Thursday, June 26, 2008

Herbert List (1903-1975)


The son of a wealthy German coffee merchant, Herbert List none-the-less pursued a career in photography. Before World War II he produced work for Harpers, Vogue, and Life magazines, and completed several tomes of photography after the war. Among these were, Licht Ueber Hellas (1953) and Caribia (1958). A known homosexual, and of Jewish descent, List escaped the Nazi war camps though he was not allowed to produce or publish his photography, being forced instead to enter the army and produce maps for the Nazi war effort.

Though List produced many photographic portraits of famous contemporaries both before and after World War II, surreal images of slightly clad German youths are his best-known photographs. However, to my mind his haunting images of war torn Munich are the most striking. List seems to have led a charmed life, first as a young, wealthy member of the pre World War II German avant-garde, then having escaped the Nazi juggernaut he was able to resurrect and recreate his photographic career following the war, and finally to become a wealthy collector of Italian Renaissance drawings at the end of his life.

List fits into both categories 1 and 2 of this study as proposed, having created (metaphysical/surreal) photographs that idealize the adolescent male body in addition to those portraits of famous persons, and works that can best be described as magnificent travelogue essays. His works of German youths are sexually charged yet transcend the physical in that they also embody (pun intended) the dream-like presence of all surreal artwork. Thus, List’s work demonstrates that gay men before our Postmodern times were interested in the relationship of their own sexuality to other aspects of their work and lives. Is List the lone exception or will I be able to find others whose artwork goes beyond preoccupation with the male body?*2


*1 Herbert List, “Ritti with Fishing Rod - Vietznau, Vierwaldstaettersee – 1937,” One time use Granted by the Estate of Herbert List and Max Scheler, Sunday, June 29, 2008, 16:51:52. The estate is represented by Magnum Photos, and Stephen Daiter Gallery, USA and Fahey Klein Gallery, USA.

*2 See the entry for Monday, November 17, 2007 for my thesis statement


List, Herbert. Junge Manner. Stephen Spender introduction. Max Scheler and Jack Woody, eds. Twin Palms: Altadina California (1988)

Gonzalez-Day, Ken, “Herbert List” in glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgendered, and Queer Culture, Claude J. Summers editor. (2002) Viewed 7:06 A.M., EDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.

Herbert List Estate, Viewed 7:10 A.M. EDT, Wednesday, June 25, 2008.

Friday, June 20, 2008

If I Were Twenty Something Again…

I took this photograph last year on an extremely windy and warm spring day at Jupiter Beach, Florida. There were at least 50 guys out in the water kite surfing. My reaction was joyous upon seeing them swoop through the air, sometimes one-hundred-and-fifty feet, before landing, and crashing through the waves. My heart literally leapt into my throat watching these young men perform. The act of leaping up into the air, sometimes doing flips, and flying above the water using one of those contraptions must include ecstatic moments among the almost constant exhilaration, coupled with seconds of gut wrenching fear. In fact, one beach photographer whose elaborate camera and lens set-up was buzzing and whirring as he took photo after photo told us that “sometimes these flying kite-men are seriously injured when they are carried by the wind off the water, into the beach and surrounding buildings. At the time I just thought to myself, if I were twenty something, I’d do it. Danger be damned!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Gay Male versus Straight Photographs of the Human Form: Another List

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.

I should disclose up front that I make no attempt to write from a politically correct perspective and / or distinguish between esoteric and exoteric terms denoting sexuality as these seem to change and proliferate almost daily. I will not use links beyond those already present because I would need so many as to be cumbersome.

I have already made two oppositions in my title to this short essay. First, gay v. straight, and second, female v. male. And, I have implied so many others. For instance, that there is a separation and opposition between gay v. straight photography. Well John, isn’t there? It is a given in Postmodern theory that a polar opposition contains its possible reversal and creates the likelihood that the opposition does not exist in the first place.*1

What a mess!

So, let’s compare and contrast to discover how similar and or different gay male photographs of nudes are as compared to straight photographs of female nudes. And, I realize this could be an extremely lengthy diatribe worthy of an esoteric doctoral dissertation in the Arts. Instead, I will try to briefly untangle the various threads jumbled together in knots because of the short paragraph above. Basically, my title is located within the subject of art theory and/or aesthetics.*2 At the same time, I am not contrasting male with female anatomy in this short essay. We are all capable of doing so on the most basic and crude levels, and many are able to do so from various more complex medical, sexual, psychological, and social positions.

Having stated what I’m not doing, let’s get on with the discussion at hand, one that involves comparison and contrasting gay male photographs of male nudes with heterosexual photographs of female nudes. A brief look at a couple of Websites dedicated to nude photography will disclose the state of contemporary nude female photography. It will be best to make a list of the various techniques of the photographs as I proceed, and that in turn will provide an approach for the comparison of the heterosexual versus homosexual eye in nude photography. I am not separating dark room manipulation from set-up and framing and manipulatin of the camera itself. As I write I am looking at a set of photographs posted on the Website “Art Nudes.”*3 There are photographs - listed in order from most recent to oldest - by Sanders McNew, Hannes Caspar, Michal Tokarckzuk, Karel Vojkovsky, Elisa Lazo de Valdez, Jorg Blanke, Francois Benveniste's, Christopher Voelker, Alina Lebedeva, Alessandro Bencini, Chris Triance-Martin, Joern Stubbe, Jean Turco, Julia Borovaya, Vincent O'Byrne, Tatiana Antonuk, Grace Oh, and Jerry Uelsmann to name but a few from this extremely inclusive and thorough Website. I am gathering the list of techniques as I view the photographs in no specific order and without naming each specific photograph and artist as I proceed.

The list of techniques

1. Strong lighting – left to right
2. Strong lighting – right to left
3. Strong lighting – behind subject
4. Strong lighting – in front of subject
5. Strong contrast
6. Multiple light sources
7. Low contrast
8. Extreme contrast
9. Thorough rendition of values and shades
10. Vertical composition
11. Horizontal composition
12. Oblique composition
13. Subject has been coated in liquid, sand, or other substance
14. Print is over exposed
15. Black and white film
16. Color film
17. Surreal / Dadaist approach – sometimes evocative of a particular fine artist painter
18. Unusual perspective / foreshortening / view into visual space
19. Manipulation of negative – physical / chemical
20. Manipulation of print – physical / chemical
21. Multiple exposure
22. Mixing 2 or more images from separate exposures.
23. Damaged camera

I stopped listing after viewing 20 nudes. If I looked further, I’m sure I would have found more techniques and / or manipulation of the photographs both in and out of the dark room. However, the list would become overly complex and with so many variables as to be unwieldy and impossible to use for comparison of gay male photographs to straight photographs of nudes. However, as I explore this subject further I may see fit to add several more observations to the list.


1 Poststructuralist and Postmodern theory as in Barthes, Baudrillard, Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault, & Guattari, Jameson, Kristiva, Lacan, Laclau, Lyotard, and Mouffe, and so many others.

2 A field that is so complicated in its own right that an entire institutionalized structure exists that involves an esoteric body of knowledge, artists, art galleries, museums, educational institutions, and possibly every one of us as art critics in our own right.

3 “Art Nudes,” Last posted Sunday, June 15, 2008, Viewed 8:15 A.M. EDT, Monday June 16, 2008.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

George Platt Lynes (1907-1955)

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.

What more can I say about this greatest of 20th century fashion photographers that hasn't already been said. We know he destroyed most of his own studio negatives and prints because he feared censorship during a time when photography of male nudes was considered pornographic and illegal (Well, John, photographs of naked men are still considered to be pornographic!). His elegant, beautifully lighted and technically perfect work - including fashion photographs, portraits of famous persons who were often in his personal circle of friends and male nudes - are considered to be some of the best 20th century photographs by contemporary critics. George Platt Lynes himself considered the male nudes to be his best photographs. Lynes work from Vogue set the style in fashion photography to this day. His publicity photographs for Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine of The New York City Ballet dancers are some of the strongest of the genre. Indeed this vast body of artwork influences the direction of figurative photography into the Twenty-first Century.

At the same time, Lynes’ bodies are leaner than a contemporary gay representation of the male form. A comparison of the image above to “Duo VII” (1992) by Herb Ritts, shows how much the gay male eye has changed over time. However, both Lynes and Ritts fit into my first category, artists whose primary concern is the traditional representation of the ideal male body.

* "George Platt Lynes Poster (1945)," The Kinsey Institute: for Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. © 1996-2008, The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, Inc. Viewed 8:22 EDT., June 11, 2008.


Woody, Jack, George Platt Lynes: Photographs 1931-1955. Pasadena, Calif.: Twelve-Trees Press, 1981.

"George Platt Lynes & 20th Century Figurative Photography," Exhibition at Gendell Gallery ( Viewed 8:30 A.M. EDT. , Monday, June 9, 2008.

Gonzales-Day, Ken, “George Platt Lynes,” glbtq, an encyclopedia of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, and queer culture, Last modified July 27, 2005. Viewed 8:15 A.M. EDT. , Tuesday, June 10, 2008.

“George Platt Lynes,” Queer Arts Resource, Viewed 8:08 A.M. EDT. , Tuesday, June 10, 2008.

“George Platt Lynes,” Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia, Last modified 3:10 GMT, September 24, 2007. Viewed 7:55 A.M. EDT. , Tuesday, June 10, 2008.

Friday, June 6, 2008

The Beach at Sunrise

It is 6:30 in the morning. I've just gotten up, and the eastern sky outside my window is pink and orange. Thank goodness we’ve returned to Rehoboth Beach and can finally stay for longer than a few days. I will be able to get back to work! Well, I did actually complete one small pastel and begin a large (32” x 40”) drawing of saltwater marshes at the Broadkill River before leaving Rehoboth for Lancaster, Pennsylvania last week. I’m just frustrated because I haven’t been able to work two days in a row since we returned to Delaware the first time back in May.

While in Lancaster staying with our friend, Jane, I began to read Eckhart Tolle. Jane has been telling me about “A New Earth,” (2005) and the earlier “Power of Now" (1999) for at least 2 years, but I’m not so much a New Age person, and though spiritual, I’m probably closest to a Gnostic Christian in position, if I must name it. I read until 2:00 A.M. the other night, and got to page ninety-six in “A New Earth.” I enjoyed the read, though it seemed to me that a better title for the book might be “Buddhism for the Postmodern West.” I don’t mean to belittle the work because Tolle is enabling many in the West to practice a spirituality that includes all the great prophets of God, Siddhartha Gautama, Mohammed, and Jesus of Nazareth. I need not detail here the necessity for such religious practice during this time of the G. W. Bush 8th Great Christian Crusade and invasion of Muslim territory, namely the 2nd Iraq War, a totally illegal and unprovoked invasion that has resulted in the loss of over one million Iraqi lives, and well over 4000 American.

There, I’ve done it! I’ve allowed my dogmatic political position to take over, and the ego is in total control. Damn! Which brings me to some critical thinking about my own approach to the world and my art, for you see, I live in the world, and I can’t help but participate, though I try not to see George Bush as the devil incarnate, and fundamentalist religious practitioners of any/all faiths as his evil brothers bent on destroying the world and all of humanity. Never the less, I am often too much in the world, and must - STOP! - look back to my own belief system. Once there, I must try to peal back some of the uppermost layers of my person (one more time) in order to come closer to the God within and that peace that allows an approach to God leaving behind all the conflicting cultural trappings that lie imposed on the surface of my personhood, for (She/He/It) is there waiting. I know that if I am successful I will relate much better to the God given talent that allows me - the ego layers imposed on the matrix of cells, chemical and electrical activity of the human brain - to create Art. At that point, the creation of Art becomes more spiritual practice than participation in the Art World, the Art World being that cultural entity created during the past three hundred years of artistic practice in the West. However, I also see the necessity to continue to, and increase my participation in that cultural entity, as there is no point to the act of creation unless one is able to share the result with others. Ah well, blah, blah, blah!

Such is the end of today’s diatribe on Art, my art, culture, and God, and the last of these is, of course, the most important, as the other three can only reflect an inaccurate image, thought, pattern, representation of God.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Big Thunder Makes Flowers Grow

I’m constantly shooting pictures with the idea that I will use them in my artwork. This morning is no exception, and I shot this photo because the flowers and foliage are still wet from last evening’s monster gullywasher. It’s amazing how quickly new blossoms open to replace those smashed by such a heavy downpour.

I won’t use the photograph in a drawing because I use only tropical flowers in my photographic montages, and it will take its place among thousands of other languishing images in my digital archives. However, I am pleased to be able to share it with the few persons who happen upon my journal as they cruise the “cyber-void.”