Robert Mapplethorpe, Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts, three rather randomly picked photographers of erotic male nudes who have acquired a position in modern art museums. John S. Barrington, one of the pioneers of physique photography was there to witness them make it that far, while he never did. After visiting an exhibition of Mapplethorpe’s work in the ICA in London he wrote in his diary: “Excellent – but I’m so much better – frustration.” That frustration must have soared when both the Photographer’s Gallery as well as the ICA deemed his work not suitable for a retrospective. That rejection came on top of the disappointment Barrington felt over the fact he had to make his money with male erotic photography while he was convinced he was destined for much more artistic activities. An objective viewer will see immediately that Barrington’s work cannot be compared to the photographers mentioned above. Still, his work is most certainly not without value; the photos offer an overview of the homoerotic subculture from just before the Second World War until well into the eighties. Barrington’s life itself offers an even clearer insight into this subculture. Rupert Smith wrote Barrington’s biography some fifteen years ago, making use of the diaries Barrington kept his whole life, as well as his various attempts to write an autobiography, which became his major preoccupation during his final years. In 1990 an exclusive paperback was published with a selection of Barrington’s work; the publication saw a second edition in 1993. Although Barrington is mentioned in a few retrospectives on the history of male nude photography, his name and fame is fading again after the short-lived flare-up in the nineties. Even in the blogosphere his work seems under-represented compared to his American colleagues. This is strange because Emmanuel Cooper stated in Fully Exposed: The Male Nude in Photography (London 1995) that when Barrington published his book The Romantic Male Nude in 1984, he had “photographed more exceptional models and published more explicitly nude titles than anyone else in Europe or the USA.” So it’s time to get re-acquainted with a forgotten pioneer.
Many thanks to Hans for this guest post on Front Free Endpaper of an article which first appeared in Gay News in the Netherlands, for which Hans is the editor. Most of Barrington's photos are more 'in your face' than those featured here and I have had to be selective to keep this blog as worksafe as possible (hat tip to We Had Faces Then and this album of scans). However, any google search will take you where you want to go although, as Hans remarks, even on the Internet Barrington is quite under represented. The scans of the rarer works edited and published by Barrington came from the Callum James Books Shortlist #7 when we had a series of his works for sale (now sold). Thanks again Hans!