Friday, February 29, 2008

F. Holland Day: Part III

Was Day Gay?

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.

How does Fred Holland Day’s photography fit with my original idea that there are two types of gay male art 1) body based, which seems to be most prevelant and 2) as a more recent development, the expression of the relationship of gay vision to gay sexuality. On the surface Day’s work is body based, that is he made photographs based on the nude male form whether youthful, adult, black or white. However, that is a bit simplistic because we do not have any evidence beyond Fred Holland Day’s work itself that he was “gay” in the contemporary sense. Additionally, Day is enigmatic because there is always some other purpose attached to his work. Whether creating pseudo-religious works based on Christ’s suffering, anguish, and death at the crucifixion or making images about an idealized pre-industrial ancient time, he was using the beauty of the youthful or adult male form as well as his own body to achieve his aesthetic goal. There is also, first and always, the use of lighting, blurring, and other obfuscating techniques to help achieve his idealized space in which photography becomes a modern art form equal to classical painting as well as (more typical of the 19th century) scientific tool to be used for documentation and classification. Was his interest in photographing nude young men a “gay” interest? Or was Day, using these young men in his photographs because he could, and because he was also their mentor, hosting the young men at a kind of summer camp away from the travails of the city slums. In that camp he taught photography and a host of other educated professionals worked with the boys. Many success stories abound, the most impressive of which is the spiritual author, Kahlil Gibran.

My conclusion is that F. Holland Day, if he was gay in the modern sense was also quite likely celibate, because there is no record of his sexual interest in either men or boys. There is only what we surmise knowing of his eccentricities, and by looking at his photographs.* Because we as LGBT people perceive these works as most likely those of a gay man does not make it so, though I must admit I wish it to be so. However, unless someone finds letters, notes or some other ancillary evidence that Day was gay in the Postmodern sense, I am not sure that Day’s intent was to create homosexual art. However, I believe that I can include his work in the gay lexicon precisely because it is perceived as gay by so many who view it as such, both in and outside the LGBT community.


*These eccentricities included requiring guests at his summer camp to wear clothing and costumes so that they might be used as part of his photographic tableau. If guests refused, they were asked to leave.


Boxer, Sarah, F. Holland Day – photographic exhibition, Boston, Art Forum, March 2001, , visited 9:55 A.M. EST., February 13, 2008.

Curtis, Verna Posever and Jane Van Nimmen (eds.), F. Holland Day, Selected texts and bibliography. (1995) Oxford, England: ABC-Clio Press,

F. Holland Day, The Exhibition Catalogue, Art and the Camera: The Photographs of F. Holland Day, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, 12/06/00 – 03/ 25/01.

Goldman, Jason, “Day, F. Holland, part I and Part II” (Ed.) Claude J. Summers, glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture., Revised 10/29/06, Viewed 9:56 A.M. EST, February 13, 2008.

House and Norwood History Museum, “About Fred Holland Day: Common Errors/Suggested Readings,” Revised 06/20/05, Viewed 9:50 A.M. EST, February 13, 2008.

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