The daring photography of George Platt Lynes

Description of the following video:

[Video: A still George Platt Lynes self-portrait, slowly being zoomed in on. The black-and-white photograph is of Lynes standing next to an old-fashioned camera.]
[Words appear in top-left corner: Indiana University presents]
Rebecca Fasman speaks in voiceover: George Platt Lynes was a photographer from the late '20s until 1955 when he passed away …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white George Platt Lynes photograph of Alfred Kinsey wearing a suit and bowtie. He is sitting and has his hand on his hip.]

[Words appear in lower left corner: Voiceover: Rebecca Fasman, manager, traveling exhibitions at Kinsey Institute]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … and worked as a commercial and fine art photographer. His commercial photography …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a woman dressed glamorously. She is wearing a sleeveless gown with a large bow on the side. She also has on long white gloves and is holding a cigarette.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … was featured in Vogue magazine and Bazaar, ad campaigns for …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a woman dressed glamorously while leaning against a table. She is wearing a one-shoulder gown with a large bow on the side. She also wears long white gloves and a diamond necklace.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … Barney's and Henri Bendel's, as well as ballet photographs …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a ballerina in costume, posed with her arms above her head.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … for what became the New York City Ballet. One of the big portions of his work that we don't know as well …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a shirtless man sitting in a chair, his white pants unbuttoned.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … is his male nudes. At the time George Platt Lynes was working, there were really strong legal …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a nude male with his arms crossed, back to the camera.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … ramifications to showing his work, in addition to societal ramifications. There were also laws that discriminated against what we …
 
[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of two nude men embracing one another. One is Caucasian, and one is African American; one is holding the other's head with his hand as they embrace.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … now refer to as LGBTQ people. Because of those stipulations and wanting to …  

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a male model seen from the waist up. He is not wearing a shirt and has his arms folded.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … protect this work and also the identity of a lot of his models because of ramifications …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a nude male model lying on his side, resting on his elbow with his head in his hand, his back to the camera.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … that they might experience, the Kinsey Institute became sort of the place for him to …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a male model sitting with his left leg on the floor and his right leg up on the table next him. He is nude but is wearing a sock on his foot and a cloth over his lap.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … feel safe with his work. In this time period too of intense repression …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a nude, tattooed male model sitting on his knees in a soft chair. His hands are crossed over his knee.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … this work that he considered to be his most important was not able to be exhibited …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a danseur posed with one leg in the air, crossing over his body, his arms outstretched.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … and so in a way, this donation was actually really optimistic …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of an older man leaning against a trellis and wearing a suit.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … sort of hopeful, that there would be a time that these pieces…

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes profile photograph of a man sitting in a chair, wearing a suit and smoking a cigarette. His trench coat is folded on the back of the chair.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … would be able to be shown and be appreciated for what they are.

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of a woman from the neck up, with large butterflies surrounding her.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: One of the points of the exhibition is not just about his work but talking about the context and why he gave to Kinsey …

[Video: A slow zoom on a black-and-white Lynes photograph of three women wearing black dresses and leaning against a wall. Two are facing the wall, while one is facing away from it. Two have black gloves on, and one has white gloves on.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … why his name is not as well known as we think it should be, and we want to …

[Video: A slow zoom on a George Platt Lynes self-portrait. The black-and-white photograph is of Lynes standing next to an old-fashioned camera.]

Fasman speaks in voiceover: … inspire people to think about the cost of exclusion in the hopes that we become a more inclusive society. 

[Screen goes to white]
[Words appear: George Platt Lynes Exhibit]
[Words appear: Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields
[Words appear: September 30 2018 to February 24, 2019]

[Screen goes to black]

[IU trident appears]
[Words appear: Indiana University]
[Words appear: Fulfilling the promise]
[Words appear: iu.edu]
 
[END OF TRANSCRIPT]

 

It was more than 60 years ago that American photographer George Platt Lynes entrusted hundreds of prints and negatives of his work -- many of them nudes he had shot throughout the years -- to what is now known as the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University.

The photos were considered taboo at the time, and transferring them by mail could result in jail time or a fine. But Lynes was not only daring with his gift, he was hopeful that one day photos of nude men, some of whom are posing together, would not only be allowed to be seen but would be seen without prejudice or fear of prosecution.

Decades later, that day has come: Lynes' work is on display in an exhibition titled "Sensual/Sexual/Social: The Photography of George Platt Lynes," taking place at the Indianapolis Museum of Art at Newfields. The exhibition features not only male nudes but Lynes' more mainstream photos of fashion, ballet and portraits.

"When gifting his work, Lynes stipulated to Kinsey that he did not want his work 'stuck in a dusty archive' forever," said Rebecca Fasman, manager of traveling exhibitions at the Kinsey Institute and co-curator of the exhibition. "We see this exhibition, as well as the ones that came before it, as the realization of Lynes' desire for his work, and especially the works that he liked the most, to be seen."

Portrait by George Platt Lynes.View print quality image
Man with Towel: George Platt Lynes (American, 1907–1955), Name Withheld, 1943, gelatin silver print, 7-1/2 × 9 in. Photo is from the Collections of the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. © Estate of George Platt Lynes.

As a photographer in the 1930s and '40s, Lynes had an illustrious career photographing New York fashion, celebrity portraits and the New York City Ballet. He also worked as the head of Vogue magazine's West Coast studio in Los Angeles, photographing some of the most well-known celebrities of the time.

But Lynes is most well-known today for his photographs of male nudes and his use of lighting and posing. Although the photos are revered today, the climate of the 1930s to 1950s required Lynes' work to be shrouded in secrecy.

"It does not come as a surprise that, during his time, being openly gay had negative legal and societal ramifications, so Lynes kept his sexual orientation, and the male nude photographs, secret, except for his close circle of friends," Fasman said.

One of those friends was Alfred Kinsey, founder of the Kinsey Institute, whom Lynes met in the 1940s. Kinsey, who was researching human sexuality at the time, was particularly taken with Lynes' male nude photography.

Lynes became sick in the years following their initial meeting. Fearing many museums would not be interested in the nude portraits, which he considered his most important work, or that the photos would be destroyed, Lynes decided to give a majority of his work to the Kinsey Institute.

As part of the gift, Lynes stipulated that the identities of some of his male models remain confidential in order to protect them.

"Lynes' choice to trust Dr. Kinsey and his institute with this body of work that could have been incredibly damaging to a number of people is reflective of the trust that the two men had for each other and the understanding of the risks that they both took in producing and protecting these vital works," Fasman said.

Portrait of Alfred Kinsey.View print quality image
George Platt Lynes (American, 1907–1955), Portrait of Alfred Kinsey, 1950, gelatin silver print, 7 × 9 in. Photo is from the Collections of the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University. © Estate of George Platt Lynes.

Although nudes are a part of the Newfields exhibition, Fasman said it is not a sexually explicit exhibition. And while some of the collection has been exhibited in previous shows, many of the pieces are being shown for the first time.

The exhibition also marks the first time Kinsey has partnered with Newfields. The partnership is part of the institute's effort to create traveling exhibitions in order to increase exposure to its vast collection of art.

"We are so pleased to have the opportunity to partner with the Kinsey Institute," said Robin Lawrence, manager of curatorial affairs at Newfields. "Not unlike George Platt Lynes, who was a revolutionary spirit, Alfred Kinsey boldly studied and collected these fine works of photography in a period that was brutal to art and lifestyles that were outside of the strict social norms of the time.

"Newfields is dedicated to creating exceptional experiences for our guests, and this exhibition is truly exceptional. As the largest exhibition of George Platt Lynes to date, we could not be more thrilled to be able to present this in Indiana, a place that is so important to Lynes' legacy thanks to the preservation efforts of the Kinsey Institute, who have been stewards of this collection for 70 years."

In addition to Lynes' photographs, the exhibition features several different artists who were influenced by Lynes' work, including Herb Ritts, Robert Mapplethorpe and Duane Michals. An interactive component of the exhibition includes a process section offering a hands-on approach to learning about how Lynes physically made his photos. This includes film developing trays and tongs that guests can touch, a puzzle made of reproduced negatives, and a mailbox activity that encourages visitors to type their own personal experiences of both discrimination and support.

This interactive component aims to encourage the audience to relate Lynes' story to their own story and will urge them to question exclusivity in art.

"It will hopefully encourage the audience to push back against these narratives of exclusion," Fasman said.

Admission to "Sensual/Sexual/Social: The Photography of George Platt Lynes" is included with general admission to Newfields. Tickets can be purchased online or at the door. The exhibition will run through Feb. 24.

This exhibition was curated by Rebecca Fasman, manager of traveling exhibitions at the Kinsey Institute, Indiana University, Robin Lawrence, manager of curatorial affairs at Newfields and Anne Young, manager of rights and reproductions at Newfields.