In contrast to the fascist depictions of the male body used for propaganda, Surrealism (formed in the 1920s) was adapted by several influential gay photographers in the 1930s to express their own artistic interest in the male body. Although Surrealism was heavily anti-feminine and anti-homosexual, gay male photographers, such as Germans Herbert List, Horst P. Horst, and George Hoyningen-Huene and the American George Platt Lynes, made extensive use of the liberation of fantasies that Surrealism offered. The open depiction of homosexuality was still not possible in the 1930s but there is an intuitive awareness on the part of the photographers and the viewer of the presence of sexual rituals and interactions. There is also the knowledge that there is a ready audience for these photographs, not only in the close circle of friends that surrounded the photographers, but also from gay men that instinctively recognise the homoerotic quality of these images when shown them.

The bodies in the images of the above photographers tend to be of two distinct types, the ephebe and the muscular mesomoprhic body. Shown below are two images by Herbert List which feature the bodies of young males or ephebes, captured in the eternal beauty of youth.



Herbert List "Untitled" c.1930

Herbert List.
c. 1930








Herbert List.


Herbert List "Naxos" 1937





Meanwhile in America George Platt Lynes was working as a fashion photographer. GPL had his own studio in New York where he photographed dancers, artists and celebrities among others. He undertook a series of mythological photographs on classical themes (which are amazing in composition and feature Surrealist motifs). Privately he photographed male nudes but was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines. Generally his earlier male nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ephebe. The photograph below is an exception. Here we gaze upon a smooth, defined muscular torso, the man (too old to be an ephebe) in agony and/or ecstasy, his head thrown back, his eyes covered by one of his arms. Sightless he does not see the 'other' male hand that encloses his genitals, hiding them but also possibly about to molest them/release them at the same time.

(Click here for the Thesis notes on George Platt Lynes photographs in the Collection at the Kinsey Institute)


George Platt Lynes "Untitled" 1936

George Platt Lynes.
Silver gelatin print.



We can compare this photograph to Frederick Holland Day's photograph of "St. Sebastian" seen earlier, both bodies in agony and/or ecstacy, the above image stripped bare of most of the religious iconography of the previous image. The body is displayed for our adoration in all its muscularity, the lighting picking up the definition of diaphragm, ribs and chest, the hand hiding and perhaps, in the future, offering release to a suppressed sexuality. Here an-'other' hand is much closer to the origin of male2male sexual desire. Looking at this photograph you can visualise a sexual fantasy, so I imagine that it would have had the same effect on homosexual men when they looked at it in the 1930's.




Australian Body Architecture I


Max Dupain "Sunbaker" 1937


Max Dupain.


Around the time that George Platt Lynes was photographing his earlier male nudes Max Dupain took what is seen to be an archetypal photograph of the Australian way of life. Titled "Sunbaker," the photograph expresses the bronzed form of man lying prone on the ground, the man pressing his flesh into the warm sand as the sun beats down on a hot summer's day. His hand touches the earth and his head rests, egg-like, on his arm. His shoulders remind me of the outline of 'Uluru' (Ayres Rock) in the centre of Australia, sculptural, almost cathedral like in their geometry and outline, soaring into the sky. Here the male body is an edifice, towering above the low perspective that the photographer has chosen, body wet from the sea. In this photograph can be seen the beginnings of an Australian tradition of photographing lifesavers and surfies (to the delight of a gay audience) which reached a peak in the late 1980's and early 1990's, although I'm not sure that Max Dupain would have realised the homoerotic overtones of the photograph at the time.