Jun 12, 2018

Joseph Szabo: There are Men Standing Behind the Women

There are a few gay artists out there, but the field is dominated by straight men, who will praise what they find sexually attractive and dismiss everything else.  So photographers who win awards, get grants, and get their work hung in museums tend to photograph women.

Take Joseph Szabo, for instance. As a teacher at Malverne High School on Long Island in 1972, he began photographing his female students.  It sounds inappropriate and creepy, but the photos "capturing the beauty and promise of youth" won him acclaim, and resulted in an extremely popular hippie-dippy book, Almost Grown (1978).

 It combines Szabo's photos with teenage girls' poetry compiled by Columbia University professor Alan Ziegler:

I am a woman.
It's autumn and cold outside.
Not inside.
My hands are ripe for you.
I cry.
I hate to go to sleep.
I love dessert and
    the sun going down on
the highway overpass.
Kiss me.

It is noted as "A celebration of teen-age experience: the years of restless desire and blossoming sexuality; the world of high school, parking lots, and street corners; and the uniquely American culture in which all of us have grown up."

Well, not gay men.  The book is intensely heteronormative and fraught with the straight male gaze: lots of long-haired girls gazing wistfully at the camera, or boys and girls together hugging.

But sometimes some male beauty shines through.

After he retired from Malverne High in 1999, Szabo published some more photo books:

Teenage, with new works from the 1970s and 1980s, mostly about long-haired girls and boys and girls kissing, with an occasional lifeguard.

Rolling Stones Fans.  Szabo explains that during the 1970s, two of his high school students (girls, no doubt) asked him to drive them from Long Island to Pennsylvania to a Rolling Stones concert.

 Today it would be highly inappropriate for a teacher to accept such an invitation, but in the touchy-feelly 1970s, it was no problem, so he went.  And he took photographs, mostly of long-haired girls hugging boys.  But some beefcake shines through.

Jones Beach, mostly about long-haired girls in bikinis, but occasionally there is a hot guy in the background, or this hot dad in the foreground.

Szabo's work can be seen in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Brooklyn Museum, the Toledo Museum of Art, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, the Bowdoin College Museum of Art, and elsewhere.

But be warned: most of the men are hidden the background, behind endless vistas of the feminine.

Like in most art.

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