Saturday, May 05, 2012

John S Barrington: Publisher

John S Barrington was in the vanguard of the 'physique' photography movement of the 1940s and 50s. He came across his first model int he late 1930s when he was 17 and frequenting the all male, naked bathing establishment at Hampstead Heath in London and, as his biographer Rupert Smith said: "The thing he learnt really quickly, was that the average straight, good-looking, young guy is probably horny most of the time and finds the idea of being flattered, flirted with, seduced and coaxed by a photographer a big turn on. It's quite narcissistic, his models would get into the whole thing and get very turned on and I suppose if at the end he offered to `help them out' they were probably not going to complain too much." and thus began a lifetime of photographing and naked young men.

But Barrington was a complicated character. He loved men and men's bodies but never considered himself homosexual. Even in later life, married and a grandfather, he was still going out into the world to pick up handsome models for his studio, and seducing them in the process: all the while, insisting on the difference between homosexual acts and being a homosexual. For Barrington, homosexuality was inextricably linked with mincing, effeminate queenery and he rejected that vehemently. A biography was published in 1996 which unpacks this complicated and multifaceted life but having just acquired a small collection of Barrington related items it is clear that one of those facets that I hadn't appreciated until now, was as a publisher.

His first book, Anthropometry and Anatomy was published in 1957 and, from the pseudo-scientific title you might imagine correctly that it was something in an exercise in diversion. The book was written as a guide to anatomy for artists and it included both male and female nudes as well as images of many works by famous artists. This kind of public denial of the lustful gaze was the common currency of physique photography and even back to Victorian and Edwardian 'appreciation' of the male nude in photography. However, unlike most others in the field, it seems clear that Barrington internalised this denial to a dramatic extent and, when we come to the early seventies and the books we have just acquired you do not have to be a psychoanalyst to read the introductions and feel the crushing weight of internal conflict in the attitudes on display. What is striking is just how much Barrington may have published. Four of the smaller books, discretely stapled into their plain blue covers are the first four volumes in what Barrington projected as a 12 month part-work called Superb Youth in The Nu-Man-Ifique. The Athletic Male Nude for Artists and Students. If the twelve volumes were ever completed I don't know. They were intended to be a kind of 'complete works of...' and showcase Barrington's whole career as a photographer of the physique-ly blessed young man. Indeed, there is a marked tendency toward the well-blessed in his models and many are in various stages of excitement. According to the colophon (of sorts) each edition was only produced in 250 copies.

But it wasn't just his own work that Barrington published: at the back of each of these Nu-Man-Ifique books is a page detailing other publications and, for someone effectively working alone, it is an extensive list. 100 copies each are available of Helmut & Gunter, Skipper & His Friends, Tom of Finland (8 Books), European Artwork, The Rip Colt Album, Scandinavian Engravings, Etudes'69... and so on.

Some of these are also in the group we have here and the image at the head of this post (which can't help but make you think of a Doors album cover) is from The Best of Screw & Gay (as is the one immediately below), limited to 100 numbered copies, signed by Barrington as editor with his initials. The introduction to this book makes claims for the two underground sex magazines that they offer much which will teach the observer about America, middle-class America, the middle-aged, youth and "the hundred controversies and stresses that are seemingly part of the most significant revolution that any great nation has experienced in all of recorded history" i.e. the sexual revolution. Other titles in this group include the Best of Lon and The Colt Album, showcasing the work of two of the best known physique photographers of the age and  each in limited editions, edited and signed by Barrington.

As well as his photography, an enduring legacy remains also in his last book, Sexual Alternatives for Men, published in 1981 it was a "report on male bisexual behaviour in the United Kingdom, 1960-1981 based on 6,000 explicit case histories of heterosexual and homosexual men." Barrington was able to write the book because throughout his long career a large number of his models and sexual conquests had been persuaded to fill in a questionnaire!

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