Monday, May 25, 2009

Two Male Nudes: Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) may be best known for writing about the music, drama and literature of the Harlem Renaissance. He was a friend to many of its most important artists and an influential patron of the arts. He was the first American critic of modern dance.

But it is in his work as a photographer that I'm most interested. According to the Library of Congress timeline:

1932: Van Vechten buys a Leica and begins photographing both fledgling and established artists and performers.

1933: Van Vechten's photographs are displayed at Bergdorf Goodman, along with the work of Cecil Beaton, Edward Steichen, Man Ray, and George Platt Lynes.

Pretty fast worker.

There are 1,395 Van Vechten photos in the Library of Congress collection, consisting mostly of celebrity portraits (including many figures from the Harlem Renaissance). A much smaller portion of the collection is an assortment of American landscapes. Apparently there are no male nudes.

These two male nudes by Van Vechten are undated. Printed as real photo postcards, the AGFA stamp confirms they're most likely from the late 30s or early 40s (before the posing strap era).

They were intended, not for public display, but for the enjoyment of the photographers like-minded friends. These two photos were from the collection of James Purdy. The model is unidentified. The mood is intimate, domestic, personal. Subtly erotic. Here's another photo of the same model from Yale University's Beinecke Library.

His Library of Congress bio makes no mention of the fact that
Van Vechten was either homosexual or bisexual but does point out that he was married. Typical.

Oh, and by the way, Wikipedia doesn't seem to know that James Purdy was gay either, or that homosexuality was the major theme of his work.

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