Friday, February 12, 2010

John Palatinus exhibit at Antebellum this Sunday!

Back in June of 2007, I posted three photos (here and here) by John Palatinus, a New York photographer who seemed to appear and disappear without a trace after only a few years of work. About a year later, I received an email from the man himself, alive and well at 80 years of age, and, unbelievably, living only about 30 minutes away from me!

John included his phone number in the email and we talked for about 45 minutes that first time. I learned that he did his physique photography from 1955 through 1958, until he was shut down by a police raid against his "pornographic" "lewd" photos early in 1959. Under the name "Courtny" he had started to sell "undraped" photos -- and made the mistake of posting some of them from New Jersey, which suddenly meant he was transporting "pornography" over state lines. Why on earth the police and the post office should care about people wanting to buy naked photos, and spend months tracking his movements from his home to his small studio to the company that actually printed his photos... yeah, the 50s were different, but for fuck's sake, people, get a life! All of his photos, negatives, cameras, mailing lists -- everything stolen by the police, never to be seen again. He ended up being convicted of conspiracy to sell pornographic material, paid a hefty fine, and never took a physique photo again.

It wasn't until the spring of 2009 that we had a chance to meet in person, and because I was so incensed at the injustice that the man had none of the photos that had made so many people happy in that repressed, ultra-closeted age, I brought along with me about 25 or so printouts of the photos that I had in my collection that over the years had been positively identified as his work. It was a real surprise for him, and it was a real treat for me to hear him rattle off their names and say how much fun this one was to shoot or how this one was stand-offish, or that he got to have sex with this other one...

A short time later, John called me and asked if I would mind making up a duplicate set of the photos. He wanted to donate them to the Tom of Finland Foundation, an organization devoted to preserving the work of erotic artists of the past and present. Of course, I told him it would be no problem. But then I got to thinking, I should really try to get more material together...

I put out a call to the members of my v-m-p email group at Yahoo to send me anything they might have with Palatinus' name on it, in hopes that someone might have something that hadn't already made its way through the group. To my delight, one of the members had a nearly complete set of catalog prints under the "Palatinus" banner, and a complete set of the "Courtny" nude catalog prints. I now had names and faces for nearly all of John's models -- now I just had to go through the thousands of "unknown" pics I had spread throughout my computer! In the end, I think I pulled out about 50-75 more photos that I hadn't known were done by him -- and to this day, I still stumble over new finds... (Thank you, Chuck!)

Feeling this wasn't enough to really show the scope of his work to the people at Tom of Finland, I took a month's membership (eventually extended to a second) at the vast Tim in Vermont site to see what he might have on hand. As it turned out, nothing I didn't already have when it came to photographic images, but then I got the idea of presenting John's publishing history, and proceeded to download every magazine page that featured a photo by John, one of his ads, or even just his studio listing. Tim's magazine archive is immense, and he does his best to tag each page as accurately as possible, so I think I found every instance of John's published, credited work. (Thank you, Tim!)

With hundreds of scans compiled, now I had to print them. At first I thought to present the images as close to original size as possible, so I printed the entire "Palatinus" side of his work at 4x5 size and thought it looked nice. But then, when I went to print the first "Courtny," I realized to my horror that these were not 4x5 images but 5x7! If I were to print the nudes at their original size, the full-on physique shots would look puny in comparison, and the physique photos were what he was famous for. Nothing to do but start over again, printing the "Palatinus" shots at 7 inches tall...

So John didn't get his little batch of photos until a few months after he had asked for them. When I called to make a date to bring them over, he had no idea that he was about to receive two plastic storage boxes, each with three drawers filled with scans of photos, magazine pages and assorted promotional literature (thanks again, Tim!) - one for him and one for the Tom of Finland Foundation.

The internet is an amazing thing -- I posted a few favorite photos on my blog, then I connected with this pioneering physique photographer who was shut down just as he was really breaking through with his distinctive style, and then I was able to connect with others to pull his work back from the ether and return it to him.

End of story? Not by a long shot!

One of John's many acquaintances is Rick Castro, the famed erotic photographer and, since 2005, the proprietor of Antebellum, the country's first fetish art gallery. Seems that Rick had told John that he'd like to do an exhibit of his work, but since John didn't have any in his posession, that wasn't going to happen. But now, with this large collection of electronic images gathered in one place, maybe something could be pulled from them to put on the walls? And to make it even more interesting, John had found in a box a few forgotten pieces of his work -- eight original negatives of Tony Ames, from what appeared to be an unpublished session, and a complete set of twelve 4x5's of cowboy Pete Andrews in their original folder. Talk about good timing -- my old scanner of many years had just died, and I made sure that my new one had a negative scanner in it, and my partner had plans on buying a new Epson printer able to print 13x19 pages -- we could certainly pull some material together for a show!

Well, I won't go further into the details, but the last few months have seen my spare time scanning scanning scanning scanning photoshopping photoshopping photoshopping printing printing printing confab confab confab more printing more printing phone calls phone calls emails emails emails.... going into Hollywood three weeks ago to deliver the first batch of art, I left feeling very distressed that I hadn't prepared enough material and had let both John and Rick down, but going back the week after I left feeling much better -- seeing the art on the walls made all the difference in the world. Getting to spend a few hours with Rick in the gallery and then a wonderful tea party afterwards with some of his retail neighbors (Rick loves his tea, and I couldn't have wished for a better way to wind down the day!) made me feel that this was going to be a wonderful experience.

I've been working on all aspects of John's share of the exhibit (as you see from the exhibit announcement, there are going to be many other artists' work on display as well, all following on the aesthetic of the physique era). Something I'm rather happy with is the DVD slideshow I put together of John's work -- 300 images in 21 minutes. I played it for him a couple of days ago and got a running commentary on all the models -- really, history coming alive from this most definitely alive and vital man who I've had the great good fortune to meet. I won't lie, I'm glad that in less than two days my work will be done and the result will be left to the eye of the gallery-going world, but what will I do with my time after Sunday night? (I know, I know -- make regular posts to this blog, for a start! LOL!)

I hope that all my readers in the Los Angeles area will drop by Antebellum on Sunday night to meet John -- and I'll be there, too -- I'd love to meet you! If you can't make it opening night, the exhibit runs through March 20. Drop in to view the art (and by all means, buy something! LOL!) and talk to Rick Castro -- the man is a marvel, and if you're lucky, he might make you a cup of tea!

John, it has been a wonderful, maddening, rewarding, life-changing experience. Thank you so much! I'm so looking forward to Sunday night with you!

And because I can, I sign off tonight with an image of Tony Ames by John Palatinus from the "lost" Levi's series -- see it in person at Antebellum, 1643 N Las Palmas Avenue, Hollywood, CA 90028.

I hope to post some images from the gallery when I get back home. Good night, my friends -- see you Sunday night!


AlexG said...

wonderful story. sorry I won't be able to come to LA to see the show.

a few years ago I met Neil Edwards who had the same kind of career -- cut short when the police shut him down & confiscatd his work. a sad period of time.

Anonymous said...

Please please please . . . more from the "lost" Levi's series . . . and more from ANY Levi's series, especially from the 40s, 50s, and 60s. Great picture of Tony Ames!