a time when he was living and studying in Philadelphia, New York City, and Paris, in personal contact with some of the greatest artistic minds of his era, and discovering his place in that world. Thus, they conquer the time between his life and mine, and they straddle and conquer the limitations and secret space, hidden, but expressed by the extremes of the two categories I’ve created.


Weinberg, Jonathan, Speaking for Vice: Homosexuality in the Art of Charles Demuth, Marsden Hartley, and the First American Avant-Garde. (1995) Boston: Yale University Press.

Kellner, Bruce, Letters of Charles Demuth, American Artist, 1883-1935: With Assessments of His Work by His Contemporaries. (2000) Philadelphia: Temple University Press.

Fahlman, Betsy, Pennsylvania Modern: Charles Demuth of Lancaster. (1983) Philadelphia: Philadelphia Museum of Art.

*“Turkish Baths with Self Portrait,” Charles Demuth (1918), Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia,, a not copyrighted image. Last modified November 27, 2007, viewed Sunday, December 9, 2007, 9:08 AM EST.

*“Three Sailors,” Charles Demuth (1917), glbtg: an encyclodedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer culture,,zoom.html . © 2002 glbtg Inc., viewed Sunday, December 9, 2007, 9:21 AM. EST.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Back in South Florida…

And the Christmas lights are up. I took this photograph the other evening right after we returned. Somehow the oxymoronic image of icicle lights and coconut palms makes me feel great. I plan on taking the camera on a “Tropical Christmas Light” shooting expedition this week before we leave for Joe’s sister in the Panhandle for the Christmas holiday.

It was 82 degrees Fahrenheit this afternoon. Quite a wonder after the 18degree reading and snow the other morning when we left Delaware.

Now, I just have to get the studio up on the porch and get back to work.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Foggy Drawing

Why do I do this? I know that I have difficulty working loosely. So, why do I try? The most recent example is this drawing of World War Observation Tower #1 on Cape Henlopen.* The idea is to create a blurred and subdued image with the same pastel technique I have been using in my drawings this century. I use the pastels themselves as mark making tools. I use triads, analogous colors, and complements plus tints of these, the marks (squiggles, dots, dashes, parallel lines, and other types of scribbles) overlapping together to create new colors. NO BLENDING ALLOWED – except as the marks themselves overlap and mix - Only now, I want these marks to create color so subdued and vague that the image can only be characterized as loose. It isn’t working because I keep getting sucked back in to creating more definition than necessary. I add contrasting colors at the edges of form, and more brilliant color where none is necessary. A blurred or soft form seems to frighten me.

OK, so this is only a first try. I’ll get better at making vaporous seascapes and saltwater marshscapes - right?

*The designation “#1” is entirely my own. There are 5 or 6 of these towers on Cape Henlopen, and all are slightly different. I have photographed and drawn the two towers located on North Shore Beach repeatedly. In order to clarify which tower is in a particular image, I chose to label the towers # 1, #2.