John Wieners: “The Savagerey of the Sea”

Photographers Unknown, The Savagerey of the Sea

God love you
Dana my lover
lost in the horde
on this Friday night
500 men are moving up
& down from the bath
room to the bar.
Remove this desire
from the man I love.
Who has opened
the savagery
of the sea to me.

See to it that
his wants are filled
on California street
Bestow on him lan-
gesse that allows him
peace in his loins.

Leave him not
to the moths.
Make him out a lion
so that all who see him
hero worship his
thick chest as I did
moving my mouth
over his back bringing
our hearts to heights
I never hike over
anymore.
Let blond hair burn
on the back of his
neck, let no ache
screw his face
up in pain, his soul
is so hooked.
Not heroin.
Rather fix these
hundred men as his
lovers & lift him
with the enormous bale
of their desire.

6.20.58

John Wieners, A Poem for the Old Man, The Hotel Wentley Poems, 1958

Born in Boston in January of 1934, John Wieners was a poet and both an anti-war and gay rights activist. He was also a member of the San Francisco Renaissance, a movement which made that city the center of the American poetry avant-garde in the 1950s. Wieners studied from 1950 to 1954 at Boston College where he earned his Bachelor of Arts. After hearing a reading by postmodernist poet Charles Olson at Boston’s Charles Street Meeting House, Wieners enrolled at Black Mountain College where he studied under Olson and Robert Duncan, a modernist poet and shamanistic figure in San Francisco’s artistic and poetic circles.

In 1956 after returning to Boston, Wieners met visiting poets Frank O’Hara and Jack Spicer and became close friends with poet Stephen Jonas, a relationship which lasted until Jonas’s early death in 1970. He, along with Jonas, close friend Jim Dunn, Jack  Spicer and poets Ed Marshall and Robin Blaser, formed a group which they labeled the School of Boston. All the members of the group, except for Dunn, were openly gay and congregated regularly in the bohemian Beacon Hill District. There they published limited-run chapbooks of poetry and the “Boston Newsletter”and “Measure”, both short-run publications which contained poems on queer vulnerability and survival.

In 1957, John Wieners relocated to the North Beach area of San Francisco with his boyfriend Dana Durkee. This relationship soon broke up. The result of which was a period of intense creativity for Wieners as he began to associate with the artistic and literary community of the city but it also led to a deterioration of his mental health. In San Francisco, he became closely associated with painter and set-designer Robert LaVigne and collage artist Wallace Berman, both of whom were involved in the Beat Movement.

In 1958 at the age of twenty-four, Wieners published his first collection of poems entitled “The Hotel Wentley Poems”, which contained both Beat and queer poems. Written during a six-day stay at the hotel in the queer Polk Gulch neighborhood, the poems balance the loss of his boyfriend Dana with the social atmosphere of the queer bars and friends. After this publication, he became a contributor to publisher Donald Allen’s influential “New American Poetry” anthology.

Worn down by an atmosphere of constant paranoia, homophobic landlords, drug busts and entrapment by undercover police, John Wieners’s mental health gradually declined. Arriving in New York, his erratic behavior from a drug cocktail prompted an acquaintance to call Wieners’s parents; damaging stays in several Massachusetts institutions followed. At Medfield State Hospital, Wieners lost his manuscripts and was threatened with electrical treatments. As an inpatient at Bournewood Hospital in Waltham, he was given ninety-one insulin treatments which caused memory loss.

Recovering at his parents’ home in Milton, Wieners continued his poetic writings in his notebooks and letters. His great poem “The Acts of Youth” was included in a January 1962 letter to his peer and former teacher Charles Olson; the poem alternates between visions of pain and suffering and dreams of resurrection. Wieners’s second collection of poems entitled “Ace of Pentacles” was published in 1964. In the following year, Wieners was engaged by Olson on a Guggenheim graduate fellowship at State University of New York, Buffalo.

In 1966 in Buffalo, John Wieners began the only significant hetero-relationship of his life with patron and heiress Panna Grady. That ended after Grady terminated a pregnancy and began a relationship with Charles Olson. In the following years, Wieners suffered a series of losses: the deaths of Olson, his friend Jonas, and both his parents. While inside another institution, the Central Islip State Hospital on Long Island, he heard about the 1969 Stonewall uprising from Charley Shively, a representative from the new Gay Liberation movement in Boston. This became one of the most important friendships in Wieners’s latter life.

Wieners began publishing poems, plays, and essays in Boston’s “Fag Rag”, a militant magazine published by Shively and others of the anarchist Fag Rag collective. The magazine was a medium for homosexual poetry, history, reviews and art that was sex-positive and which associated homosexuality not with tragedy but with joy. The collective later formed the Good Gay Poets Press in 1972, whose second publication was Wieners’s long poem “Playboy” which recounted Fag Rag’s presence at the 1072 Democratic convention in Miami. The Good Gay Poets Press also published Wieners’s full-length book “Behind the State Capital; or Cincinnati Pike” in 1975. A prominent theme in the book was Wieners’s defiance of traditional gender roles.

After the publication of “Behind the State Capital”, John Wieners nearly ceased writing poems and letters. Incapacitated by years of abusive mental health care, he lived frugally in his Beacon Hill neighborhood and became reliant on emotional and financial support from his old friends. Wieners continued to give occasional readings and worked on producing articles for the “Fag Rag” magazine. Its final issue in 1987 had a photograph of Wieners and Shively kissing at Gay Pride on its front cover.

John Wieners died on the 1st of March in 2002 , at his side were his longtime supporters and friends Charley Shively and Jim Dunn. Many of Wieners’s later writings were lost; many were never published. His papers are housed in several university collections and some of his late poems are in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.

John Wieners’s 1971 journal, discovered in the Kent State University archive collection, was published by Bootstrap Press with the title “A Book of Prophecies” in 2007. City Lights Bookstore and Publishers released “Stars Seen in Person: Selected Journals of John Wieners” in 2015; it contains selections from four unpublished journals written from 1955 to 1969. A comprehensive selection of Wieners’s poetry, “Supplication”, was published in 2015 by Wave Books.

Note: For those interested in the life and work of John Wieners, a must read is the Boston Review article by poet and scholar David Grundy entitled “Queer Shoulders at the Wheel”. This article was published in the May 2021 Arts in Society section : https://www.bostonreview.net/articles/queer-shoulders-at-the-wheel/

Jim Dunn’s article for the 2015 “I Have You By the Ears: John Wieners Ephemera” exhibition at Harvard’s Poetry Room can be found at: https://woodberrypoetryroom.com/?p=1793

Top Insert Image: Jerome Mallmann, “John Wieners”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print

Third Insert Image: Elsa Dorfman, “John Wieners”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “John Wieners”, Date Unknown, Gelatin Silver Print

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “John Wieners, New York”, 1985, Gelatin Silver Print

Teinosuke Kinugasa: Film History Series

Teinosuke Kinugasa, “Kurutta Ippeiji (Page of Madness)”, 1926/1975, Film Scene Gifs, Cinematogapher Kōhei Sugiyama, Seventy-one Minutes, Kinugasa Productions/New line Cinema

Born in January of 1896 in Kameyama located in the northern prefecture of Mie, Teinosuke Kinugasa was a Japanese film maker. He began his career as an onnagata, an actor who specialized in female roles, and performed in the silent films of the Nikkatsu Studio, Japan’s oldest major movie studio founded in 1912.

Kinugasa started directing in the early 1920s when Japanese cinema began using actresses in its films. He worked for various producers, including Shozo Makino considered one of the pioneering directors of Japanese film. Kinugasa became an independent director and producer to make what is considered his best known film “A Page of Madness”. Lost for forty five years, the film was discovered by Kinugasa in his storehouse in 1971 and re-released in 1975 with a new print and score.

Released in September of 1926, the silent film “A Page of Madness” is part of the work of the Shinkankakuha, an avant-garde group of Japanese modernist artists  known as the School of New Perceptions which sought to produce direct, intuitive sensations to its subjects through dramatic and theatrical strategies. Yasunari Kawabata, who would win the 1968 Nobel Prize for Literature, is credited on the film with the original storyline and also worked on the film’s scenario with Banko Sawada and Minoru Inuzuka, who became well known for his later scripts on the Zatoichi film series. 

The film takes place in a countryside asylum where a janitor interacts with various patients with mental illnesses. His daughter arrives to visit her mother who happens to be a inmate in the asylum, gone insane due to her husband, the janitor. Feeling guilty, her husband had taken a job at the asylum to care for her. After hearing from his daughter the plans of her marriage, the janitor becomes worried due to the belief  that his wife’s mental illness might cause the marriage to be canceled. The stress of his wife’s condition and the impending marriage of his daughter causes the janitor to lose control of the difference between dreams and reality. He experiences fantasies of taking his wife from the asylum and his daughter marrying a bearded inmate. He finally returns to a sense of realtiy after his dreams of providing happy-faced masks to the inmates.

Teinosuk Kinugasa’s “A Page of Madness” and his later 1928 silent film “Jûjiro (Crossroads)”, the first Japanese film to be commercially released in Europe, are both praised for their inventive camera work, which has been compared to Germany’s Expressionist work of the same period. In “Crossroads”, Kinugasa dispensed with chronological construction and instead used flashbacks to stimulate the mind of the main character. He also used a drab gray setting and an experimental camera technique which focused attention on one significant detail at a time, such as a hand. 

Following a period of silent films, Kinugasa directed jidaigeki, period dramas most often set in the Edo period of Japanese history, at the Shochiku Studios where he helped to establish the career of  film and stage actor Chōjirō Hayashi, known by his professional name Kazuo Hasegawa. After the war, Kinugasa produced films for Daiei Studios, including lavish costume dramas and films such as the 1946 “Aru Yo No Tonosama (Lord for a Night)”, which won the first Mainichi Film Award for Best Film, and the 1952 “Daibutsu Kaigen (Dedication of the Great Buddha)” which was entered into the 1953 Cannes Film Festival.

In 1953, Kinugasa wrote and directed the 1953 jidaigeki film “Jigokumon (Gate of Hell)”. This film, one of the most internationally famous of all Japanese films, exemplified Kinugasa’s mastery of period film in its meticulous reproduction of a historical period. Produced during the golden age of Japanese cinema, the film was the first color work released by Daiei Film and also the first Japanese color film to be released outside of Japan. The film won the grand prize award at the 1954 Cannes Film Festival, a 1055 Academy Honorary Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 1954, and the Academy Award for Best Costume Design, Color. Kinugasa’s film also won the Golden Leipard at the Locarno International Film Festival and the 1954 New York Film Critics Circle Award for Best Foreign Language Film. 

The director of fifteen films, many of them award winners, Teinosuk Kinugasa died at the age of eighty-six from cerebral thrombosis on February 26th of 1982 in Kyoto, Japan. He was the first Japanese motion-picture director to present his story from the point of view of one of the characters and thus create a subjective world in a film.  He also pioneered in the use of flashbacks and in the creation of a visual atmospheric effect. 

Note: Teinosuk Kinugasa’s “Page of Madness” is available in its entirety on YouTube located at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yb6JEY3M_Ag

Second Insert Image: Film Scene, Teinosuke Kinugasa, “Dai Chushingura”, 1932, Starring Jusaburo Bando and Chojiro Hayashi, First Sound Version of the Classic Story, 139 Minutes

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Teinosuke Kinugasa”, circa 1912-1920, Gelatin Silver Print

Bottom Insert Image: Film Scene, Teinosuka Kinugasa, “Jujiro (Crossroads)”, 1928, Starring Akiko Chihaya, Toshinosuke Bando and Yukiko Ogawa, 88 Minutes

Amos Badertscher

Photography by Amos Badertscher

Born in Baltimore, Maryland in 1936, Amos Badertscher is a self-taught American photographer whose body of work includes portraits, still lifes, and landscapes. He is best known for his gelatin silver prints of Baltimore’s hustler and subculture scenes from the 1970s to the 1990s.

In the middle of the 1970s, Badertscher, financed by a family inheritance, began to capture on film Baltimore’s downtrodden youth, often homeless or drug addicted, and many of them sex-workers between jail terms. On many of the portraits, there is copious shaky and uneven handwriting which sometimes filled all the available negative space around the image.These texts written by Badertscher revealed the lives of his subjects and his understanding of them. The writings outlined the painful childhoods, addictions, prostitution, disease and other realities that affected the lives of his subjects. In the texts, Badertscher also described fluidity in the sexual identity of the hustlers and their attempts at creating even fleeting stability in their lives.

Each of Amos Badertscher’s images is shot without reliance on intricate technique; instead the focus is placed on the intimate, personal nature of the portrait. His preferred photographic technique is rapid, unrehearsed sessions which are not planned or visualized in advance. Badertscher relies on his instinct and what he considers his many possibilities in the darkroom.

Badertscher’s work was ignored for almost twenty years. By 1993, he was resigned to putting his house up for sale. By chance, the real-estate agent brought Michael Mezzatesta. the director of the Duke University Museum of Art, and his wife to tour the house whose many rooms were covered with Badertscher’s photographs. Although the couple did not purchase the house, Badertscher was later given a solo exhibition at the Duke University Museum of Art in 1995. 

Amos Badertscher’s best known photographic collection is “Baltimore Portraits” which was published in association with the Duke University Museum of Art’s exhibition of Badertscher’s work. The volume contains eighty black and white portraits accompanied with hand-written narratives about their subjects. “Baltimore Portraits”, which span a twenty-year period from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, documented a sector of Baltimore life that had been largely unnoticed and virtually decimated by societal neglect, AIDS, and substance abuse. Badertscher’s collection presented arresting and melancholy photographs of bar and street people, strippers, drug addicts, transvestites, drag queens and hustlers. 

Badertscher has shown his photography in many group exhibitions, including most recently “The 1970’s: The Blossoming of Queer Enlightenment” at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art in 2016, the 2019 “About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art” at Wrightwood 659 in Chicago’s Lincoln Park, and the 2021 “Clandestine: The Photo Collection of Pedro Slim” at the Cobra Museum voor Moderne Kunst in Amsterdam, Netherlands. Badertscher’s photographs, along with works by Diane Arbus, Man Ray, Bill Brandt and others, were also  included in Mexico City’s  “La Parte Más Bella”exhibition at the Museo de Arte Moderno which ran from October 2017 to March 2018.  

In 2005, the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art gave a retrospective of Amos Badertscher’s photographs entitled “Illegal to See–The Outsider Art of Amos Badertscher”. This exhibit was originally mounted as part of the Center for Exploratory and Perceptual Art’s “Deviant Bodies”, a major exhibition that explored the margins of contemporary gay male culture. Badertscher’s show consisted of fifty-seven gelatin silver prints from his thirty plus years of work. From March to July in 2020, a solo exhibition of Badertscher’s photographs, “Amos Badertscher: The Souls Around Us” was held at the Schwules Museum in Berlin; this retrospective was his first comprehensive museum exhibition outside of the United States.

In 1998, a collection of Amos Badertscher’s photography, entitled “Badertscher”, was published by St. Martin’s Press. His work was also included in David Arden Sprigle’s 1998 “Male Bonding: Volume Two”, an anthology collection of sixty-three photographers. Badertscher’s photographs can be found in the New York Public Library’s Photography Collection and the Harry H. Weintraub Collection of Gay-Related Photography and Historical Documentation (1850-2010) at the Cornell University Library, as well as many other public and private collections.

Note: For those interested, Amos Badertscher’s “Baltimore Portraits” is availabel through the Duke University Press located at: https://www.dukeupress.edu/baltimore-portraits

Top Insert Image: Amos Badertscher, “Portrait of Marty”, 1999, Gelatin Silver Print, 34.9 x 27.6 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: Amos Badertscher, “Constantine P. Cavafy Poem”, 1975, Gelatin Silver Print, Leslie-Lohman  Museum of Art

Bottom Insert Image: Amos Badertscher, Title Unknown (Portrait with Mirror), 1996, Gelatin Silver Print, Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art

David Lebe

The Photography of David Lebe

Born in Manhattan, New York in 1948, David Lebe is an American photographer whose work includes both figurative and still life images. His initial education began at the progressive, elementary-level City & Country School in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village and later at Harlem’s High School of Music and Art. During these years, Lebe frequently visited New York City’s many art museums, particularly drawn to the Museum of Modern Art’s photographic exhibitions. His exposure to the photographs of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange and Robert Frank, among others, generated a life-long passion for street photography.

David Lebe is best known for his experimental images. Among the techniques used are pinhole cameras, photograms made by placing objects directly on photographic paper and then exposing it to light, hand-painted photographs, and light drawings, an old technique which entails using a moving light source during a long-exposure photograph. In his photography, Lebe explores the issues of gay identity, homoeroticism, and living with AIDS. 

From 1966 to 1970, David Lebe attended the Philadelphia College of Art where he studied photography under Ray K. Metzker, known for his bold experimental, black and white cityscapes; Tom Porett, who pioneered work in the extended photograph, multi-media and digital photographic processes: and Barbara Blondeau, best known for her strip-print images created through different winding speeds, and various lighting and masking techniques. 

During  his studies with Barbara Blondeau in 1969 and 1970, Lebe began to experiment with pinhole cameras and built his own devices with multiple apertures which enabled him to record panoramic views from different angles. For his senior thesis, he created “Form Without Substance”, a series of high-contrast images with strong black shadows which were taken in Philadelphia and his childhood area of Manhattan.Two years after graduation, Lebe accepted a teaching position at the Philadelphia College of Art, where he taught photography until 1990. During his tenure, he exhibited his photography in private galleries and museums. 

A dissatisfaction with the results of color film printing led David Lebe to begin hand-coloring his gelatin silver prints, photograms and pinhole images, and traditional photographs. His first collection of these works was the 1974-75 “Unphotographs”, a series of meticulously hand-painted portraits and self-portraits. After the purchase of a townhouse and studio space in Philadelphia, Lebe began to create several series of photograms using plant material collected from his gardens and country excursions. His “Specimens” series featured plants, bones and other material combined into hybrid forms; the “Garden Series” contained images of plant material dissected and reassembled; “Landscapes” placed the hybrid forms in hand-painted settings.

In early 1976 still living in a cramped apartment in Philadelphia, Lebe created his first black and white light drawing . Standing before a 35mm camera on a tripod, he made a long exposure using a flashlight to draw an outline of his naked body and embellished it with points and lines of light throughout the room. This technique, originally used by photographers Étienne-Jules Marey and Georges Demeny in the 1800s, developed over time to include other people, objects and their surroundings. The long exposure time allowed Lebe to enter these images with his subjects and create events rather than moments of time. 

In 1987, following the death of a friend from AIDS and just before his own HIV diagnosis, David Lebe produced “Scribbles”, abstract images drawn freehand with a flashlight and which often featured light emerging from a glass vase. In 1989, David Lebe began a series of four shoots depicting adult film star and author Scott O’Hara. These sessions contained both nude and erotic images which, while documenting the effects of AIDS on O’Hara’s body, also presented his determination to embrace his personal sexual pleasure.

In 1989, Lebe met the ceramic artist and horticulturist Jack Potter. The two began a relationship that has continued to endure for over thirty years. Both men were HIV-positive when they met. They altered their lifestyle, their eating habits, and moved to the rural Columbia County of New York in 1993. The transition from city to country life inspired Lebe to create the still-life series “Food for Thought”, arrangements of various vegetables and foods shot against black background, sometimes with spirals of light around them. 

Despite their efforts at a healthy diet and lifestyle, both David Lebe and Jack Potter began to decline in their health in the mid-1990s. In 1994, Lebe documented his lover Jack’s daily self-care regimen with a series of small, intimate black and white portraits. In his 1996-97 “Jack’s Garden”, he made detailed studies of the gardens Potter had cultivated on the property. In 1996, Lebe and Potter began the newly designed combination-drug therapy that was showing success in extending the lives of HIV-positive patients. 

By 2004, David Lebe fully embraced digital photography and continued to photograph the environment around his and Jack’s home. He also began making new color prints of older work, including his early pinhole prints. In 2013, he started his ongoing series “ShadowLife”, images of shadows and reflections illuminated by early morning light streaming through the house’s windows, thus continuing his earlier studies of shadows. In May of 2019, Lebe had his first solo museum exhibition, “Long Light”, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which featured one hundred-forty five images spanning five decades. The exhibition represented both a historic achievement for an artist with AIDS and an important resistance to the dangerous tendency to historicize the disease.

David Lebe’s photography can be found in many private and public collections, which include, among others, the J. Paul Getty Museum in Malibu, California; the Leslie Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York City; Houston’s Museum of Fine Art, Santa Fe’s New Mexico History Museum, the Albin O. Kuhn Library and Gallery at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Kansas City’s Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art; and a major collection of his work at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Images of David Lebe’s work, prints for sale, and quotes from Lebe can be found at the artist’s site located at: https://davidlebe.com

Top Insert Image: David Lebe, “Unzippered, Paul, Philadelphis”, 1981, Light Drawomg Series, Silver Gelatin Print

Second Insert Image: David Lebe, “Self Portrait, Philadelphia”, 1981, Hand-Colored Light Drawing, Silver Gelatin Print

Third Insert Image: David Lebe, “Socks, (Renato, Philadelphia)”, 1983, Hand-Colored Light Drawing, Silver Gelatin Print

Fourth Insert Image: David Lebe, “Underpants, 1981, Light Drawomg Series, Silver Gelatin Print

Fifth Insert Image: David Lebe, “Paul After, 1981, Light Drawomg Series, Silver Gelatin Print

Bottom Insert Image: David Lebe, “Avalon (Barry Kohn, Boardwalk, Avalon, New Jersey)”, 1980,  Light Drawing Series, Silver Gelatin Print

Lew Thomas

Lee Thomas, “Time Equals 36 Exposures (Negative and Positive Sections)”, 1971, Printed 1989, 72 Gelatin Silver Prints Total, Each Section of 36 Clocks 122 x 122 cm Framed, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Born in San Francisco, California in 1932, Lew Thomas was an American  photographer, polymath artist, curator, critic and a bookstore manager. He is one of the most well-known conceptual photographers of the 1970s, a pioneer in the field whose photographic experiments created new possibilities for Conceptual art. 

Thomas, who had firm working knowledge of art philosophy and theory, actually rejected the term ‘conceptual photographer’. He struggled to gain acceptance for his work as there was not a broad understanding of photographers who were working conceptually within the photo community. As photography was still seen as separate from fine art, the art world was not accepting those photographers who were grounded in that practice.

Lew Thomas, as a child, developed a love for books and language, a trait which would later influence the basics of his art practice. He attended the University of San Francisco where he graduated in 1960 with a degree in English Literature.In 1964, Thomas  became the manager of the Patrons of Art and Music Bookshop where he stayed until 1982. During this time, he developed his interest in photography and French Structuralism, a school of thought developed by anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, in which cultures are viewed as systems and analyzed in terms of the structural relationships of their components.

Thomas initially studied under Joe Schopplein, a photographer with San Francisco’s de Young Museum, who taught him the techniques of shooting and printing film. Throughout his work, Thomas continued to investigate the relationship between word and image. Instead of being concerned about the aesthetic or psychological content of the image, he emphasized the capacity of a photograph to provide simple evidence of an image’s underlying structure. His art was a meticulous study of creating pictorial responses to understand how the meanings of words are conceived through their relationship with other words- a relationship without which they would have little significance.

Lew Thomas’s seminal work was the 1971 “Black & White”, a vertical diptych of photographs in which the word ‘black’ is printed in white on a black background above a print of the word ‘white’ on a black background. This breakthrough work was followed in 1972 with ”Opening & Closing the Garage Door”, which featured two vertical photo strips of a figure performing that routine. Although seeming quite simple on the surface, these two artworks by Lee Thomas were supported by his studies in structural linguistics, including his observations of his daughter’s speech development.

Thomas was also interested in the concept of time’s passage and how devices such as clocks form our relationships to it. In 1971, he created “Time Equals 36 Exposures (Negative and Positive Sections)”, a set of thirty-six exposures of a black clock shot at various times during the day, accompanied by an equal in size set of exposures of a white clock taken at the same times. For his 1973 “Light-On-Floor”, Thomas again used a six by six grid of thirty-six exposures to show the passing of a day as light shifts across a linoleum floor.

Starting in the early 1970s, Lew Thomas’s artwork began to be shown at major venues, including the Oakland Art Museum in 1972, San Francisco’s de Young Museum in 1974, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, among others. Thomas’s work, along with the work of conceptual photographers Donna-Lee Phillips  and Hal Fischer, was shown in the 2020 “Thought Pieces” exhibition held at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. These three photographers became the co-founders of the “Photography and Language” movement, named after a book and group exhibition of the same name produced by Thomas in 1976. 

Thomas, Phillips and Fischer were all extremely active in the mid to late 1970s. In addition to making their own artwork, they published essays, reviewed shows and organized exhibitions. Under the name NFS Press, Thomas published a number of books designed by Phillips, including the 1978 “Structural(ism) and Photography” which featured Thomas’s work; “Eros and Photography” edited by Phillips and published in 1977; “Gay Semiotics” published in 1978; and the 1979 “18th Near Castro Street x 24”, a print version which paired young, gay Hal Fischer’s twenty-four hour study of a popular bus stop bench in the Castro district of San Francisco with texts drawn by him on the sidewalk every hour.

Lew Thomas, in addition to producing his art, engaged in the San Francisco art scene where he encouraged and debated fellow artists through salons, panel discussions, and workshops. He edited and published over thirty books and organized legendary exhibitions in California. The “Photography and Language” movement Thomas co-founded attracted many rising artists, including Dennis Adams, Peter d’Agostino, Meyer Hirsch and Cindy Sherman, among others. The work of this group exerted an influence beyond California and played a role in the conceptual photographic work of the 1980s. 

In 1985 Thomas relocated from San Francisco to Houston, Texas, where he served as the Executive Director of the Houston Center of Photography until 1987. His  artwork of the 1980s explored filmic representation, photography and human relationships as mediated through new technology, in particular, the newly popular VCR. From 1989 to 1995, Lew Thomas was the Visual Arts Coordinator at the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans. His work in this period was exhibited at New Orlean’s Galerie Simonne Stern. In retirement, Lew Thomas moved to Petaluma, CA, where he lived surrounded by family and friends until his death in August of 2021 at the age of eighty-eight

Note: There is a short video of Hal Fischer discussing the genesis and impact of his photographic book “Gay Semiotics” and life in the Castro district in 1970s San Francisco. The video is located  at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art’s website: https://www.sfmoma.org/exhibition/thought-pieces-1970s-photographs-by-lew-thomas-donna-lee-phillips-and-hal-fischer/

Top Insert Image: Lew Thomas, “White Motion/Black Motion”, 1972, Vintage Prints (Self Portraits), Two Parts, 25.4 x 21.6 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Lew Thomas, “Throwing-Nikomat”, 1973/2014, Four Gelatin Silver Prints, 74.3 x 59.1 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: Lew Thomas, “Portrait Equals 36 Exposures”, 1972/2015, 36 Gelatin Silver Prints, 165.7 x 135.2 cm, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art

Fourth Insert Image: Lew Thomas, “Opening & Closing the Garage Door”, Two Perspectives, 1972/2015, Ten GelatinSilver Prints, 60.1 x 34,3 cm, Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover

Bottom Insert Image: Lew Thomas, “Sink, Filling/Filled, Draining/Drained (9 Works)”, 1972, Nine Gelatin Silver Prints, 81.3 x 76.8 cm, Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover

Aaron Shurin: “Under the Night Stillness Inclined My Morning Beach”

Photographers Unknown, Under the Night Stillness Inclined My Morning Beach

I heard my name, the day rose and disappear over the beach. the day on each breath tasted my food, that night roll slowly cover in the cool, his face around my breast. the day inhaling grow pale and disappear, water on his way, up the shores hissing. under the night stillness inclined my morning beach, undressing the friend of my liquid, my most same. at evening while whispering from the bed by me, his way was accomplished. his full perfect arm a health of ripe waters. the day received moon laughing, love lay me that night.

Aaron Shurin, Excerpt from City of Men, A’s Dream, 1989

A room of thought is wedged between the androgyny of hair and new leaves gasping for light. Membrane of membrane, skin of my crown. I thought a forest bound by kinship towers — elusive in the blue glow inside the gray cloudbank — indigo friction — a hurricane cult — where his eyes boring over my shoulders fall like hot breath, gravity failing. He is whirling like a haystack, engineered in twilight, his syllables aquatic, lullaby stutter. Scale of my scale, raveling hive. A skate-boarder rocks the concrete, cutting the muscle of silence. You, too, seeping memories, as we spin in place. An epiphyte: a love nest. Inextricable, shadow for shadow, rhyme for rhyme..

Aaron Shurin, Steeped, Citizen, 2012

Born in Manhattan, New York in 1947, Aaron Shurin is an American essayist, poet and educator. After spending his teenage years in Los Angeles and eastern Texas, he attended the University of California at Berkeley in 1963 during a period of political protest and cultural upheaval. In the late 1960’s, Shurin met and studied under poet Denise Levertov, an advocate of political and social consciousness who fostered Shurin’s interest in poetry. It was during this period that he became attracted to the principles of Projective Verse, a poetic form which re-imagines a poem’s verse lines and line breaks to convey its nuances of breath and motion to the reader through typographical means.

In 1980, Shurin entered the New College of California, an experimental college centered around the Socratic Seminars, where he studied under poet Robert Duncan, a prominent gay poet and member of the Black Mountain school. At New College, Shurin was inspired by the long lines of Walt Whitman’s prose poetry and began to develop his own poetic form, prose poetry which combined the prose form of the Language poets with the life-story format of the New Narrative writers. Bonding with the enthusiastic atmosphere of San Francisco’s counter-culture and its active gay scene, Shurin integrated his gay identity into his poetic process. He graduated from New College with a Master of Arts in Poetics with a thesis entitled “Out of Me: Whitman and the Projective”. 

Aaron Shurin is the author of numerous volumes of poetry, among which are the 1976 “The Night Sun” published by Gay Sunshine Press; “A’s Dream” published in 1989; the 1993 “Into Distances”; “The Paradise of Forms: Selected Poems” published in 1999; the 2005 “Involuntary Lyrics”; and the 2012 “Citizen”. His published essay collections include “The Skin of Meaning: Collected Literary Essays and Talks” published in 2016; the 2008 “King of Shadows”; and “Unbound: A Book of AIDS” published in 1997.  Shurin’s most recent work is “The Blue Absolute”, a collection of lyrical prose poems of love and loss, sex and death in our daily lives.

Shurin has won fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Gerbode Foundation, the San Francisco Arts Commission, and the California Arts Council. A pioneer in both LGBTQ studies and innovative verse, he cofounded the Boston-based writing collective Good Gay Poets. Shurin has written numerous critical essays about poetic theory and compositional practice, as well as personal narratives on sexual identity, gender fluidity, and the AIDS epidemic. He is Professor Emeritus at the University of San Francisco for its MFA Writing Program.

“We know that verses live in the white space of the page in a dance with erasure and silence; prose poems fill in the space and flirt shamelessly with story. To my joy they can hold a lot of words, a lot of shades, and the tensions of their dual inheritance are generative: wild horses pulling in opposite directions that somehow get bridled and yoked to form a new beast.” – Aaron Shurin, “Always Presently There: Aaron Shurin in Conversation with Micah Ballard”, April 2020

Notes: For those interested, an in-depth conversation between poet and publisher Micah Ballard and Aaron Shurin on the development of Shurin’s poetic form was held in April of 2020, just after the publication of Shurin’s work “The Blue Absolute”. This conversation, entitled “Always Presently There”, can be found at the interdisciplinary publishing platform “Open Space” located at: https://openspace.sfmoma.org/2020/04/always-presently-there-aaron-shurin-in-conversation-with-micah-ballard/

A essay by Chales Olson’s poetic theory, “Projective Verse”, can be found at the Poetry Foundation located at: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/articles/69406/projective-verse

Russell Lee

The Photography of Russell Lee

Born to an affluent mid-western family in Ottawa, Illinois, in July of 1903, Russell Werner Lee was an American photographer and photojournalist, who is best known for his work during the years of the Great Depression. He attended the Culver Military Academy in Indiana and studied at Lehigh University in Bethelem, Pennsylvania, where in 1925 he earned his degree in Chemical Engineering. Lee obtained a position at the chemical company Certainteed Products where he worked as a plant chemist making roofing materials. 

Dissatisfied with his job and secure financially due to inherited property, Lee began experimenting in 1935 with a small Contax 35mm camera and darkroom printing. His earliest photographs were taken in the artist colony at Woodstock, New York, and later in Pennsylvania during visits with friends. It was during these visits that Lee shot a series of images depicting the working and living conditions of coal miners who toiled inside small bootleg mines in Pennsylvania. In the winter of 1935, Lee wandered the streets of New York where he photographed the poverty around him. He also shot a series of images in New York City of the evangelist Father Divine who arrived with a large group of his followers for an event.

Russell Lee’s interest in social issues and his use of photography to document social conditions brought him into contact with several social-realist  artists, among whom were photographer and lithographer Ben Shahn and film maker Pare Lorentz, whose films documented the New Deal. Through his association with Ben Shahn, Lee became involved with the documentation program of the Historical Division of the Resettlement Administration. This program, later renamed the Farm Security Administration, assessed the effects of government programs during the Great Depression era. 

Along with team members Arthur Rothstein, Dorothea Lange, and Walker Evans, Lee documented the plight of tenant farmers, migrant workers and sharecroppers suffering from drought and financial distress. He was assigned by his team leader Roy Stryker, an economist and photographer, to travel throughout the Midwest and West Coastal areas of the United States; some of Lee’s best known early photographs were those taken in rural Iowa in 1936. During his travels for the FSA, he produced iconic studies of the people living in San Augustine, Texas in 1939 and the small rural Pie Town, New Mexico in 1949. During the 1940s, Lee’s images appeared in many popular journals including Life, Fortune, U.S. Camera, and Look magazine.

In the spring and summer of 1942, Russell Lee was one of several government photographers to document the forced relocation of Japanese Americans from the west coast. He produced over six hundred images of families waiting for their travel arrangements and their ensuing daily lives in the detention facilities. With the defunding of the Farm Security Administration in 1943, Lee joined the Army’s Air Transport Command as a captain. He was assigned to take aerial surveillance photographs, including air field approaches used to supply the troops, as well as documentary images of local conditions on the ground.

In 1946 and 1947, Lee worked for the Department of the Interior and helped to compile a survey and document with images the communities involved in mining bituminous coal. He created over four thousand photographs of miners and the working conditions inside the coal mines. In 1946, Lee produced a series of photographs on a Pentecostal Church of God in a coal camp in Kentucky. In 1947, he moved to Austin, Texas, where he continued his photographic work.

In 1965, Russell Lee became the first instructor of photography at Austin’s University of Texas where he taught until 1973. In the latter part of his life, he often traveled as a photographer on assignment for various magazines and corporations, the University of Texas, and the federal government. The state of Texas became a major focus of his work until his death, at the age of eighty-three, in August of 1986. 

Russell Lee’s works are held in the collections of the University of Louisville in Kentucky, the New Mexico Museum of Art in Santa Fe, the Wittliff Collections of Texas State University in San Marcos, and the Dolph Briscoe Center of American History in Austin, among others. Over nineteen thousand images taken by Russell Lee are housed in the Photography Archive of the Library of Congress in Washington DC.

Note: For those interested, I recommend Professor of History Emeritus F. Jack Hurley’s September 1973 article on Russell Lee, originally published in IMAGE: Journal of Photography and Motion Pictures of the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House. This extensive biography, containing many quotes by Lee, is located at the online art and humanities site “American Suburb X” :  https://americansuburbx.com/2010/02/theory-f-jack-hurley-on-russell-lee.html

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Russell Werner Lee”, Date Unknown

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Russell Lee Taking Photo of Children”, Date Unknown

Third Insert Image: Russell Lee, “Perry Drugs Store”, Date Unknown

Bottom Insert Image: Russell Lee, “Shoeshine Boy, San Antonio, Texas”, 1949, Russell Lee Photograph Collection University of Texas at Austin

McDermott & McGough: Film History Series

McDermott & McGough, “If You Had Been the Moon”, April 2009, 10:16, Directed by Peter Mc  Gough, Starring Michael  Kavalus, Bryan Deckhart, Claybourne Elder, Christopher Le Rude, Alex Michael Stoll, and Andrew Lord

The art collective McDermott & McGough consists of the contemporary artists David McDermott and Peter McGough who are known for their work in sculpture, painting, film and photography. Their work examines such issues as religion, popular culture and art, medicine, advertising, fashion, and sexual behavior. McDermott and McGough are best known for their gay-themed paintings and the use of historical processing techniques in their photographic work, which includes film development with palladium, gum bichromate, salt, platinum, and carbon black.

Born in Hollywood, California in 1952, David McDermott studied at Syracuse University in New York from 1970 to 1974. He moved to New York City where he became famous in the downtown area for his odd manners and outdated formalwear, such as detachable collars, cummerbunds, and top hats. Born in Syracuse in 1958, Peter McGough studied at Syracuse University in 1976. He relocated to New York City where he briefly studied at the Fashion Institute of Technology. After dropping out from the Institute, McGough was employed to sell tickets at Danceteria, a famous, albeit illegal, nightclub with several locations in the city.

Peter McGough met David McDermott in a Manhattan theater at the end of the 1970s. As David kept Peter company during the early club hours before sunrise, a strong relationship developed between them  that also included an artistic alliance which would last forty years. In the 1980s, the gay couple became known in New York’s East Village art scene for their immersion in the Victorian era. McDermott and McGough questioned the ideas of nostalgia; they pursued an art form and lifestyle narrative of reorienting the past for the future. Dressed and living as early 1900s dandies with an air of erudition and impertinence, their lives and art became an exploration of time and history, as well as, a challenge to the boundaries of art history and cultural identity.

McDermott and McGough’s collaborative output was expressed through a proliferation of drawings, paintings, film and photographs, and architectural interiors. Their photographs and films, which appropriated images and objects from the late 19th century to the style of the 1930s, explored contemporary cultural issues but produced them through vintage materials and techniques. McDermott and McGough’s obsession with the past is reflected in the styles and subjects they resurrect; many of their works are titled with fictional dates that reference the latter years of the 1800s. 

The later work of McDermott and McGough was inspired by advertising motifs, Hollywood cinema, and the comic books of the 1950s and 1960s. They reinvented major works of twentieth-century photography, Pop Art icon images, and produced photo-realistic paintings of vintage film stars. During the 1980s when their work was selling well, McDermott and McGough were a major part of the downtown New York scene, where the attended clubs and mingled with Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat, and Andy Warhol. They bought three properties including a 1860s French Second Empire style bank, owned horses and vintage automobiles, hosted lavish baroque parties, and bestowed expensive gifts to friends.

 In 1992, the art market began to feel the effects of the stock market crash of October 1987. Out of all the paintings McDermott and McGough had on  exhibit at the Armory Show, only one small painting sold. Their debts, which included framing costs for their exhibitions, came due; many of these debts were paid through the transfer of their existing artwork to galleries and other debtors, among whom was the Internal Revenue Service. Eventually everything the couple had was auctioned off except for a few pieces they managed to save and later shipped to the docks of Dublin, Ireland. David McDermott relocated to a small  rental house near Ballsbridge, Ireland, and in 1995 McGough reunited with him. 

McDermott and McGough started painting and soon were able to rent a small art studio in Temple Bar in downtown Dublin. Through Swiss art dealer and gallery owner Bruno Bischofberger, they received many silhouette commissions. With the assistance of the gallery’s director Andrea Caratsch, McDermott and McGough had an exhibition in 1998 entitled “The Lust That Comes from Nothing” at Paris’s Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont.

McDermott and McGough’s previous exhibitions include the Whitney Biennial, New York, in 1987, 1991 and 1995, and a mid-career retrospective at the Provincial Museum voor Moderne Kunst, Oostende, Belgium. In 2017, their work was the subject of the exhibition “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going’ held at the Dallas Contemporary Museum in Texas. Other solo and group exhibitions include such institutions as the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Dublin, Centre Pompidou in Paris, New York City’s Galleria Gian Enzo Sperone, and the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Germany. 

McDermott and McGough’s work is represented in numerous collections including the International Center of Photography in New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art; Spencer Museum of Art at the University of Kansas in Lawrence; Tampa Museum of Art in Florida; Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center; and Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, among others.

Notes: In 2017, David McDermott and Peter McGough opened the Oscar Wilde Temple, a non-secular sacred space for LGBTQ people in a chapel at the Church of the Village located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It is both an art exhibition space and a place for marriages; donations go to homeless LBGTQ youth. A second location at the gallery Studio Voltaire in London was opened in October of 2018.

In 2019, Peter McGough published his memoir “I’ve Seen the Future and I’m Not Going There” through Penquin Random House. Set in New York’s Lower East Side, the memoir chronicles his life withDavid McDermott during the 1980s and mid-1990s.

Top Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Portrait of the Artists, 1928, 1990”, Palladium Print on Paper, 35 x 26.5 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: David McDermott and Peter McGough, “Love is Gone- So What Can Matter? 1966, 2008”, Oil on Linen, 152.4 x 122.2 cm, Private Collection

Third Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Joel at Lower Baldonell House, Dublin, 1910, 2003”, Palladium Print on Paper, 50.8 x 40.6 cm, Private Collection

Fourth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “The Annointed”, 1991, Photographers and Friends Against AIDS Exhibition, Palladium Print on Paper, 16.5 x 11.8 cm, Private Collection

Fifth Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, Title Unknown (Reading Comics), Image from the “Detroit, 1958” Series,  2007, Carbro Print, Private Collection

Bottom Insert Image: McDermott and McGough, “Portrait of the Artist (With Top Hats) 1865”, 1991, Palladium Print on Paper, Collection of the Artists

Winthrop Smith: “The Coldness of the Floor. . .”

Photographers Unknown, The Coldness of the Floor

The coldness of the floor
In the boys’ lav., the cold-
Ness of the boys themselves
Stripping off their gym shorts

And t shirts: the wetness
Of the spot which showed on
The shorts of each boy who
Climbed alone on ropes, the

Wetness of sweat which
Soaked the boys who wrestled
In the matroom, glistened
On the bodies of the

Boys who stood for weighing-
In with jockey shorts or
Nude: the odor of the
Floor in the boy’s lav., the

Odor of the boys them-
Selves from the soap they passed
Among themselves in the
Showers, the odor of

The soap they passed among
Themselves when older, stop-
Ping from their showers, dress-
Ing for their classes in

Laundered cotton shirts and
Boxer shorts: the coldness
Of rain soaked running trails
In Late October, the

Cold, red hands of the run-
Ners after practice: the
Wetness of their hairy
Bodies drying off near

Steamfilled showers, the wet-
Ness of the gym itself
With aingle shower’s drip
Dripping late at night: the

Motion of the young men
Washing, young men dressing,
Young men acting out their
Conflicts and frustrations. . .

Winthrop Smith, Excerpt from Retrospective at 33, The Weigh-In: Collected Poems,1996

Raised in Rye, New York, Winthrop Smith is a gay minimalist poet whose work explores the the undercurrent of gay experience in America. Having lived in New York City from 1987 to 2003, his early poetry covers a period of gay life before the gentrification of the city. In his work, Smith captures the gay male experience of pre-DisneyTimes Square, the St. Mark bathhouses, the city’s docks and cruising areas, and the scene on the West Village’s Christopher Street known for being the “Main Street” of gay New York.

Winthrop Smith’s first collection of poems, “Ghetto: From the First Five: Sixty-Four Poems”, was published in January of 1990. His second collection was the 1996 “The Weigh-In: Collected Poems”. Influenced by contemporary minimalist music and the work of modernist poet Gertrude Stein whose writing style broke the conventions of the linear narrative, Winthrop Smith formats his poetry into short pictorial lines each of which contain a complete mental image or thought. These narrative lines are stacked, sometimes  ending in split hyphenated words,  to form sentences that often trail into the following stanza. 

Smith’s third collection, the 2006 “Skin Check: New York Poems”, is a minimalist book-length poem of encounters experienced during a walk taken by Smith, his partner, and their two dogs from their Chelsea apartment to the West Village and back. His next collection was”Wrestling Starting Position” which was published in December of 2016. It is an autobiographical book-length poem which spans from his childhood in Rye, New York, to the second decade of the new century. The poem, told through the basic positions of wrestling, expounds on the issues of the artwork of Patrick Angus, the 1960s and city life at that time, the death of peers, personal ads, and capital punishment, among other topics. 

Winthrop Smith’s latest work is the 2021 “Take Down Portraits: Drawings and Portraits by Larry Stanton”, which include poems by Smith that envision conversations and scenes that may have taken place in Larry Stanton’s studio during his lifetime. Although he never actually met Stanton, Smith was inspired by his artwork, having had dozens of Stanton’s works in his care. The poems, duets in essence, are composed in fragmented phrasing with small details to evoke the emotion of the conversations. 

Smith was infected with the HIV virus during his first sexual experience at a Times Square bathhouse in 1984. After moving to New York City in 1987, he worked as a home attendant for the first program which was dedicated to terminal AIDS patients. Since then, Smith worked on the National AIDS hotline and was on the board for the People with Aids Coalition.

Winthrop Smith is a trustee and a program manager of the EGR Writers House in Augusta, Maine, which subsidizes housing for writers. He currently resides and writes in Wappingers Falls, New York. Smith is the author of four blog sites which can be found through: https://www.blogger.com/profile/11816360238911707217

Christopher Soto: “Last Time I Saw Myself Die..”

Photographers Unknown, Last Time I Saw Myself Die

Last time I saw myself die is when police killed Jessie Hernandez

                                      A 17 year old brown queer // who was sleeping in their car

Yesterday I saw myself die again // Fifty times I died in Orlando // &

                        I remember reading // Dr. José Esteban Muñoz before he passed

I was studying at NYU // where he was teaching // where he wrote shit

                        That made me feel like a queer brown survival was possible // But he didn’t

Survive & now // on the dancefloor // in the restroom // on the news // in my chest

                        There are another fifty bodies that look like mine // & are

Dead // & I’ve been marching for Black Lives & talking about police brutality

                        Against Native communities too // for years now // but this morning

I feel it // I really feel it again // How can we imagine ourselves // We being black native

                        Today // Brown people // How can we imagine ourselves

When All the Dead Boys Look Like Us? // Once I asked my nephew where he wanted

                        To go to College // What career he would like // as if

The whole world was his for the choosing // Once he answered me without fearing

                        Tombstones or cages or the hands from a father // The hands of my lover

Yesterday praised my whole body // Made angels from my lips // Ave Maria

                        Full of Grace // He propped me up like the roof of a cathedral // in NYC

Before we opened the news & read // & read about people who think two brown queers

                        Can’t build cathedrals // only cemeteries // & each time we kiss

A funeral plot opens // In the bedroom I accept his kiss // & I lose my reflection

                        I’m tired of writing this poem // but I want to say one last word about

Yesterday // my father called // I heard him cry for only the second time in my life

                        He sounded like he loved me // it’s something I’m rarely able to hear

& I hope // if anything // his sound is what my body remembers first.;

Christopher Soto, All the Dead Boys Look Like Me, Bullets into Bells: Poets and Citizens Respond to Gun Violence, 2017

Born in 1991 to El Salvadoran parents who immigrated to the United States, Christopher Soto is a poet and prison abolitionist who spent the formative years of life in Los Angeles. Soto studied at New York University as a Goldwater Hospital Writing Fellow and, in 2015, earned a Master of Fine Arts in Poetry .Soto has worked with the Lambda Literary Foundation since 2014 as editor of the online literary journal “Nepantia”.

Christopher Soto’s first chapbook collection of poems was the 2012 “How to Eat Glass”. Soto’s second collection, the chapbook “Sad Girl Poems” was published in January of 2016. This collection of narrative poems dealt with the social issues affecting young queer people of color, among which are homelessness, gender identity, abuse in the family, and death of a lover. In 2016, Soto co-founded, along with Macelo Castillo and Javier Zamora, the Undocupoets Campaign which successfully removed the citizenship requirement from first-book competitions, thus allowing undocumented poets and writers to participate. For this, the organization and Soto received the Barnes & Noble Writer for Writers Award.

After receiving an invitation from The Center for Justice at New York’s Columbia University, Soto taught a community-based writing workshop in 2017 at the university as part of the June Jordan Teaching Corp, named in honor of the queer black poet and essayist. In 2018, Soto edited and published through Nightboat Books the anthology “Nepantia: An Anthology Dedicated to Queer Poets of Color”. This publication was the first major literary anthology of queer poets of color in the United States.

Relocating back to Los Angeles in 2019, Christopher Soto began working with the University of California’s Ethnic Studies Research Center. Soto became a member of the Boardof Directors for Lambda Literary and joined the CantoMundo Fellowship which supports Latino poets and poetry. Working alongside Javier Zamora, Jan Henry Gray and Anni Liu, Soto co-organized the “Writers for Migrant Justice” campaign, a national movement in over forty cities to raise the necessary funds to aid migrant families in detention.

As a lecturer in 2020 with the University of California’s Honors College, Soto began teaching inter disciplinary creative writing courses, such as “Poetry and Protest Movements”. Awarded in 2021 a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Poetry, Soto became a visiting Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Los Angeles’s Occidental College, where he still teaches.

In May of 2022, Copper Canyon Press will be releasing Soto’s new collection of poetry, “Diaries of a Terrorist”. This collection of political surrealist poems, which discusses the issues of power and police violence, is expressed through alternating humor, deep vulnerability, and frank queer punk bawdiness.

Christopher Soto’s poetry, reviews, interviews and articles can be found in many literary publications, including Poetry magazine, Tin House, American Poetry Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and the Guardian, among others. Soto’s workis available in many translations including Japanese, Spanish, Portuguese and Thai.

Nils Asther: Film History Series

Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, July of 1932, Publicity Shot for Cine-Mundial, A New York-based Spanish Magazine

Born in Copenhagen in January of 1897, Nils Anton Althild Asther was a Swedish gay actor who was active in Hollywood from 1926 until the mid-1950s. He was the son of Anton Andersson Asther and Hildegard Augusta Åkerlund, who had accepted his father’s proposal but was unwed at the time of Nils’s birth. Asther spent his first year as a foster child and rejoined his parents after their marriage on May 29th of 1898 in the city of Malmö. He grew up in a deeply religious Lutheran home, where homosexuality was considered a sin by the church and viewed as a disease by Swedish society.

Nils Asther, still a young man, moved to Stockholm where he studied acting under the tutelage of Swedish silent-film and stage actress Augusta Lindberg. Through the endorsement of his teacher, he received his first theatrical engagement at Lorensbergsteatern, the art performance theater in the city of Gothenburg. Asther performed in several productions in Stockholm which included two plays in 1923, “The Importance of Being Earnest” and “ The Admirable Crichton”, and the 1924 production of “Othello” at the Royal Dramatic Theater. 

In 1916 at the age of nineteen, Asther was cast by the pioneer Swedish film director Mauritz Stiller for his silent film “Vingarne (The Wings)”. This production was based the novel “Mikaël” by the internationally recognized Danish author Herman Bang. It starred silent-film actors Egil Eide, Lars Hanson, and Lill Bech, with Nils Asther in a supporting role. Besides being an early gay-themed film, it is recognized for it innovative use of a framing story, a main narrative which is divided into a set of shorter stories, and for its use of flashbacks as the primary plot source. Although only thirty minutes of its seventy-minute length survived, a 1987 restoration used still photos and title cards to bridge the missing sections. 

Now residing in Copenhagen, Nils Asther received support from actor Aage Hertel, a member of the Royal Danish Theater and a leading actor at Nordisk Film. Between 1918 and 1926, Asther appeared in a number of film roles in Denmark, Sweden and Germany. After being approached by a representative from United Artists, he traveled to Hollywood  where he was given the role of  George Shelby in director Delmer Lord’s “Topsy and Eva”, a 1927 silent drama produced by Feature Productions. By 1928 Asther’s suave appearance placed him in leading roles; he soon played opposite such stars as Marion Davies and Joan Crawford.  

Asther appeared in director Harry Beaumont’s 1928 “Our Dancing Daughters”, a silent drama depicting the dangers of loose morals among the young. The film cast included John Mack Brown and Joan Crawford; it was this film role of Charleston-dancing, Prohibition-era drinking Diana Medford that launched Joan Crawford’s career. Asther was next given the leading role of handsome Prince de Gace, who played opposite Greta Garbo’s role of Lillie Sterling, in director Sidney Franklin’s 1929 drama “Wild Orchids”. Though often listed as a silent film, it was released as a non-talking film with orchestral score, sound effects, and title cards for dialogue. Asther had previously known Garbo in Sweden and would continue to be close friends; they appeared together in a second film of the same year, the MGM romantic drama “The Single Standard”. 

With the arrival of sound in film, Nils Asther began voice and diction lessons to minimize his Nordic accent. Due to his accent, many of his early roles in sound films were characters of foreign origins. Asther appeared with Robert Montgomery and, once again, with Joan Crawford in Clarence Brown’s 1932 drama “Letty Lynton”, which recounts the historical murder allegedly committed by nineteenth-century Glasgow socialite madeleine Smith, played by Crawford. In 1933, he was given the role of General Yen in Frank Capra’s drama war film “The Bitter Tea of General Yen”, where he  played opposite Barbara Stanwyck and, after its premiere, received good reviews for his portrayal.

After an alleged breach of contract led to a studio-based blacklist, Asther was forced to work in England between the years 1935 and 1940. He made six films in England before his return to Hollywood. Upon his return, Asther made nineteen more films before 1949; however, he was mostly given small supporting roles from which his career never returned to its former height. During the early 1950s, Asther attempted to revive his career with appearances on television which was becoming a rapidly growing phenomenon in the United States. Managing only to secure roles in a small number of minor television series, he decided in 1958 to return to Sweden. Asther had four film roles and an engagement with a local theater before 1963, at which time he retired from acting and devoted himself to painting. 

Nils Asther passed away on the 13th of October in 1981, at the age of eighty-four, at the Farsta Hospital in Stockholm. He is buried in the village of Hotagen, located in Jämtland, Sweden. Asther was inducted in 1960 into the Hollywood Walk of Fame for his contributions to the film industry; his star is located at 6705 Hollywood Boulevard. 

Asther was a gay man in a time when it was both a personal and professional social stigma. Although the film industry in the 1920s accepted gay actors with little reservation, the actors had to remain discreet about their sexual orientation. In August of 1930, Asther entered into a lavender marriage with Vivian Duncan, one of the his costars from the 1927 “Topsy and Eva”. This turbulent marriage produced one daughter and resulted, after much media discussion, in a divorce in 1932. 

Nils Asther’s memoir, “The Road of the Jester: Not a God’s Tale: A Memoir”, was published posthumously in 1988 in Stockholm. In this volume, he mentions relationships he had in the 1930s with director Mauritz Stiller and Swedish author Hjalmar Bergman. Asther also had a long-term relationship with actor and  stuntman Ken DuMain, whom he met on Hollywood Boulevard in the early 1940s. 

Top Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther”, circa 1930s, MGM Publicity Still, 25.4 x 33 cm, Private Collection

Second Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther and Greta Garbo”, 1929, MGM Publicity Shot

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, French Postcard by Europe, No. 909, MGM Studio Publicity Shot, Date Unknown

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Nils Asther”, Date Unknown, Publicity Shot, John Kobal Foundation, Getty Images

Bottom Insert Image: George Hurrell, “Nils Asther and Joan Crawford”, 1932, MGM Publicity Shot

Harold Norse: “The Sea Broke Wild Beneath the Cliff”

Photographers Unknown, The Sea Broke Wild Beneath the Cliff

we sailed into the harbor
all the church bells rang
the main street on the crescent shore
hung iridescent silks from windows
stucco house-fronts gleamed
rose, pistachio, peach
and a procession sang
behind a surpliced priest
carrying a burnished Christ
when I set foot on shore
a youth emerged from the crowd
barefoot and olive-skinned
and we climbed up rocky slopes
till dusk fell and close to the moon
at the mouth of a cave we made love
as the sea broke wild beneath the cliff

Harold Norse, Island of Giglio, In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems of Harold Norse (1934-2003)

Born in New York City in July of 1916, Harold Norse, born Harold Rosen, was an American poet and writer who broke new ground beginning in the 1950s by his exploration of gay identity and sexuality through plain language and direct imagery. 

The only son of an unmarried Lithuanian Jewish immigrant, Harold Norse earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature in 1938 from Brooklyn College where he edited its literary magazine and began writing poetry. While at the college, Norse entered into a relationship with fellow student Chester Kallman, who became a poet and opera librettist. He and Kallman became part of poet W. H. Auden’s inner circle of acquaintances after Auden and Christopher Isherwood relocated to New York City in 1939. Chester Kallman later became Auden’s companion until Auden’s death.

By the early 1940s as a member of Auden’s circle, Norse cultivated a number of relationships, both professional and personal. He met Allen Ginsberg on a Manhattan subway and became friends with James Baldwin after meeting him in Greenwich Village. Norse spent a summer with Tennessee Williams while the playwright finished his “The Glass Menagerie”, and in 1950 became friends with Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. After earning his Master’s Degree in English Literature at New York University in 1951, Norse met modernist poet William Carlos William who encouraged him to embrace a more direct, conversational language in his poetry. 

After accepting Williams’s mentorship, Harold Norse found a common cause with the Beat Generation poets in their rejection of academic poetry and traditional metric formats. as well as, his peripheral status in society as a gay man. Norse began publishing his work in The Paris Review, The Saturday Review, and Poetry Magazine. In 1953, he published his first collection of poem, “The Undersea Mountain”. Frustrated with New York’s poetry scene, Norse began a fifteen year period of travel in Europe and North Africa. While in Italy, he translated the sonnets of Giuseppe Gioachino Belli from the Romanesco, the dialect of Rome, with the assistance of street hustlers.

Between 1960 and 1963, Norse lived in Paris , along with William Burroughs, Alan Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, at the hotel known as “The Bear” in the city’s Latin Quarter. He briefly collaborated with painter and performance artist Brion Gysin on Gysin’s cut-up Dada work. After traveling to Greece where he met songwriter and author Leonard Cohen, Norse went to North Africa where he became friends with stage actor Paul Bowles. He returned to the United States and settled in the Mission District of San Francisco in 1972, which became his home for the rest of his life.There he became friends with writer Charles Bukowski and met Arnold Schwarzenegger, at that time a beginning bodybuilder.

It was in San Francisco that Harold Norse’s literary career became very productive. In 1974, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s publishing house, City Lights, released Norse’s “Hotel Nirvana” Selected Poems 1953-1973” to critical acclaim. With the publication of “Carnivorous Saint: Gay Poems 1941-1975″, he was considered one of America’s leading gay poets. Norse followed these successes with two more collections: “The Love Poems 1940-1985” and his final volume, “In the Hub of the Fiery Force: Collected Poems 1934-2003”. In 1989, his autobiography, “Memoirs of a Bastard Angel: A Fifty Year Literary and Erotic Odyssey”, was published. 

Norse was an outsider of society, Jewish, homosexual and illegitimate, who produced new and technically accomplished work from the fringes of the literary scene in the United States. With the gay liberation movement gathering momentum, his poetry was given a new sense of direction and meaning. Norse wrote new poems about the idea of masculinity, such as his “I Am Not a Man”, and works about unrequited gay love and loneliness. In his latter years, his work reflected on what it meant to be an aged gay man in San Francisco. 

Toward the end of his life, Harold Norse was surrounded by a group of friends who looked after him. He still read his poetry at the age of ninety-one to enthralled audiences. Both a two-time National Endowment of the Arts grant recipient and a National Poetry Association Award winner, Harold Norse died on the 8th of June in 2009. 

Note: For those interested, I highly recommend a visit to the Harold Norse Centennial website. Dedicated to preserving the work and legacy of Norse, it was established by his close.  decades-long friend Todd Swindell. The site contains interviews, readings of Norse’s work, book reviews, videos, photographs, and other articles. The site is located at: https://haroldnorse.com

 

Cecil Beaton

The Photography of Cecil Beaton

Born in January of 1904 in the Hampstead area of London, Sir Cecil Walter Hardy Beaton was a British portrait, fashion and war photographer. He was also a painter, an interior designer and a designer of stage set and costumes, for which he received two Academy Awards.

Cecil Beaton was the eldest of four children born to Ernest Beaton, a prosperous timber merchant and amateur actor, and Esther Sisson, the daughter of a Cumbrian blacksmith. His primary education was at Heath Mount School in rural Hertfordshire, where he was recognized for both his singing and artistic talent. Beaton received his initial instruction in photography and film development from his governess. When he considered his work acceptable, he sent photos to London society magazines under a pseudonym.

Beaton attended the prestigious Harrow School in Greater London and then entered St. John’s College at Cambridge, where he studied history, art and architecture. He continued his photographic work during his college years. Beaton, never having a strong interest in academia, left Cambridge without a degree in 1925. After a short period in the family’s timber business, he left and concentrated on a career in his main interest, photography. After a period of study under one of London’s youngest photographers Paul Tanqueray, Beaton set up his own studio in London. 

Through the patronage of English author and poet Osbert Sitwell, Cecil Beaton had his first photography exhibition at London’s Cooling Gallery at Southampton Row. This successful show in 1927 established him as one of the leading fashion and portrait photographers of his generation. Beaton was soon hired as a staff photographer for Vanity Fair magazine and both the American and British editions of Vogue magazine. He developed a style of portraiture where the sitter was merely one element of an overall decorative pattern, dominated by backgrounds of unusual materials. In addition to his fashion  and society work, Beaton traveledd to the United States and began to photograph many celebrities in Hollywood. 

Beaton’s celebrity portraits had a sparse composition and a sensual directness that in essence freed his subjects from their respective eras. Devoted to the social scenes he lived in and passionate for his individual subjects, Beaton was committed to capturing their charisma on film. Among the celebrities he photographed were the solemn looking, plain dressed Gary Cooper in 1931, Greta Garbo at the Plaza Hotel in 1946, and the boyish-looking Truman Capote in 1948. Beaton also took many portraits of the English and foreign elite, including Lady Diane Cooper, Winston Churchill, Caroline of Monaco, and Charles de Gaulle. He also shot a portrait of the young Queen Elizabeth in 1939 and in 1953, photographed her daughter Elizabeth II on her Coronation Day.

During World War II, Cecil Beaton served in the British Ministry of Information, as a leading war photographer covering the fighting in Africa and East Asia. During this period his style sharpened and the compositional range of his photographs widened. Beaton’s photographs taken during the the siege of Britain were published in 1942 in a collection entitled “Winged Squadrons”. After the war, he continued his portrait photography; his style however had mellowed due to his war experience and became less flamboyant. Beaton broadened his work at this time and began to design costumes and sets for both film and theater productions. 

One of Beaton’s first designs for the Broadway stage was a 1946 revival of Oscar Wilde’s comedy “Lady Windermere’s Fan” for which he designed costumes, sets, and lighting. In 1956, he designed costumes for the stage production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady”. The success of Beaton’s work led to designs for two of Lerner and Loewe film musicals, the 1958 “Gigi” and the 1964 “My Fair Lady”, each of which earned Beaton an Academy Award for Best Costume Design. For his many Broadway design works, he was the recipient of four Tony Awards. Beaton also designed sets and costumes for the New York’s 1961 Metropolitan Opera and London’s 1963 Covent Garden productions of Puccini’s “Turandot”.

In 1947, Cecil Beaton leased the historic Georgian manor Ashcombe House in Wiltshire after a visit accompanied by sculptor Stephen Tomlin and writer Edith Olivier. He employed architect Michael Rosenauer to make substantial renovations and alterations to the manor. At Ashcombe House, Beaton lavishly entertained such guests as Welsh painter and etcher Augustus John, English aristocrat Lady Diane Cooper, actress Tallulah Bankhead, artist Salvador Dali, and fashion illustrator Christian Bérard. In 1948, Beaton designed a fabric, still used among designers today, which he named “Ashcombe Stripe” after the manor. In 1947, Beaton bought Reddish House in Broad Chalke where he remained until his death.

In his personal life, Beaton had relationships with various men, including his two great loves, British arts patron Peter Watson and American art historian Kin Hoitsma, who was also a former Olympic fencer. He also had relationships with women, including Greta Garbo, the dancer Adel Astaire, and socialite Doris Castlerosse. In 1972, Beaton received the state honor of being knighted at the New Years Honors. Two years later, he suffered a stroke that paralyzed his right side. Although he adapted to the condition and continued his photographic work, Beaton became anxious about his financial security. Philippe Garner of Sotheby’s acquired Beaton’s archive, excluding work of the Royal Family and that held by Vogue, and oversaw its preservation and partial dispersal, which allowed Beaton an annual income.

Cecil Beaton’s health faded by the end of the 1970s. He died in January of 1980, four days after his seventy-sixth birthday, at his home in Broad Chalke; he is buried in the nearby churchyard. Beaton’s work has been shown in many exhibitions and retrospectives over the years, including at the National Portrait Gallery in Washington DC and the Imperial War Museum in London, among others.

Note: An interesting article to read would be Sooanne Berner’s “Ten Things You Might Not Know About Cecil Beaton” located at the online magazine “AnOther” : https://www.anothermag.com/art-photography/10296/ten-things-you-might-not-know-about-cecil-beaton

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil beaton in Sandwich, England”, circa 1920s, Gelatin Silver Print, Cecil Beaton Studio Photos, Sotheby’s

Second Insert Image: Curtis Moffat, “Cecil beaton”, circa 1930, Gelatin Silver Print, Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Beaton and Gary Cooper, 1931, Gelatin Silver Print

Fourth Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Cecil Beaton and Stephen Tennant”, 1927, National Portrait Gallery, London

Bottom Insert Image: Jack Mitchell, “Cecil Beaton”, 1963, Silver Gelatin Print, Getty Images

William Haines: Film History Series

Photographers Unknown, Twelve Men During the Day

Born in Staunton, Virginia in January of 1900, Charles William Haines was an American actor and interior designer. He was the third child of seven siblings, two of which died in infancy, born to George Adam Haines, a cigar maker, and Laura Virginia (Matthews) Haines. He became fascinated at an early age with motion pictures and stage performances. 

At the age of fourteen, William Haines ran away from home accompanied by an unidentified young man. They both gained employment at the DuPont factory in Hopewell, Virginia, where they earned fifty dollars a week producing nitrocellulose which in its finished form is used for photography. Tracked by the police, Haines made an arrangement with his parents where he could remain in Hopewell and, with his earnings, send support to his family. The two boys remained in Hopewell until the 1915 fire which destroyed most of the city. 

Haines relocated to New York City until 1917, when a family crisis caused him to move to his family’s new home in Richmond, Virginia, to lend financial and emotional support. With the family’s recovery in 1919, Haines returned to New York City and settled in the growing gay community of Greenwich Village. He worked at various odd jobs and eventually gained employment as a model. Haines entered the Goldwyn Pictures’s contest, “New Faces of 1922”, and was discovered by Bijou Fernandez, a silent film actress and theatrical agent. Signed to a forty dollar per week contract with Goldwyn Pictures, he traveled to Hollywood in March of 1922 along with fellow contestant Eleanor Boardman.

William Haines initially played uncredited roles; his first significant casting was a high-profile role in director King Vidor’s 1923 silent drama “Three Wise Fools”, for which he received positive notices in reviews. This was followed in the same year by another significant role in Fox Studios’s silent western “The Desert Outlaw”. In 1924, MGM lent Haines to Columbia Pictures for a five-picture deal. The first of these films, the 1924 crime film “The Midnight Express” received excellent reviews. 

Haines had his first major personal success with the starring role in MGM’s 1926 silent drama “Brown of Harvard”. The character he played, a young arrogant man later humbled, was a role he would repeat for the next several years. On a publicity trip to New York City in 1926, Haines met James Shields. He convinced Shields to move to Los Angeles and promised to secure him work as an extra in films. Haines and Shields began living together and saw themselves as a committed couple. Although many actors in the film industry knew of their commitment, Haines never publicly affirmed his sexuality and there was no mention of their relationship in the press.

William Haines next appeared in two successful films, the 1925 comedy-drama “Little Annie Rooney”, co-starring with Mary Pickford, and the 1926 comedy “Show People”, co-starring with Marion Davies. He was one of the top five box-office stars from 1928 to 1932. With the advent of sound in film, Haines was able, with elocution lessons, to make the transition and maintain his star status. His first starring role in a full-sound film was the 1929 romance  “Navy Blues” for MGM; this was followed by the 1930 western parody “Way Out West”. At this point in his career, Haines was listed as the top box-office attraction in the country. 

Haines’s films began to drop at the box-office by the late 1930s. MGM canceled his contract in 1931 and, later, brought him back to the studio as a featured player with a reduced salary. Haines next starred in the film, “Just a Gigolo”; but that production failed to turn his slipping ratings. The MGM Studio finally terminated Haines’s contract with the studio in early 1933. 

The termination of Haines was the result of multiple factors.  With the depression, studios were very concerned about their films’ profit margins; Haines was aging and had not successfully completed his transition from his early “Brown of Harvard” persona; and Haines, despite not affirming his sexuality publicly, did not agree to a studio-supported lavender marriage as other gay actors had done. The impending Hays Production Code and the decreasing profits from Haines’s films put pressure on the studio and made it difficult for MGM to continue placing him in starring roles.

William Haines’s final two films were produced in 1934 by Mascot Pictures, a studio known for producing serials and B-movies. The first was the romantic comedy “Young and Beautiful”, which starred Haines opposite actress Judith Allen, and the second was a war-romance film “The Marines Are Coming”, in which Haines played opposite Conrad Nagel and Esther Ralston. Although Haines still received offers from minor studios, he made the decision to retire from acting and commit himself to his and Shield’s interior design business. Over his acting career, Haines had appeared appeared in fifty-four films, the majority of which were in starring roles.

In 1930, William Haines and James Shield had begun a successful dual career as interior designers and antique dealers. Hand-painted wallpaper, ottoman tables, and low to the ground sitting rooms became signature pieces of their work. Their antiques and artwork were loaned for film stage sets, including Haines’s personal paintings for Tara’s interior walls in “Gone With the Wind”. Among their clients were friends such as Gloria Swanson, George Cukor, Carole Lombard, and Joan Crawford.  In 1937, Haines was hired to decorate the estate of studio executive Jack L. Warner.  In the late 1930s through an introduction made by Joan Crawford, Haines and Shield decorated Villa Valentino, a secluded estate owned by Tom Lyle Williams, the founder of Maybelline Cosmetics, and his life-long partner Emery Shaver.

Haines and Shield settled in the Hollywood community of Brentwood and, except for a brief period of Haines’s service during World War II, they remained together and ran their prosperous business. By the time of their retirement in the early 1970s, their clients included socialite and philanthropist Betsy Bloomingdale and Governor Ronald Reagan and Nancy Reagan. Haines was also hired to redecorate London’s Winfield House, the official United States embassy residence, by the U.S. Ambassador Walter Annenberg.

William Haines and James Shield remained together in a relationship for forty-seven years. They enjoyed a high position in Hollywood for decades, supported by many loyal friends. On December 26th of 1973, William Haines died, at the age of seventy-three, from lung cancer in Santa Monica, California. Shortly afterward on March 6th of 1974, James Shield, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, dressed in Haines’s pajamas, wrote a note about his loneliness, and took an overdose of sleeping pills. They are interred side by side in Santa Monica’s Woodlawn Memorial Cemetery. For his contribution to the motion-picture industry, William Haines has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame located at number 7012.

Third Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, Louis B Mayer, William Haines, Marion Davis, and James Shields at the Premiere of “A Tailor Made Man”, March 1931

Thanh Vuong

The Photography of Thanh Vuong

Based in Melbourne, Thanh Vuong is a Vietnamese-Australian photographer who specializes in photographing the male body in natural landscapes with natural light. Born in Saigon, Vietnam, he emigrated at a very young age with his family to Australia. In 2017, Vuong earned his Bachelor of Arts in Photography from Melbourne’s Photography Studies College where he studied under the tutelage of photographers Daniel Boetker-Smith, the director of the Asia-Pacific Photobook Archive, and Hoda Afshar, an Iranian photographer known for her black and white documentary work.

Vuong’s projects explore the themes of gender politics and the representation of queer identities, masculinity and the male form. Among the photographers he considers major influences on his work are such artists as German photographer Wilhelm von Gloeden, known for his pastoral nude studies accomplished with photographic filters of Sicilian boys; photojournalist William Eugene Smith, an important figure in the development of editorial photo essays; portraitist George Platt Lynes, best known for his Hollywood portraits and male nudes; and George Dureau, whose career was most  notable for his charcoal sketches and black and white photographs of vulnerable and marginalized individuals.

In 2017, Thanh Vuong shot his series “In My Garden, the Trees Are Changing”, which centered on theme of male beauty and desire. The images presented an imaginary utopia of lush gardens and ethereal light in which gay men are free from prejudice, judgement and injustice. This series was awarded the Leica and Ilford Excellence in Photomedia Award at Melbourne’s 2017 Summer Salon held at the Centre for Contemporary Photography. It also won multiple awards in the same year at both state and national level from the Australian Institute of Professional Photography. The success of Vuong’s series led to another solo exhibition at the end of 2021 held at the Paddington Reservoir Gardens in Paddington, Australia.

Vuong’s 2017 series “(Not) Blue” was shortlisted for the Australian Photographer of the Year held by Capture Magazine. Vuong was a finalist in the British Journal of Photography’s first OpenWalls competition held in Arles, France, in 2019. His photo “A River That Flows From Eden”, depicting a nude couple lying at water’s edge, placed third in the 2021 Monovisions Photography Awards.

Thanh Vuong is currently represented by Boys!Boys!Boys, an initiative of the Little Black Gallery in London. Images of his work can be seen at the Boys!Boys!Boys site located at: https://boysboysboys.org/search?q=vuong

“I see photography as an extension and expression of my sexual identity and a way to start an honest and open conversation. As I developed my technique, the way I approach the body in my work has also evolved. Now it is no longer just an autonomous specimen understood as an exhibition of manhood, but a means through which I can delicately express some of the problems that affect the current queer community.” – Thanh Vuong, Interview with Gustavo Forcada, Editor of the online magazine Belfusto, March 2021

Mikhail Kuzmin: “Night Was Done. We Rose and After. . .”

Photographers Unknown, Night Was Done

Умывались, одевались,
После ночи целовались,
После ночи, полной ласк.
На сервизе лиловатом,
Будто с гостем, будто с братом,
Пили чай, не снявши маск.

Наши маски улыбались,
Наши взоры не встречались,
И уста наши немы.
Пели «Фауста», играли,
Будто ночи мы не знали,
Те, ночные, те — не мы.

Night was done. We rose and after
Washing, dressing, — kissed with laughter, —
After all the sweet night knows.
Lilac breakfast cups were clinking
While we sat like brothers drinking
Tea, — and kept our dominoes.

And our dominoes smiled greeting,
And our eyes avoided meeting
With our dumb lips’ secrecy.
“Faust” we sang, we played, denying
Night’s strange memories, strangely dying,
As though night’s twain were not we.

Mikhail Kuzmin, Night was Done. We Rose and After…, 1906

Translated by Babette Deutsch and Avrahm Yarmolinsky

Born in October of 1872 in Yaroslavi, Mikhail Alekseevich Kuzmin was a Russian poet, musician and novelist who was a prominent contributor to the Silver Age of Russian Poetry, an exceptionally creative period of poetry at the turn of the twentieth-century. Born into a noble family, he grew up in St. Petersburg where he studied music at its Conservatory under Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, known for his mastery of orchestration. 

Although the main focus of his career became poetry, Mikhail Kuzmin still retained his interest in music. He composed the music for theatrical producer Vsevolod Meyerhold’s 1906 production of Alexander Blok’s play “Balaganchik (The Fair Show Booth)”. Kuzmin’s personal compositions, sung while playing the piano, were popular in the city’s salons, such as The Stray Dog cafe and Ivanov’s Tower, the most famous of St.Petersburg’s literary salons and a major intelligentsia gathering place owned by the poet Vyacheslav Ivanov and his wife. Kuzmin was charismatic and well-liked, and the fact that he was open about his many relationships and trysts did not damage his social standing.

One of Kuzmin’s closest friends and a major influence as a young man was the aristocrat Georgy Chicherin, a distant relative of Aleksandr Pushkin and a passionate supporter of philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and composer Wilhelm Wagner. In his youth, Kuzmin made pilgrimages to Egypt, Italy, and northern Russia with the Old Believers, a Russian Orthodox Church sect which maintained its old liturgy and traditions. Settling in St. Petersburg, he began, at the age of thirty-two,  to associate with the art circle centered around the art magazine Mir Iskusstva or World of Art, which introduced Russian artists to the European art movements.

Mikhail Kuzmin’s first work, “The Green Collection of Verse and Prose”, was published in 1905; this work was seen by writer and critic Valery Bryusov who invited Kuzmin to publish in the literary magazine Vesy. Kuzmin published two works in 1906: his most celebrated work, “Alexandrian Songs”, a collection of free verse love songs with homosexual undertones, and his first erotic novel, “Wings”, a story of a young man in St. Petersburg learning to accept his homosexuality. Told with Platonic subtexts, the novel caused a scandal but was immensely popular. Kuzmin’s writing style earned praise from the critics, which protected it from prosecution in the Tsar’s crumbling regime. 

Kuzmin’s  work, original and philosophical with a simple unpretentious style, set him apart from his Symbolist contemporaries’ writings. With the success of his publications, Kuzmin became a member of Russia’s cultural elite, his work sought by prestigious journals and publishers. In 1908, Kuzmin published “Seti (Nets)”, his first collection of one-hundred poems which was widely acclaimed. He was living in that year with set-design artist Serge Sudeikin and Sudeikin’s first wife, Olga Glebova; however, he was asked to move out after Olga discovered the affair between Kuzmin and her husband. 

In February of 1913, Mikhail Kuzmin met in Kiev the seventeen-year old writer and painter Yuri Yurkun, who would remain his lover until Kuzmin’s death. They lived in St. Petersburg with Yurkun’s mother in a communal apartment. Yurkun was arrested in 1918 by the Bolsheviks and detained for a brief period. Two years later, Yurkun met the young actress Olga Arbenina, who moved into the couple’s apartment and later married Yurkun. Kuzmin distanced himself from all political events after the Russian Revolution and continued writing; but it was clear that his writing was becoming less appreciated. 

For the rest of his career, Kuzmin made his living primarily as a literary translator most notably of Shakespeare’s plays. The last volume of poetry Kuzmin published was the 1929 cycle of narrative and lyric poetry entitled “The Trout Breaks the Ice”, which except for two contemptuous reviews, was ignored by the Soviet press. Mikhail Kuzmin died in poverty of pneumonia in St. Petersburg, then Leningrad, in March of 1936. Two years later in 1938, Yuri Yurkun was arrested by the secret police and executed in a massive political purge. 

At Kuzmin’s birthday ceremony in 1920, poet Alexander Blok expressed in his speech a wish that conditions be created in the future where a literary artist such as Kuzmin would have the right “to remain himself”. Considered by literary figures of his time to be a pioneer for a future age of sexual tolerance, Kuzmin became after the revolution a nonperson. The Soviet government for decades attempted to dismiss Kuzmin’s contributions to literature and kept his diaries from Western scholars.

The personal diaries Kuzmin kept from 1905 to 1934, previously published only in part, occupy a special place in his legacy and has been prized by historians of Russian culture for its unique intimate view of the country’s cultural life during that period. Interest in Kuzmin’s works and life was revived in the 1970s with the 1977 publication of a three-volume edition of his poetry, and a twelve-volume collection of his prose which was published between 1984 and 2000. Several editions of Kuzmin’s works also have been published in Russia since 1990.

Top Insert Photo: Photographer Unknown, “Mikail Kuzmin”, circa 1911

Second Insert Image: Aleksander Golovin, “Mikhail Kuzmin”, 1910 Oil on Canvas

Third Insert Image: Original Book Jacket, Hand-Colored Linocut by Ekaterina Turova for Mikhail Kuzmin’s 1913 “Dvum (For Two)”

Bottom Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Yuri Yurkun”, Date Unknown

Montague Glover

The Photography of Montague Glover

Born in May of 1898 in Leamington Spa, a spa town known for its medicinal waters, Montague Charles Glover was a British freelance architect and private photographer. He is best known for his photographs depicting homosexual life in London during the early and mid-twentieth century when homosexuality was illegal. The majority of his oeuvre, shot during a period of increasing persecutions against homosexuals, documented members of the military forces and the working class, whose social class divisions are depicted through their dress.

The youngest of five siblings and the only male child, Montague Glover entered the British Army in 1916 for service in the first World War. He was a member of the Artist Rifles Regiment, a regiment of the Territorial Force which saw active service during the war. Glover was promoted to Second Lieutenant in 1917 and was awarded the Military Cross for Bravery in 1918.

Glover is notable for his photographs depicting the partnership with his long-time lover, Ralph Edward Hall, who was born in December of 1913 in Bermondsey, a district in the South End of London. Hall was one of nine children from a poor working-class family whose father worked as a wharf laborer. After meeting his lover in 1930, Glover employed him as his manservant, most likely to provide a social alibi for their residing together. Their relationship lasted for more than fifty years and survived Hall’s four-year service in the Royal Air Force during the second World War. Hall, absolutely devoted to Glover, sent during his years of military service hundreds of love letters to his partner.

Glover’s photographs of his domestic life with Hall are a rare documented example of a long-term relationship before the passage of the Sexual Offenses Act of 1967. Given royal assent in July of 1967 after intense debate in the House of Commons, this act essentially legalized homosexual acts in England and Wales, on the condition that they were consensual, in private and between two men who had attained the age of twenty-one. The Sexual Offenses Act of 1967 did not, however, apply to the Merchant Navy or the Armed Forces, nor to Northern Ireland or Scotland.

The Sexual Offenses Act did not condone homosexuality but argued that it was not within the responsibility of the criminal law to penalize homosexual men, who already were the object of derision and ridicule. One particular important consequence of the law was the increased freedom of assembly for gay rights groups which led to an increase in gay rights activism during the 1970s. However, as the terms of the law were within strict guidelines, activities judged as gross indecency were still prosecuted in the decade that followed its passage.

Change began when the law was extended to Scotland in February of 1981 and, as a result of an European Court of Human Rights case, extended to Northern Ireland in 1982. The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act of 1994 lowered the age of consent for homosexual males to eighteen; it also extended the definition of rape to include male rape which had been prosecuted as buggery. In 2000, the Sexual Offenses Act of 2000 passed and equalized the age of consent to sixteen for both homosexual and heterosexual behaviors through the entire United Kingdom.

The Sexual Offenses Act of 2003, through compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights, omitted the privacy requirements in England and Wales law relating to same-sex male sexual activity, thus permitting a third party to be present. It also overhauled the way sexual offenses were dealt with by the police and courts, as it replaced previous provisions in both the 1967 Act and the original 1956 Criminal Law Act. Gross indecency and buggery were repealed from statutory law; as a result, the vast majority of the Sexual Offense Act of 1967 was repealed.

Montague Glover and Ralph Hall spent most of the latter years at “Little Windovers”, Glover’s country house in the village of Balsall Heath, a area of Birmingham and home of the Moseley School of Art. Glover’s eldest sister, Ellen, lived with them until her death in 1954 at the age of seventy-two. In his later years, Glover was described by their friends as a reserved, charming man, while Hall was known to be an outgoing, cheerful man with a distinctive cockney accent.

Montague Glover died at the age of eighty-five in 1983; he left Ralph Hall as his sole heir. After suffering a gradual decline in health, Ralph Hall died four years later at the age of seventy-four. Hall’s next of kin put their country house and Glover’s possessions up for auction. Included in the auction was a box which contained Glover’s wartime negatives from the first World War, journals, Glover’s many letters from his lovers during the decades, and the preserved collection of love letters that Hall had sent to Glover during the second World War. Many elements of Glover’s effects are contained in James Gardiner’s 1992 book, “A Class Apart: The Private Pictures of Montague Glover”.

Note: A collection of Ralph Hall’s war service love letters to Montague Glover, excerpted from Rictor Norton’s “My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries”, can be found at the Gay History and Literature site located at: https://rictornorton.co.uk/hall.htm

Top Insert Photo: Photographer Unknown, “Montague Glover”, 1916-1918, Territorial Force of the British Army

Second Insert Image: Montague Glover, Model Unknown, The Young Valet Series, Date Unknown

Third Insert Image: Montague Glover, “Three Boys at Victoria Park, East End, London”, circa 1930s

Bottom Insert Image: Montague Glover, “ Ralph Edward Hall”, Date Unknown

Thom Gunn: “I Dozed. I Slept. My Sleep Broke on a Hug”

Photographers Unknown, Positional Images of Men

It was your birthday, we had drunk and dined
    Half of the night with our old friend
        Who’d showed us in the end
    To a bed I reached in one drunk stride.
        Already I lay snug,
And drowsy with the wine dozed on one side.

I dozed, I slept. My sleep broke on a hug,
        Suddenly, from behind,
In which the full lengths of our bodies pressed:
         Your instep to my heel,
     My shoulder-blades against your chest.
     It was not sex, but I could feel
     The whole strength of your body set,
             Or braced, to mine,
         And locking me to you
     As if we were still twenty-two
     When our grand passion had not yet
         Become familial.
     My quick sleep had deleted all
     Of intervening time and place.
         I only knew
The stay of your secure firm dry embrace.

Thom Gunn, The Hug, The Man with Night Sweats, 1992

Born in August of 1929 in Gravesend, a port town in Kent, Thom Gunn was an English poet. A reader of works by Keats, Milton, and Marlowe, he attended Hampstead’s University College School in his youth. Gunn spent two years in the British Army for his national service and lived for six months in Paris before entering Cambridge’s Trinity College to study English literature. 

After his graduation in 1953, Gunn, young and gay at a time when it was illegal, published his first volume of poetry, “Fighting Terms”, a collection of poetic metaphors of love and self-disclosure. Received with acclaim, the volume contains his poems “Carnal Knowledge” and the tender “Tamer and Hawk”. Gunn’s initial poetry became associated with The Movement, a group of English poets who wrote traditional, simple poems nostalgic for an earlier, more pastoral Britain. His later poetry was associated with the work of Poet Laurette of England Ted Hughes who wrote frequently about the mixture of beauty and violence in the natural world.

After his first volume was published, Thom Gunn emigrated with his life-long partner Michael Kitay, whom he had met at Cambridge, to the United States. Taking a position at California’s Stanford University to teach writing, Gunn began to study poetry with poet and literary critic Yvor Winters, a modernist poet whose clear, sharp-language work was heavily influenced by Native American poetry. He began reading and studying the works of poets Gary Snyder, Robert Duncan, and William Carlos Williams, all of whom would influence his poetry. 

Gunn began teaching at the Berkeley campus of the University of California in 1958, a position he held for forty-two years, with a seven year absence beginning in 1966. His second collection of poems, the 1957 “Sense of Movement”, was a winner of the Somerset Maugham Award. Contained within that volume is the poem “On the Move”, a celebration of black-jacketed motorcyclists. In 1961, Gunn published his “My Sad Captains”, a book divided in two sections. The first section contained epic poems written in heroic verse which, in its purest form, consists of two rhyming lines written in an iambic pentameter. Gunn experimented in the second section with syllabic verse where the meter of the work is determined by the total number of syllables per line, rather than the contained stresses. This juxtaposition between two poetic forms would be repeated in other Gunn collections. 

Affected by the San Francisco bohemian lifestyle of the 1960s and 1970s, Thom Gunn became increasingly bolder in his verse and began to explore themes of homosexuality and drugs. Notable collections from the period include the 1967 “Touch”, “Moly” published in 1971 and the 1976 “Jack Straw’s Castle”. While he continued to use the  sharp, metrical forms that characterized his early work, Gunn continued his experiments with the freedom of free verse.  Coupled with his writing to a specific set of images, these free verse poems with their non-rhyming lines followed the natural rhythms of speech.

In 1982, Gunn published his first collection of essays, “The Occasions of Poetry”, which included critical pieces on writers ranging from William Carlos Williams and Gary Snyder to Thomas Hardy and Robert Duncan. The volume also contained five autobiographical essays, which covered Gunn’s development as a poet and discussed the contemporary literary currents in England and the United States, places that Gunn considered as home.

Gunn lost many of his friends when the AIDS epidemic came to the gay community in the 1980s. His grief was described to a profound degree in his 1992 “The Man with Night Sweats”, a series of first person perspective poems that explored the horrors of the epidemic as seen through the eyes of the inflicted. Through these poems, Gunn described his heartbreaking personal loss. Poems contained in this collection include “Lament”, “In Time of Plague”, and the title poem “The Man with Night Sweats”. Gunn received the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize for this 1992 volume. Although AIDS was a focus of much of his later work, he remained HIV-negative himself. Spared from the disease, Gunn continued in his work to consider death and what it meant that he was one to survive.

Among Thom Gunn’s other works are his 1979 “Selected Poems 1950-1975”; “Passages of Joy” published in 1982; and his final book of poetry, the 2000 “Boss Cupid”, which won Publishing Triangle’s inaugural Triangle Award for Gay Poetry in 2001. This award was, after his death, renamed the Thom Gunn Award in his memory. Gunn published a second volume of critical and autobiographical essays entitled “Shelf Life” in 1993. He won many awards for his work and received fellowships from the Guggenheim and the MacArthur foundations.

Thom Gunn died in April of 2004 of acute polysubstance abuse at his home in the Haight Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco, where he had lived since 1960. Five years after his death, a new edition of his “Selected Poems” was republished.

Notes: In the summer 2005 edition of The Threepenny Review, there is an article written by Michael Kitay about his first meeting and life with Thom Gunn. It can be found at: https://www.threepennyreview.com/samples/kitay_su05.html

A collection of Thom Gunn’s poetry can be found at the Classic Poetry Series located at:  https://www.poemhunter.com/i/ebooks/pdf/thom_gunn_2012_8.pdf

 

 

Maurice Kenny

Photographers Unknown, Hands Which Did Not Recognize Me

The book lay unread in my lap
snow gathered at the window
from Brooklyn it was a long ride
the Greyhound followed the plow
from Syracuse to Watertown
to country cheese and maples
tired rivers and closed paper mills
home to gossipy aunts   .   .   .
their dandelions and pregnant cats   .   .   .
home to cedars and fields of boulders
cold graves under willows and pine
home from Brooklyn to the reservation
that was not home
to songs I could not sing
to dances I could not dance
from Brooklyn bars and ghetto rats
to steaming horses stomping frozen earth
barns and privies lost in blizzards
home to a Nation, Mohawk
to faces I did not know
and hands which did not recognize me
to names and doors
my father shut

Maurice Kenny, Going Home, Between Two Rivers, 1988

The youngest of three children to a father of Mohawk and Irish heritage and a mother of English and Seneca heritage, Maurice Frank Kenny was born in Watertown, New York, in August of 1929. He spent his younger years in Watertown and on a family farm in nearby Cape Vincent. After his parents’ separation, Kenny remained with his father in Watertown until running away, at age sixteen, to Bayonne, New Jersey, to live with his mother. Truant at school, he was returned to his father’s custody in Watertown where he completed his high school education. 

Upon graduation, Maurice Kenny spent the summer traveling with a theater troupe in New York State. He spent a year in New York City attempting to establish a career as an actor; but after a year, he returned home. Kenny studied under Professors of English Warner Beyer and Roy Marz, a Fulbright Scholar, at Indiana’s Butler University, where he graduated in 1956 with a degree in English. He took additional classes under author and Professor of English Douglas Angus at St. Lawrence University in New York. 

Kenny moved to Manhattan, New York, in 1957 and became a manger for Marboro Books, which put him in contact with literary, cinematic and theatrical figures. He also took courses at New York University, where he met and studied under the fourth Poet Laureate to the Library of Congress,  Louise Bogan, who influenced his early development as a writer. 

Maurice Kenny began writing poetry as a teenager. He was particularly influenced by the writings of Walt Whitman, whose natural language and rhythm were qualities he found later in Native American oral literature. Encouraged by his former professor Douglas Angus, Kenny wrote the poems of his first chapbook, the 1956 “The Hopeless Kill”. His first full-length collection, “Dead Letters Sent and Other Poems”, was published in 1958, his first year at New York University. After a hiatus of travel in the early 1960s, Kenny settled for two decades in Brooklyn Heights, New York, to concentrate on his poetry. 

Kenny’s career coincided with a period of activism for Native Americans. In 1969 Native American activists occupied Alcatraz Island and, two years later, the American Indian movement was formed. A series of confrontations with federal authorities followed, which culminated in a violent confrontation in early 1973 at Wounded Knee, South Dakota. Native Americans were starting to embrace their traditional cultures and reject assimilation into the general society. A renaissance in Native American literature began as a result of native writers and poets seeking to authenticate their