Written by Dr. Marcus Bunyan
What an absolute privilege it is to be able to publish these magnificent photographs by George Platt Lynes from the Kinsey Institute. It’s a pity there aren’t more of his stunning male nude photographs in the posting, but we are happy for small mercies. Male nude photography by George Platt Lynes is more than just photo exhibition.
I studied GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey as part of my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Research which examined, in part, the history of photographic images of the muscular male body. Starting with the formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ in the last decade of the 19th century which was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. Intertwined with this stream of photographs of masculine men are photographs of youthful male bodies (ephebes) such as appear in the works of Fredrick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden, later to be followed by the photographs of Horst P. Horst and Herbert List.
Frederick Holland Day’s photographs of the male body concentrated on mythological and religious subject matter. In these photographs he tried to reveal a transcendence of spirit through an aesthetic vision of androgynous physical perfection. He revelled in the sensuous hedonistic beauty of what he saw as the perfection of the youthful male body. In Europe Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs of young ephebes (males between boy and man) have a much more open and confronting sexual presence. Using heavily set Sicilian peasant youths with rough hands and feet von Gloeden turned these bodies into heroic images of Grecian legend, usually photographing his nude figures in their entirety.
Obvious transition between different periods
In the early male nude photographs of George Platt Lynes the form of the male is usually that of the ephebe. In the latter stages of his life the male figure is, as a general rule, heavier set. The lighting is more brooding, the sexuality more open. This can be seen in the photographs in this posting. The chaste photograph from the 1930s (above) relying on light and form. Whereas in the photographs from the 1950s the sexual frisson is much in evidence. The opened fly on the trousers of the sailor (1954, below). And the pubic hair and jocks in the male in profile (1955). The year George Platt Lynes died of cancer.
To be continued…