Monday, August 27, 2012

The Homoerotic and Surreal Photography of George Platt Lynes

George Platt Lynes

 Portrait of George Platt Lynes by Paul Cadmus, 1938

 George Platt Lynes was born in East Orange, New Jersey in 15 April 1907, much of his childhood was spent in New Jersey but he attended boarding school at the Berkshire School in Massachusetts. In 1925, barely 18, his parents sent him to Paris with the idea of better preparing him for college. The amazing circle of friends that he found in Paris included Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler - who became his lovers. 

 Glenway Wescott by Lynes

                                                                       Monroe Wheeler by Lynes

He came back to the United States planning to be a writer; probably the influence of Gertrude Stein. He eventually opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey in 1927. He began taking photographs  as hobby, displaying his portraits of his friends in his shop.

Lynes returned to France the next year with Wescott and Wheeler. During his travel around Europe for the next few year, he always carried his camera close at hand. Through his connection with Stein, he was allowed access to a larger circle of artists including Jean Cocteau and Julien Levy the art dealer and critic. With his father’s early death in 1932, the young Lynes had to get serious about supporting himself. His friend, Levy,  would exhibit his photographs in his gallery in New York City in 1932. Lynes opened his studio there the same year. He was soon receiving commissions from Vogue and other top magazines of the day.

In 1935 he began documenting  the principal dancers and productions of Lincoln Kirstein’s and George Balanchine’s newly founded American Ballet Company (now the New York City Ballet). Balanchine had seen his work and specifically requested Lynes. This would become a lifetime passion of his and having an endless supply of handsome young dancers for model was a dream come true. 
                                             Lincoln Kirstein by Lynes

Throughout the 30’s and 40’s he continued to shoot fashion photographs, getting accounts with some major clients such as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth. Lynes was slowly losing interest in commercial work and so he started a series of photographs which interpreted characters and stories from Greek mythology. 

 By the mid-1940s his relationship with Wescott and Wheeler had cooled off and he’d grown tired of New York.  He moved to Hollywood in 1946 where he took the post of Chief Photographer for the Vogue studios. He photographed Rosalind Russell, Katharine Hepburn, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles, from the film industry and the who’s who  of that era. While he was a huge success artistically, he wasn’t financially successful. Lynes declared bankruptcy twice during his short life.

                                    Salvador Dali by Lynes, for Vogue

Lynes friends helped him with his move back to New York City in 1948, but other photographers, such as Richard Avedon, Edgar de Evia and Irving Penn, were now the most sought after in the fashion world.  He had lost interest commercial work and so these turn of events lead him to focusing on the work that became his passion.  While he had been well know in the 30’s and 40’s for his fashion and portrait photographs, at the same time he was privately photographing male nudes.  He circulated them amongst his close gay friends and sometimes published them in a Swiss homosexual magazine (Der Kreis) under a false name. These photos have come to be known as his best work; dramatically staged with beautiful lighting and often influenced by the Surrealists.

 His highly homoerotic work attracted the attention of Dr. Alfred Kinsey. Lynes began working with Kinsey and his Institute in Bloomington, Indiana. By May of 1955 he had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer.  Feeling extremely ill and with mounting debts, Lynes bartered and sold whatever he could to cover his medical expenses.  He destroyed most of the prints and negatives of his commercial work. Alfred Kensey purchased almost 600 of his works.  The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction, has the largest collection of his male nudes.

After a final nostalgic trip to Europe, Lynes arrived back in New York City where he passed away in December 1955. He was only 48.

In the following decades Lynes work was largely forgot except for being included in a few group shows. I wasn’t until 1981 and the publication of George Platt Lynes: Photographs 1931—1955, that his work began to receive the attention that it truly deserved. His male nudes influence a whole new generation of gay and lesbian artists including Bruce Weber, Robert Mapplethorpe and Herb Ritts.

For an interesting look at Lynes and his circle of friends, I highly recommend:

For more of his work, check out:



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