'Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes' - Documentary honors gay photographer

  • by Gregg Shapiro
  • Monday June 3, 2024
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Photographer George Platt Lynes in the documentary 'Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes' (photo: Greenwich Entertainment)
Photographer George Platt Lynes in the documentary 'Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes' (photo: Greenwich Entertainment)

At this midpoint on the calendar, 2024 is turning out to be one of the best years for docs of interest to LGBTQ audiences. Titles such as "Queen of the Deuce," "The World According to Allee Willis," "Linda Perry: Let It Die Here," and even the Cyndi Lauper doc "Let the Canary Sing," are all required viewing. Possibly best of all (so far), is director and co-writer Sam Shadid's "Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes" (Greenwich Entertainment).

Lynes's story, one of privilege and passion, creativity and connections, genius, and queerness, will be familiar to some, while for others, it will be like discovering a treasure trove of artistic expression. George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) was a photographer so far ahead of his time that he singlehandedly redefined the genre, through his fashion photography and his groundbreaking work in the realm of the male nude.

John Leaphart and Robert "Buddy" McCarthy in one of George Platt Lynes' most-known images (photo: Greenwich Entertainment)  

Through interviews with scholars, gallerists, photographers, archivists, curators, models, assistants, artists, and even a nephew, Lynes' story comes to vivid life. But it's through photographs that we truly become completely acquainted with Lynes.

A life in prints
"Hidden Legacy" really begins when 18-year-old Lynes, an ambitious kid from New Jersey, who wanted to be part of the cultural scene of his moment, is sent to Paris in 1925 where he met Gertrude Stein. Lynes, whose photograph of Stein (which graced the cover of Time) not only became part of Stein's salon, but also the queer ex-pat scene of artists, writers, and dancers.

'Concerto Barocco,' George Platt Lynes' photo of New York City Ballet dancers (photo: Greenwich Entertainment)  

Of course, it's his talent that propels Lynes, but it didn't hurt that he was also incredibly handsome (described as "beautiful as a Greek statue").

This, in turn, led to one of the most important relationships in his lifetime — when he became part of a throuple with publisher Monroe Wheeler and writer Glenway Wescott.

This is yet another way in which Lynes was a groundbreaker, in addition to always being an out gay man, at a time when such a thing was unthinkable. As one interview subject puts it, "Not everyone was in the closet before Stonewall."

A male nude portrait in the documentary 'Hidden Master: The Legacy of George Platt Lynes' (photo: Greenwich Entertainment)  

As the "first gay American artist in the full sense," Lynes' portraits for the New York City Ballet, as well as of celebrities including Tennessee Williams, Carmen Miranda, Igor Stravinsky, W. H. Auden, Jean Cocteau, Dorothy Parker, Marianne Moore, and others, are renowned.

But his life wasn't without drama. A failed relocation to Hollywood forced him to return to New York bankrupt. Professionally, other fashion photographers surpassed him, and he became something of a has-been. He also had his share of relationship troubles. Additionally, he died young, at 47, of lung cancer.

Still, between this excellent documentary about Lynes, which reminds us of his tremendous influence on generations of photographers including Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Hujar, and Andy Warhol, and the discovery of the enormous collection (20,000 items) of his photographs purchased by the late, closeted billionaire Fred Koch (brother of Charles and David), Lynes may get the overdue recognition he justly deserves. Rating: A-


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