Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Portraits by Carl Van Vechten

Carl Van Vechten: Self Portrait

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was quite the played in the artistic and literary scene of the early and mid-twentieth century. He was a photographer and writer who first came to my attention as I was reading Justin Spring's masterful biography of Samuel Steward, Secret Historian: The Life and Times of Samuel Steward, Professor, Tattoo Artist and Sexual Renegade, with whom he had some dealings. Vechten was a patron of a number of black writers and artists connected to the Harlem Renaissance and, despite many years of marriage appears to have been at least bisexual and probably homosexual. Many of his photographs display a dark and shadowy homoeroticism and papers kept sealed until 25 years after his death revealed quite a collection of material about homosexuality gathered there. 

The wonderful Ebay seller Perfectfind, who always manages to find real photographic gems for sale, has clearly come across a treasure trove of original prints by Vechten, often in postcard format and usually blindstamped with Vechten's studio mark. There are a number still being sold but unfortunately, whereas a couple of weeks ago you could buy one for the starting price of 32USD, they have now been 'discovered' and single photos are now selling for in excess of 200 dollars. It is from this treasure that I have stolen the accompanying images. More of Vechten's portraits can be found on his Wiki page. Nonetheless, they may yet prove a wise investment as it seems unlikely that the definitive word has yet been said about this obscure but important figure.

Anonymous young man

Calvin Townsend, Concert Pianist

Charles Nolte as Billy Budd

Donald Windham and Sandy Campbell

Gore Vidal

Jean Marais

Ram Gopal 1

Ram Gopal 2

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