Thursday, November 17, 2016

TIME just posted what it would have you think is the most important gay photo ever published. Wrong

It's that terribly serious Robert Maplethorpe photo of the S&M couple at home. TIME said the 1979 photo "blew open the doors for a range of photographers and artists to frankly examine gay life and sexuality."
     Not on your life.
     Get over yourself, New York.
     Below is the peerlessly subversive photo San Francisco photographer Crawford Barton took three years earlier, which was published in his book, Beautiful Men and which won a prize in a New Times photo contest.
     Maplethorpe's photo forces a straight viewer to confront an inconvenient and unsettling truth, then stops. Crawford's California photo keeps on driving. It reassures an aghast viewer that conventional society is not under siege by sexual nonconformity.
     The unwritten, but clear challenge to the viewer: Look at those squares on the stoop next to the two dudes sucking face! They couldn't care less! Do you have a problem with gays? Well, then you must be even squarer than they look.
Or: Look at that successful, well-turned out, middle-aged, middle-class couple who aren't bothered at all by Teh Gay? Do you have a problem with Teh Gay? Well, then, what are you? A low-rent Duck Dynasty cracker, ferChrissakes?
     Crawford's photo nailed homophobia coming or going, raised the Freak Flag, and reminded the rest of America that even San Franciscans who don't look cool, are.
     Maplethorpe's New York photo is an immaculate art gallery depiction of S&M.
     Crawford's rowdier Golden State photo rocked 1976 Americans with a then-edgy boy/boy makeout tableau but it didn't crop out the silent majority, it cleverly enlisted them. This is why it was far more dangerous to Jesse Helms's America than anything Maplethorpe ever did; the old coot could never have attacked Crawford the way he did Maplethorpe.
     Juxtaposition fuels both images, but Maplethorpe's is only 80-proof; Crawford's is White Lightning. TIME got it wrong.

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