New York Photo Review
from the NYPR Archives

Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Soho Photo Gallery
Central Booking Magazine

Classic Nudes
George Platt Lynes
Reviewer #1
Ralph Cowan by George Platt Lynes. Source: throckmorton-nyc.com
George Platt Lynes, "Ralph Cowan" 1952

The exhibition of George Platt Lynes’ work at the Throckmorton Gallery is quite literally a time capsule of gay America from the 1940’s and 50’s. It includes classic images of Balanchine dancers and ‘Artistic Male Nudes’ known and displayed even in his lifetime. But it also features images that have been hidden from view for more than 50 years.

Platt Lynes, dying of cancer at the age of 48 in 1955, and concerned for his legacy in a genre that could not be openly displayed, bequeathed about 2500 of his negatives to the Alfred Kinsey Institute. Kept in cold storage until just a few years ago, (some were released for a show at NYU Grey Gallery in 1992,) these remarkable images are now shown for the first time. Lynes was nothing if not a superb studio craftsman. We are cast deep into an ethereal, softly shadowed world of trim young naked men, a world located somewhere between a stage set and a frieze on an ancient Greek temple. Although the subject matter is unremarkable today, in our era of billboard-sized underwear salesmen, these images must have been incendiary in their time.

Chuck Howard by George Platt Lynes. Source: throckmorton-nyc.com
George Platt Lynes, "Chuck Howard" 1952

And yet they have a distance to them. The studio views are truly ‘classical,’ most showing one or two men in full view, head to toe, or cropped at the leg. In some pictures they are involved in some sort of mythical activity, and rarely glance at the viewer. There to be looked at and admired, they are much too far away to reach out and touch. (The Kinsey images are distinguished to a large extent by the appearance of a (flaccid) penis or two, rather than by their additional erotic charge.) The erotic content of his studio work is highly estheticized, the erotic charge of the scenes transformed into pure visual pleasure. Was this formality the result of self-censorship in those repressive times? Even in the progressive gay circles in which Lynes traveled this certainly must have been a factor. But more importantly, I think, was Lynes’ basic artistic vision. A master of Hollywood glamour lighting, he wanted to make beautiful photographs as much as he wanted to photograph beautiful men.

It was when Lynes stepped out of the studio that the erotic heat of the images rose. Working at times with a hand held camera, he produced more closely cropped nude portraits and scenes, making the emotional stakes higher and extending the message beyond the visual. The clean crisp images of the studio become hazier — we see ‘Richard Sweet’ looking pensively out from an interior doorway directly at the camera. And in what is the most unusual print in the show, made from a ‘paper negative,’ we see just the torso of ‘Chuck Howard.’ Here, Lynes does for men what Alfred Stieglitz had done for women, more than thirty years earlier with his photographs of Georgia O’Keefe– produced an image as tactile as it is visual.

George Platt Lynes



Throckmorton
145 E 57th St. 3rd Fl
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212 223 1059
throckmorton-nyc.com

Thursday, June 9 to
Saturday, September 10, 2011
Hours: Tues - Sat, 10 to 5
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The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino
Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat
Central Booking Magazine
Soho Photo Gallery