This is not a fashion photography. Sunil Gupta
This is not a fashion photography. Sunil Gupta
Masculinities, the title of the exhibition which should have been staged at the Barbican Art Gallery in London and unfortunately canceled due to Covid-19, but of which a substantial trace remains in the Prestel volume of the same name, immediately makes its point of view clear: in a era in which gender is understood in a fluid way, there is not one way to define masculinity, but many. With the subtitle Liberation through Photography, and hinged on works created since the 1960s, the exhibition wanted to be large, ambitious and openly provocative.
In the book – essential for anyone interested in this topic in its various forms – the curator, Alona Pardo, writes that “we intend to question binary codes and offer a more complex and nuanced vision of masculinity”. It does this through the lens of quite different artists, such as Andy Warhol, Catherine Opie, Richard Avedon, Collier Schorr, Deana Lawson, Wolfgang Tillmans and Samuel Fosso, many of whom are particularly attentive to the way men represent themselves – to a personal and unique style and attitude, that is, what this monthly column observes more carefully and from which it leaves itself more enthusiastic.
Sunil Gupta, a photographer born in New Delhi and based in London, embodies this approach well with a series created in 1976, when he was in New York to study with Lisette Model, Philippe Halsman and George Tice at the New School. “I spent the weekends walking around with my camera,” he writes in Christopher Street 1976, the book published in 2018 and dedicated to those shots. “These were exciting days, after Stonewall and before AIDS, when we were young and committed to creating a gay public space like never before.” Christopher Street, the road that cut right in the middle of the gay area of Greenwich Village and ended in a group of popular bars overlooking the water, was the “natural habitat” of Gupta. “I was one of the tribe,” he writes, “and I wanted to get noticed. I wasn’t spying on the inhabitants, on the contrary, I made myself as visible as possible and walked straight towards people ».
The result, including the photograph above, are vivid and random images which, if looked carefully, however, resemble a prolonged self-portrait in which Gupta is discovering himself in the reflection of infinite others. “For the first time in history, people like me have been able to live with pride, publicly and without shame,” he wrote on another occasion.
Inevitably, this freedom influenced the way gay men appeared and dressed, and many adhered to that stylized and muscular hyperasculinity described well by Edmund White in his autobiographical novel The symphony of farewell, from 1997. After a training session in the gym, he writes, “I took a shower, then I ran home to put on a pair of tight black jeans, without a belt, with an unbuttoned flap in half, a large gray shirt and an old man leather jacket”. White could have been one of Gupta’s subjects, another member of that tribe of masculine gay men who seemed to be clones of each other, and famous for this, before AIDS killed so many.
Opening: Untitled # 08 “, photo taken from” Christopher Street 1976 “(Stanley Barker), courtesy Sunil Gupta and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery.
Vince Aletti he is a photographic critic and curator. Lives and works in New York since 1967. Collaborator of “Aperture”, “Artforum”, “Apartamento” and “Photograph”, he was co-author of “Avedon Fashion 1944-2000”, published by Harry N. Abrams in 2009, and has signed “Issues: A History of Photography in Fashion Magazines”, published by Phaidon.
From Fashion Italia, n. 837, May 2020
The title of the “Masculinities” exhibition at London’s Barbican Art Gallery (now closed due to the Covid-19 outbreak) makes its perspective immediately clear: at a time when gender is understood as fluid, there is not one way to define masculinity, there are many. Subtitled “Liberation Through Photography,” and focusing on work made since the 1960s, the show is big, ambitious, and pointedly provocative.
In the hefty catalog – essential for anyone interested in this topic in all its permutations – curator Alona Pardo writes that her show “sets out to challenge binary codes and offer a more nuanced and complicated vision of masculinities.” It does so through the lens of artists as varied as Andy Warhol, Catherine Opie, Richard Avedon, Collier Schorr, Deana Lawson, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Samuel Fosso, many of whom pay close attention to the ways men present themselves – to uniquely personal style and attitude, the very things this column is most alert to and excited by.
The New Delhi-born, London-based photographer Sunil Gupta epitomizes this approach with a series he made in 1976, when he was in New York to study with Lisette Model, Philippe Halsman, and George Tice at the New School. “I spent my weekends cruising with my camera,” he writes in Christopher Street, the 2018 book of this work. “It was the heady days after Stonewall and before AIDS, when we were young and busy creating a gay public space such as hadn’t really been seen before.” Christopher, the street that cut right through the heart of gay Greenwich Village and ended in a group of popular waterfront bars, was Gupta’s “natural habitat.” “I was one of the tribe,” he writes, “and I wanted to be noticed. I wasn’t spying on the inhabitants. I made myself as visible as possible and walked right up to people. ”
The results, including the photograph above, are vivid and casual but closely observed – an extended self-portrait that involves Gupta discovering himself reflected in countless others. “For the first time in history, people like me were able to live proudly, publicly, and without shame,” he wrote elsewhere.
Inevitably, that freedom affected how gay men looked and dressed, many adapting a stylized, muscular hypermasculinity that Edmund White describes in his 1997 autobiographical novel, The Farewell Symphony. After a workout session at the gym, he writes, “I shower, then hurry home to change into a pair of beltless tight black jeans, the fly halfway unbuttoned, a loose gray T-shirt and an old leather bomber jacket.” White could have been one of Gupta’s subjects, another member of the tribe of butched-up gay men who became known as clones before AIDS cut so many of them down.
Fashion Italia, no. 837, May 2020