The ‘Public Life’ of Photographs Symposium is happening May 9 - 11th 2013, sponsored by the Ryerson Image Centre, the symposium will analyze the dissemination of photographic images from the nineteenth century to the present.
I will be presenting my work on queering glamour in the 1930s, extending from the Model Americans project and my work on George Platt Lynes. Hope to see you there!
The Toronto Photography Seminar website is now live! The website will document various initiatives of TPS and its members.
The Toronto Photography Seminar is a group of scholars and curators from Ontario institutions who have been meeting regularly since 2004 to read, produce, and edit collaborative research concerning the history and theory of photography. Our meetings focus on discussing a set of common readings; reading and ‘workshopping’ the papers of group members on the topic of photography; and collaborating on an annual research publication. We range in scholarly focus from contemporary art to the history of corporate public relations imagery; in geographical focus from North America to South Asia; and in disciplinary background from cultural history to media studies and art history. Our common research concern, however, has been the history, theory, and interpretation of photographic media in global circulation.
Our group also workshops the papers of colleagues from other universities, who also present a second aspect of their work in a public forum. Guests have included Ariella Azoulay, John Tagg, Carol Payne, John O’Brian, Laura Wexler, Shawn Michelle Smith, Clément Cheroux, Roberto Tejada, Peggy Phalen, Mark Haworth-Booth, Carol Mavor, and Martin Berger, among others.
We have collaborated on a guest issue on “circulation” for the History of Photography journal (guest editors, Matthew Brower and Thy Phu, summer 2008); on a guest issue on “affecting photographies” for Photography and Culture (guest editors, Thy Phu and Linda Steer, Nov. 2009); sponsored a conference at the University of Toronto entitled “Feeling Photography”; and co-edited a collection on this theme, forthcoming from Duke University, co-edited by Elspeth Brown and Thy Phu.
I’m looking over an interview I did with a trans man, a former lesbian, who is now partnered with a trans guy, in the States. He was very involved with a regional women’s music festival in the 1990s, and discusses his feelings of loss around losing lesbian community upon transitioning. Here’s what he has to say:
“I guess I really didn’t share how it feels like you’re kicked out of the tribe when you come out as transgender, like if you were formally identifying as lesbian. And it feels like it’s such a huge cultural loss. I was involved with the lesbian community. I was even involved in this women’s music festival thing, which of course, as you know, the history of women’s music festivals, haven’t been terribly understanding of transgender people.
“And I was like right in the thick of it. I had all these lesbian friends. Some of them are cool now about transgender people, but back in the ‘90s when we were doing the music festival, they didn’t really know that much. And –when I started coming out as trans I felt really alienated from them and it was a huge loss. It felt terrible. And I still haven’t found my tribe yet so to speak. I don’t know who to be friends with anymore.
“Yeah I felt really angry. I felt angry, you know. Like I felt kind of cheated. Like I can’t call myself a lesbian anymore and I’m not allowed to go to the women’s things, you know, they don’t want me. I get looks, you know. I can’t go to lesbian meetings or lesbian things because I get looked at. And you feel like a betrayer of the cause so to speak. I’m still a feminist. I’m a feminist with a very open-minded sort of attitude towards men.
“I feel jealous. It’s like I see these women’s gatherings and I know I can’t go. You know, that makes me mad. I’m not a part and I’m not welcome. I can’t go. I used to be a part of it. I can’t go anymore. I’m not considered a woman so I can’t go. I’ve had trans guys say to me “Well you’re a man, why do you want to be a part of that?” But it was a part of who I was. I still feel that inner person that used to be there. And why can’t I go? You know? Why am I considered an outsider? Why am I the enemy? Why am I excluded from woman-only situations, you know?
“Why am I such an enemy that I’m not safe to be around in those situations, you know? I guess there’s a part of me that maybe gets it, because I spent some time healing in those spaces myself. But there it is: I was once welcome and I’m not anymore. And it hurts. It was my tribe, so to speak. I did find considerable acceptance and identity and grounding. And I don’t have that anymore. I don’t know where to find that, because there is no central transgender community. It’s so fucking post modern, excuse my language, but you know it’s so fucking post modern that there’s no central core of trans-ness. It’s just like everything is so diverse and so different and there’s no one sense of transgender community. And there’s the binary people who I don’t identify with anyway. You know, I don’t know where to find a tribe. I don’t know where to find a community anymore.”
Special Journal Issue of Photography and Culture (Bloomsbury)
Deadline for Abstracts: March 30, 2013
This Special Journal Issue will offer a new perspective on the relationship between photography and queerness. It will analyse photographic work that engages with both heteronormative and queer subjects, allowing a new evaluation of how the application of queer theory and queer positions allows a subversively fresh reading of photographic imagery. We seek work that explores the complex relationship between queer and trans sensibilities / strategies within a broad range of photographic practices (fine art, amateur, fashion, etc).
The journal issue will examine how photography has become a vehicle for changing the conventional understanding of identities with respect to gender, the body, and sexuality. We will consider queerness as both a methodology, and as a critique of normative identity formations. The issue will also explore the relationship between queerness and utopia, ‘creating’ a world where neither gender identity nor the morphology of the body come into play.
The editors invite submissions that explore the theoretical, historical and interdisciplinary dimensions of queerness and photography. In what ways has photography participated in forming an idea of queerness (vs the more strict binaries formations male/female; gay/straight; normal/other)? How have photographers contributed to queering practices, formations, and concepts? Has an attention to aesthetics helped or hindered the aims of queer theory? To what extent might photography be complicit in queering practices? We are interested in papers that consider the implications of photography and queerness from the perspectives of photographers, critics, theorists, artists, and activists.
Possible themes we would like to explore in this volume include the following:
•photography and its relationship to queer cultures
•photography and LGBTQ lives
•photography and queer temporality
•queer/trans and photographic representation
•photography, queerness, and intersectional analyses (race, class, ability, etc)
•the limits of sight in relationship to photographic practices
•queerness as a methodology
•new (photographic) media and narratives of transition (queer and normative)
•queering colonial visuality
•market logics and queer visuality
•photography and normativity (queer, trans, homo-)
•queer affects and photography
•photography and queer archival practices
•neoliberalism and the queer photographic subject
•queer utopias and the role of photography
Photography and Culture seeks scholarly, monographic research articles of 4,000-7,000 words, but we also encourage contributions to our special sections: Archive (500 words); One Photograph (750 words plus one image) and Portfolio (500 words plus c 6 images). Procedures for submissions: At this time we are requesting abstracts that are no longer than 500 words with a short 1 pg cv; these are due by March 30, 2013 and should be submitted electronically as an attachment to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Queering Photography submission” in the subject line. By April 20, 2013, authors will be notified whether they should submit a full version of their article/images to undergo the peer review process. The due date for completed drafts is August 1, 2013. An invitation to submit a full piece does not guarantee publication; publication depends on the peer review process and the overall shape the journal issue will take.
Please send any images as low-resolution digital files embedded in a Word document along with the text. If chosen for publication, you will need to send high-resolution image files (jpg or tif files at a minimum of 300 dpi), and secure written permission to reprint all images; all permissions are due on August 1, 2013.
For preliminary e-mail inquiries, please include “Queering Photography” in the subject line.
•Dr Sara Davidmann, Research Fellow, London College of Communication, London, England
•Bruno Ceschel, Associate Lecturer, Photography and Contextual Studies, Camberwell College of Arts, London, England
•Dr Elspeth Brown, Assoc Prof of History, University of Toronto, Canada
I’ll be presenting this paper at Ryerson Image Centre’s symposium on ” The ‘Public Life’ of Photographs” on May 9-11; see http://www.ryerson.ca/ric/lectures/Publiclife.html for a full list of speakers and themes.
So I am still confused about why, exactly, George Platt Lynes, Monroe Wheeler, and Glenway Wescott broke up in Feb. 1943. Yes, Lynes was infatuated with Jonathan Tichenor, but there seems to be something else going on. The published accounts suggest that Lynes fell in love with Jonathan Tichenor and left them to live with Jonathan. While this actually did happen, I think something happened that made Wheeler concerned for his reputation at MOMA before Lynes moved out. Glenway Wescott is certainly not telling Lynes to move out; in fact, prior to Lynes’ decision to leave, Wescott was going to move to Stoneblossom and set up Monroe in his own apartment. Wescott writes Lynes: “and now, with the fight at the Museum about to begin again” it makes sense for Wescott to move to the country and for Wheeler to get his own apartment close to the museum. Once the household breaks up, Wescott writes, “then the knowing ones around the museum can dig down under this, and find what concerns them, and perhaps the long great story of our past may be somewhat overlooked. Perhaps some of them may think that Monroe has just turned into an extreme Puritan out of ambition, and therefore will no longer tolerate our pleasure-seeking ways; in which thought would lie a certain bitter humour” (1 March 1943). Ahh, yes. There is a bigger story here, one about politics and homophobia, not just about lovers’ quarrels. I feel an article coming on…
I’m over-researching. I know it, but can’t help myself. I can’t stop reading these love letters from Lynes to Wheeler, even though I know I won’t draw on them for the writing I need to so. It’s clouding over here in New Haven on this December day, and I feel melancholy reading of Lynes’ love for Wheeler: “And I do, I do, want you to know that if you were here I should be completely happy, perhaps completely successful. I have the most real, most extraordinary sense of you…of our love..in this abandoned paradise….obliterating other memories and other attachments. And I am moved again and again, dreaming of the wonder of our life, my love of you, the simple wonder of your existence.” [2 Feb 1937]. I look up from my reading desk to see the five other scholars quietly at work. I am glum. My own affective attachments activated by this encounter with the archive. “Life consists of these little touches of solitude,” wrote Barthes.
I’ve headed to New Haven CT for research at the Beinecke library (at Yale) for the models project—Lynes research mostly. On Friday, taking the train to NYC to interview two models from the 1960s and 1970s, both of whom worked for Wilhelmina: Kedakai Lipton and Marica Turner. Back to Toronto on Sunday Dec. 9!
I’m at the Beinecke library in New Haven, reading correspondence among many of the figures in the Lynes-Wescott-Wheeler circle. So many of the letters—in between discussions of current reading, lectures prepared, buildings designed, paintings made, etc—describe sexual encounters, letters to their lovers about other lovers. For example, a letter from architect David Leavitt to Monroe Wheeler (Sept 25, 1953) describes an encounter with ‘Mamoud’ in Beirut, describing a delicious evening in a ‘high ceilinged room overlooking a spectacular moonlit view of the Mediterranean,’ followed of course by sex. Several times. Leavitt writes: “the whole thing was Italian from beginning to end—the attitudes, the conversation, the enjoyment of sex for the sake of sex, masculine splendor unperturbed by puritanical or conventional restraints, yet full of feminine warmth and tenderness.” So many letters filled with accounts of conquests, failed and victorious, from and to current and former lovers, about past, current and future encounters…no mention of delicate feelings, jealousies, slights. Did they not exist? Just not discussed?
Ahh, but I am perhaps exaggerating, or not reading the right correspondence. Wescott, Lynes, Wheeler et al worked with Kinsey in the late 194os-early 1950s, and I’m now reading some correspondence from Wheeler to Kinsey. There’s one letter which is very graphic indeed about his threesome with R. Shaw and Bill [Miller?], which Kinsey observed (Aug 4, 1953). And in a letter of Sept 15, 1953, where he ruminates on gay marriage (he considered himself married to Monroe Wheeler—they were together for 65 years) and male sexuality. Wheeler describes younger gay men of the 1950s, and he encourages Kinsey to research the discrepancy between fantasies of domestic housekeeping and sex: “the substitutions for marriage and home life which so many homosexuals attempt, or at least keep thinking about or dreaming of—concepts so often incommensurate with actualities; ideals scarcely supported by disciplines; divided mind, not just hypocracy…it is noteworthy how the wild youngsters around us speak of it [his relationship with Wheeler] constantly, enviously…and unfulfilled romantic patterns in their lives are indicative of the same feeling—Michael’s rage to set up housekeeping with someone; Bill’s cult of Cesare (which he confides to me, because Monroe and Carey won’t hear of it); John’s postponement of almost every mature purpose until such a time as Prince Charming shall appear, with half a dozen partners or more a week quite blissfully meanwhile…
And Lynes, writing to Wheeler in 1934, is glum about what seems like utopian arrangements. He says: “I have wanted you desperately, wanted to make love to you, make love to you for hours on end….and Glen [Wheeler’s partner, and the person whom Lynes was in a ménage with], so proud and unlucky, so troubling, has announced he wants only you and Jacques [Guerin] and me. Obviously I do not want him to want you, and I dare say he cannot have Jaques. I cannot want him myself; I have tried, I even pretended,and one afternoon I even believed I did want him but I regretted it afterwards and not out of sentiment. It is no good. “
So here is a picture of Christian William Miller, aka Bill Miller, with it looks like Monroe Wheeler. Miller was said to be one of the most gorgeous men of the 1940s, and was photographed by Lynes and others; he was a model and a photographer. Apparently he also was a white supremacist, judging by his subscriptions. This might be taking homo-nationalism to new (fascist) depths, unfortunately. Bummer.