David Dietcher, Guest Curator
page 1

Thorburn, c. 1900
Clifford Stulk (?) and Raymond Wickoff
Collection of Richard Pemberthy

Unidentified photographer
Portrait of two men with umbrella, c. 1890
Collection of Robert Flynt

This is an exhibition of photographs of men in strikingly affectionate poses. Although it includes a wide variety of photographic formats - from early studio tableaux to later casual snapshots - one thing unites all these images of unknown men: the emotional bond shared between the sitters. Confronted by such demonstrative images of men posing arm in arm or gazing into each other's eyes, the contemporary viewer is left to wonder about the affection they shared, and about the meaning and purpose of the photographs that survive. Were these long-dead sitters friends or relatives, colleagues or lovers? In all likelihood, we will never know. And perhaps that doesn't matter. One aspect of photographs that makes them so compelling is that they can generate so many unpredictable meanings - this despite their capacity to record their subjects in vivid detail. Thus, the physical expression of love between the men in such pictures is bound to provoke profoundly different reactions, depending on the viewer's gender, sexual orientation, race or class.

Wonder is a highly appropriate response in looking at these photographs, since so little information survives about the sitters or about the actual circumstances that led to the creation of their portraits. Some observers may immediately presume that these photographs represent visual evidence of an implicitly validating gay male history that they have elsewhere been denied. Others may just as confidently assert the opposite: that the men in these pictures were merely adhering to outmoded conventions for self-representation dating from earlier, more sentimental times. This exhibition means to set aside all such prejudices, to create a space in which one can reflect upon the ambiguity of vernacular photographs, and consider the unfathomable process of deciphering their meanings.



March 29 through June 10, 2001
Showtime Networks, Inc is proud sponsor of this exhibition. Additional support is provided by Adam R. Rose and Peter R. McQuillan.