Outtakes

How Yul Brynner bared all for the sake of art

Yul Brynner, Somerset Maugham and Tennessee Williams are among the unlikely models in rediscovered nude photographic studies by a group of artists and photographers working in New York from the Thirties to the Fifties. Few of the images were intended for public consumption. The photographs were too intimate and sexualised for their times. In the Thirties, the male nude was still considered generally acceptable only in the safely aestheticised context of Grecian urns and laurel leaves.

The group was loose-knit, and used each other, as well as friends and acquaintances, as models. Brynner was an aspiring actor earning a living playing guitar and singing at parties when he did a series of poses for fashion photographer George Platt Lynes in 1942, which now seem remarkable for their nonchalance - not what one would expect from a future King of Siam. Tennessee Williams was photographed by "Pajama" (the working name for three collaborating artists - the magic realist Paul Cadmus, Jared French and Margaret French) a couple of years before the success of The Glass Menagerie. Williams was introduced to Pajama by novelist Donald Windham, who also modelled, and with whom he later collaborated on the play You Touched Me.

The photographs have been brought together for the first time in a collection which shows the professional and personal links between all those involved. They vary widely in style. The Pajama photographs, for example, are more natural and unposed, partly because many were taken outdoors, on Fire Island, off the southern shore of Long Island, although these images do sometimes incorporate sculptural elements such as driftwood. Other Pajama images were taken indoors, in Provincetown or at a New York apartment, but without sets and props. They were not printed with special attention, nor were they carefully preserved; some were used merely as a reference for paintings.

George Platt Lynes, however, stands out as both an artist and a craftsman: his work ranks alongside that of Hoyningen-Heune and Man Ray. He has a subtle, surrealist-inspired aesthetic which developed through his contact with the Parisian avant garde of the 1930s. He experimented with poses, montage effects, lighting techniques and airbrushing. One can see his influence in the male nude work of Mapplethorpe, Webber and Ritts.

The group's importance at the centre of New York artistic life waned in the Fifties. Platt Lynes, whose fashion career fell apart as his obsession with the non-commercial male nude grew, died of lung cancer in 1955, aged 48. Abstract Expressionists were coming to dominate the art scene and artists such as Cadmus whose principal subject was the human body were going out of fashion. The various principals of the group had been dispersing for some time, leaving New York, alone or with lovers, putting the wraps on a few brief and surprising modelling careers, for a future generation to rediscover

`Naked Men, pioneering male nudes 1935-1955', by David Leddick is published by Little, Brown, pounds 25. A selling exhibition of George Platt Lynes' photographs is at the Hartnoll Gallery, 14 Mason's Yard, Duke Street St James's, London SW1 (0171-839 3842) until 20 June

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    King's College, Cambridge: Stipendiary Junior Research Fellowships October 2016

    £20,100 (pre-award of doctorate) rising each year to a maximum of £25,869: Kin...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Back End

    £18000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has bec...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Lettings Negotiator

    £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join ...

    Guru Careers: Trainer / IT Trainer

    £30 to £32k : Guru Careers: We are seeking a Trainer / IT Trainer to join an a...

    Day In a Page

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

    Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

    I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
    Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

    Margaret Attwood on climate change

    The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

    New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

    What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
    Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

    The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

    Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
    Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

    Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

    The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
    Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

    Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

    The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
    Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

    Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

    Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works
    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation' over plans to overhaul reverse-chronological timeline

    Twitter accused of 'Facebookisation'

    Facebook exasperates its users by deciding which posts they can and can’t see. So why has Twitter announced plans to do the same?
    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag - but what else could the fashion house call it?

    Jane Birkin asks Hermès to rename bag

    The star was shocked by a Peta investigation into the exotic skins trade
    10 best waterproof mascaras

    Whatever the weather: 10 best waterproof mascaras

    We found lash-enhancing beauties that won’t budge no matter what you throw at them
    Diego Costa biography: Chelsea striker's route to the top - from those who shared his journey

    Diego Costa: I go to war. You come with me...

    Chelsea's rampaging striker had to fight his way from a poor city in Brazil to life at the top of the Premier League. A new book speaks to those who shared his journey
    Ashes 2015: England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    England show the mettle to strike back hard in third Test

    The biggest problem facing them in Birmingham was the recovery of the zeitgeist that drained so quickly under the weight of Australian runs at Lord's, says Kevin Garside
    Women's Open 2015: Charley Hull - 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    Charley Hull: 'I know I'm a good golfer but I'm also just a person'

    British teen keeps her feet on ground ahead of Women's Open
    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkey's conflict with Kurdish guerrillas in Iraq can benefit Isis in Syria

    Turkish President Erdogan could benefit politically from the targeting of the PKK, says Patrick Cockburn
    Yvette Cooper: Our choice is years of Tory rule under Jeremy Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Our choice is years of Tory rule under Corbyn or a return to a Labour government

    Yvette Cooper urged Labour members to 'get serious' about the next general election rather than become 'a protest movement'