George Platt Lynes

oddTo mark its exhibition, VIP: very important photgraphs 1840s-1940s, the NGA had this curious photograph on its Winter events calendar. Acteaon c.1938 (detail) by George Platt Lynes (USA, 1907-1955). The Australian Centre for Photography says of Lynes that his

camp, anguished evocations of classical myth and legend stem from an erotic fascination with the bodies of men. Abandoning youthful literary aspirations, he opened his first photographic studio in 1932 and, for a time, became one of the most sought-after fashion and portrait photographers in America. However, it is for his male nudes that he is now best remembered. They began in the guise of characters from classical mythology, both veiling their erotic focus and alluding to the angst of repression. After the war, Lynes became involved with Alfred Kinsey’s researches into human sexuality and his work took on a more modern style while nonetheless retaining its brooding introspection.

In 1981, New York Timescritic, Glen Thornton asked whether the emotion in Lynes’s nude studies of “handsome young men, many in Surrealist or mythological guise, filled with a strangled, inarticulate feeling” is “envy, longing, self-hatred or disgust?

… “the lighting merely underlines the artificiality of the stuffed owls and other studio props, not to mention the ‘arty’ poses themselves. The very idea of camouflaging nudity in classical myths recalls the etiolated classicism of the 1930’s, and something which might work when briefly glimpsed on stage-a bizarrely made-up young man with antlers strapped to his head posing as Actaeon-is at best quaint anddated, at worst ludicrous, in a still photograph.

All well and good, but maybe the guy with the antlers was simply horny?

That’s not entirely the trivialisation that it seems. Fritz Bultman (1919-85), for example, a young painter associated with this first generation of the New York School, employed the myth of Actaeon in a number of his works as a reference to his struggle his struggle with sexual desire. (Evan R Firestone. Fritz Bultman’s Actaeon Painting Sexuality, Punishment, and Oedipal Conflict. Genders 34, 2001)