i am currently infatuated with a rather ‘low-key’ figure in photographic history… carl van vechten (1880-1964). i deliberately use this description since it encapsulates so much of this multi-talented writer/photographer’s life. foremost he was a ‘key’ figure in challenging both racial and sexual prejudice during a time in which neither were spoken about lest alone photographed. his connections with more libertine artists and writers of the time probably had much to do with it, as did his monied disposition. he glamorized the characters of the harlem renaissance and modified cultural perceptions with his dramatized male nudes. secondly he was held by most in a ‘low’ regard and even though he was probably reviled by the establishment at the time and while even his biographical info until recently mostly focussed on his marriages and writing, van vechten was pivotal in documenting the prominent players of the time in portrait form. imperative to the gay and black histories of american culture in the 30’s and 40’s, especially as an intellectual confrontation with the dynamics of homoeroticism and racial idealization. although there are often parallels drawn between his work and that of contemporaries like cecil beaton, i have the feeling that his work has had a far reaching influence on the ambivalences in past and present america and it’s importance may yet be recognized for more than the celebrity factor or his backdrops…

his exhaustive body of portraits exceeds a 1000 portraits of which below are some including; ramon navarro, truman capote, miro, dali, gala, thomas mann, frida kahlo, gore vidal, joyce bryant, marian seldes, georgia o’keeffe, bessie smith, billie holiday, his longtime friend gertrude stein, carol channing, cesar romero, harry belafoonte, zora neale hurston, gore vidal, marlon brando, ana├»s nin, matisse and various male dancers.