Thursday, June 16, 2016
2:37 PM |
Robert Mapplethorpe, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber, and All the Pictures to Look At [NSFW]
This is Robert Mapplethorpe
's Man in Polyester Suit
, a 1980 photo of Milton Moore, the artist's then lover, wearing a three-piece suit with his penis blatantly exposed. It made history for commanding $478,000 at an auction in Sotheby's New York. It is a controversial photographic work for some -- but it doesn't even come close to the rest of Mapplethorpe's body of work, a posthumous exhibition of which prompted Republicans in Congress to demand censorship and threatened to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, which gave the show an exhibition grant. (The entire story of that firecracker that begat the current Culture Wars -- as well as a thorough depiction of the tumultuous life of the artist -- is laid out in the exacting documentary Robert Mapplethorpe: Look at the Pictures
, directed by Fenton Bailey and Randy Barbato.
I like the title of that film, which comes from Senator Jesse Helms' famous rant in Congress, where he was exhorting his colleagues to scrutinise the photographs of Mapplethorpe and call them "pornography," and not art.
Indeed most of the erotically charged photography I love demand very much that everyone should look at the pictures intently, to feel the charge from the sight of mostly naked bodies -- and then see the fine artistry behind it. While there has always been the nude in art, photography has made it all the more immediate (and dangerously so) because of the "realism" that takes away the traditional distance or remove afforded by, say, painting.
The male nude, too, has not exactly been a favourite subject in the curation of many exhibits, for one reason or other. Writer and artist Abigail Ekue once attempted to fill the gap when she put up an exhibit titled Bare Men
, and reasoned that the exhibit was important "because we are [already] bombarded with the female nude": "The female nude is considered more acceptable and desired and it is usually thought that the public only wants to view female nudes. But there are people who want to see male nudes and not just for the gay male audience or for strictly anatomical purposes. Male nudes shouldn’t be rare – the stigma that naked men are 'ugly' or the myth that a penis is threatening or only sexual should be dispelled."
Suspicions of perversion may also be a culprit.
In reviewing Pierre Borhan's Man to Man: A History of Gay Photography
, a gorgeously illustrated book that is the first of its kind dealing with the subject matter
, John Ibson writes: "It is crucial to Borhan, sensibly so, to recall that the earlier photographs were produced when sexual activity between men was widely considered a crime and a sign of mental disorder, while the more recent images were made in a very different cultural climate. In Borhan’s telling, as social scorn and constraints lessened, photographers became increasingly forthright about their own sexual selves, producing correspondingly bolder and more imaginative portrayals of male sexuality."
My first encounter with a photograph that struck me as crackling with such homoerotic charge was in Tokyo in 1997 where I saw an exhibit of the works of Sakiko Nomura
and saw this...
It was beautiful and mysterious and sad and sensual: just a monochrome photo of a Japanese man lying naked in bed and holding a cigarette, while his other hand grasps the hand of a companion hidden and blurry in the shadows and background -- yet the blurry figure is distinctly male, and it adds to the homoerotic charge of the narrative.
Since then, I began collecting photographic male nudes/semi-nudes, and these are some of my favourites, by some of the world's finest photographers...
Boris Ignatovitch's The Showers (1935)
Andres Serrano's A History of Sex (1997) and Bruce Weber for Calvin Klein (1991)
Greg Gorman's As I See It (2000)
Herb Ritts's Justin Timberlake (2002)
Bardo Wu's Lessons in Body Language (2015)
Giovanni Paolo di Mola's Renaissance Men (2001)
Kiu Meireles' "Renan Rocha" from Bedroom (2013) and Joseph Bleu's Patrick Rukai (2010)
Joe Lally's Someone is Watching You in Your Undies (2009)
Benno Thoma's Absolute Sweden (2001)
Mark Morrisroe's Collected Works (1959-1989) and Marc Bessange's French Affair (2002)
Neil Lucente and Claudine Sia's Piolo Pascual (2002)
Ondrea Barbe's Couple (2009) and David Sprigle's Snap (1999)
Walter Pfeiffer's East of My Youth (2012)
Terry Richardson for Sisley (2001)
Labels: erotica, photography, queer, sex
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