Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Styling The Self

Back in the Seventies, Peter Berlin was the first  gay celebrity sex-icon – a campy yet mysterious visual presence. People referred to him later as a porn star, but the description didn't really fit. Peter Berlin's reputation did not depend on the very few, short and mediocre sex films he made. It was the ongoing series of elaborately contrived self-portraits. He costumed and styled and staged and photographed himself, then sold the results through the mail as individual prints. After that, the pictures found their way into gay magazines and spread the fame.

In 2005 Jim Tushinski made a biographical documentary (poster above).

Below, two Peter Berlin portraits NOT photographed by Peter Berlin.

Robert Mapplethorpe (1946-1999) made the reticent, deflated picture immediately below. It doesn't look like a Mapplethorpe. It hardly looks like Peter Berlin. I couldn't actually recall any other Mapplethorpe photograph of equal vulnerability and empathy or any other Peter Berlin photo of equal passivity.

At bottom, a pencil drawing by Tom of Finland (1920-1991). Tom charged Peter $300 to make this drawing. "And that was a lot of money in the Seventies," as Peter Berlin complained in the 2005 film. He thought Tom of Finland should have been paying him.