Jul 24, 2017

Edmund Teske, the Gay Photographer of East Los Angeles

Edmund Teske (1911-1996) was born in Chicago.  Trained as a pianist, he began to work in photography in 1933, when Frank Lloyd Wright hired him to do photographic montages of the relationship between architecture and the visual arts.

He also liked photographing men, catching them in moments of power, joy, erotic desire, or quiet reflection.

Richard Soakup, 1940 captures his first lover, whose parents ran a music studio in suburban Chicago.  Teske would photograph Soakup in many more nude and semi-nude poses.

During World War II, Teske was was rejected for military service for being gay, instead assigned to become a photographer for the Army Core of Engineers in Rock Island, where he photographed many of his friends, lovers, and coworkers nude.  They weren't physique photographs, however; he was trying to capture spirit, not muscle, the human condition rather than the human body.

In 1943 he moved to Los Angeles and went to work in the photo stills department at Paramount Studios.  He immersed himself in the gay life of 1950s Hollywood, befriending Christopher Isherwood, Joel McCrea, Man Ray, Rock Hudson, Anais Nin, Montgomery Clift, George Cukor, and Jim Morrison.

He began to experiment with photo montages, combining images of nude men to explore time and memory, beauty, decay, and erotic desire.

Don Mills and Jerry Kahn (1954-55) are photographed nude and clothed among abandoned ice boxes in Cornell, California (near Malibu).

The folk singer Ramblin' Jack Elliot, nude with guitar (1952)

During the 1960s and 1970s, Teske's work was on display at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Modern Art, and in galleries around the world.

He lived alone in East Los Angeles, with lovers but no permanent partner.

In 2004, there was a retrospective exhibit at the Getty Museum.

To be on the safe side, I'm putting the photos with frontal nudity on Tales of West Hollywood.

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