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George Platt Lynes (April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955) was an American fashion and commercial photographer who worked in the 1930s and 1940s. He produced some photographs featuring many gay artists and writers from the 1940s that were acquired by the Kinsey Institute after his death in 1955.
Born in East Orange, New Jersey to Adelaide Sparkman and Joseph Russell Lynes (died 1932). His younger brother was Joseph Russell Lynes, Jr. (1910–1991). Lynes spent his childhood in New Jersey but attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, where he was a classmate of Lincoln Kirstein (1907–1996). He was sent to Paris in 1925 with the idea of better preparing him for college. His life was forever changed by the circle of friends that he would meet there including Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler.
The photographer George Platt Lynes went to Paris at the age of eighteen in 1925. He met Gertrude Stein and, through her, Pavel Tchelitchew, Carl Van Vechten, André Gide and René Crevel. Crevel would be his occasional lover. Back in the States that year, he published booklets by Stein and Ernest Hemingway under his own imprint, As Stable Publications.
He attended Yale University in 1926, but dropped out after a year to move to New York City.
George Platt Lynes, by Pavel Tchelitchew
Self-portrait with Chuck Howard
George Platt Lynes & Pavel Tchelitchev
GEORGE PLATT LYNES (1907-1955) Self Portrait in front of Jared French's mural "Cavalrymen Crossing a River." Silver print, the image measuring 241.3x190.5 mm; 9 1/2x7 1/2 inches. Circa 1939.
Yale University, New Haven, CT
He returned to the United States with the idea of a literary career and he even opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey in 1927. He first became interested in photography not with the idea of a career, but to take photographs of his friends and display them in his bookstore.
On his second trip to France, in 1928, he stayed in Villefranche-sur-Mer on the Riviera with Glenway Wescott and Monroe Wheeler. There he met Jean Cocteau, Isadora Duncan and others. That year he posed as Apollo, naked, for a photograph by Man Ray.
Returning to France the next year in the company of Wescott and Wheeler, he traveled around Europe for the next several years, always with his camera at hand. He developed close friendships within a larger circle of artists including Jean Cocteau and Julien Levy, the art dealer and critic. Levy would exhibit his photographs in his gallery in New York City in 1932 and Lynes would open his studio there that same year.
He was soon receiving commissions from Harper's Bazaar, Town & Country, and Vogue including a cover with perhaps the first supermodel, Lisa Fonssagrives. In 1935, he was asked to document the principal dancers and productions of Kirstein's and George Balanchine's newly founded American Ballet company (now the New York City Ballet).
He was also most notably friends with Katherine Anne Porter, author of the novel Ship of Fools, whom he often enjoyed photographing wearing elaborate evening gowns and occasionally reenacting Shakespeare.
During his lifetime, Lynes amassed a substantial body of work involving nude and homoerotic photography. In the 1930s, he began taking nudes of friends, performers and models, including a young Yul Brynner, although these remained private, unknown and unpublished for years. Over the following two decades, Lynes continued his work in this area passionately, albeit privately. "The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved — he couldn't exhibit it, he couldn't publish it." - Allen Ellenzweig, art and photography critic who wrote the introduction to George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes, published in 2011 by Rizzoli.
In the late 1940s, Lynes became acquainted with Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his Institute in Bloomington, Indiana. Kinsey took an interest in Lynes work, as he was researching homosexuality in America at the time. A large number of Lynes' nude and homoerotic works were left to the Kinsey Institute after his death in 1955. The body of work residing at the Kinsey Institute remained largely unknown until it was made public and published later. The Kinsey collection represents one of the largest single collections of Lynes's work.
For over ten years, Lynes had a love affair with both Monroe Wheeler, the curator, and Glenway Wescott (1901–1987), the writer. He later got together with his studio assistant and, after he died in World War II, Lynes moved in with the younger brother of the assistant.
By May 1955, Lynes had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio and was reported to have destroyed much of his print and negative archives, particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. "He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed...We have to remember the time period we're talking about—America during the post-war Red Scare..."
After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City, where he died in 1955, while living with his brother and his family.
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