CULTURAL TRANSFORMATIONS swept across this country in the mid-20th century, affecting every aspect of American life, including the arts. A new wave of outsider artists underscored the mood of restlessness through powerful photography and filmmaking.
Issue Categories Archives: Photo Essay
IN A CORRIDOR within the British Museum is Cupboard 55, an antique wooden cabinet numbered with a bronze plaque, containing more than 1,100 objects itemized into a registry and sequestered into an archive. It was created in 1865 and known as the Museum Secretum. Until the 1960s, the Secret Museum was a storeroom of erotica from the ancient world, including Asian, Egyptian, Greek, Near Eastern, and Roman artifacts. Many of them were objects of worship, such as pre-Christian fertility gods and goddesses. Also concealed in the cupboard were phallocentric objects, wax votive phalluses from churches in Isernia, Italy, and 8th- and 9th-century animal membrane condoms in original paper wrappers and tied with silk ribbons at the open end.
It was against this backdrop that the museum acquired the Warren Cup, a 1st-century masterpiece of Roman art from the Julio-Claudian dynasty that depicted unambiguous homoeroticism.
Last year was marked by a number of extraordinary breakthroughs in the political arena, but 2003 was also a year of cultural milestones, with many “firsts” for gay men and lesbians in the mainstream media. Here are a few of the ones most talked about:
THE ENCYCLOPEDIC Art and Queer Culture contains 250 artworks and a documents section that crisscross over more than a century and a quarter. The storyline is the emergence of same-sex relatedness as a definable identity.
THE THIRTIETH ANNIVERSARY of the AIDS epidemic was commemorated last year in two issues of this magazine, which covered the crisis from a range of perspectives-political activism, cultural expressions, scientific developments-but there was no mention of the various AIDS memorials that have emerged and evolved over the years. In fact, there are quite a few such memorials throughout the United States. …
Marketers of men’s underwear and swimwear added to the emerging trends of the sexualized male with new styles specifically designed for erotic exhibitionism. Prior to 1950, men’s swimwear always concealed the navel, even though rubberized Lastex yarns shaped and articulated the genital bulge below. In the early 1950’s, though, styles of men’s swimwear began to reveal more skin. Some inched below the navel, peek-a-boo cutaways bared the hips, and the male bikini made its first appearance on American beaches.
This article focuses on commercially produced postcards that were printed in large numbers and circulated widely throughout the world. Real photo postcards, in contrast, whether produced by professional or amateur photographers, also provide valuable insights into social history but were most often printed in limited numbers, and their images can be difficult if not impossible to identify. … The postcards reproduced here are from my personal collection, and my hope is that they will offer a flavor of the shifting sex and gender ideas of this era.
The challenge for photographers faced with portraying the AIDS epidemic was to produce an iconography that extended beyond a health story and to overcome the public’s habituation to graphic and shocking images. The photographs selected for this essay had to evoke the mood of the late 1980’s and early 90’s and capture the epidemic in the imagery of contemporary culture. The images reflect that time frame and are not meant to discount other periods in the epidemic.. …
THE DAY AFTER the first night of rioting at the Stonewall Inn in late June, 1969, the police barricades were taken away from the city streets. But the intensity of the previous night’s disturbance-where about 500 had gathered in protest outside the Inn, some shoving or throwing bottles, others lighting small fires-was still palpable. Ellen Shumsky walked through the streets of her neighborhood where trash cans that had been set ablaze emitted still-smoldering ashes. The aftershock of rebellion, rage, and frustration that burst forth onto Sheridan Square was recognizable to her.
… Paradoxically, most subjects of the early photographs of Gay Liberation, while out enough to be photographed, were not named in any caption and are thus anonymous. However, I was able to identify a number of the people in the “Come Out!” photograph, and even tracked down a number to get their recollections about the photo shoot.