Magazine article Art Monthly

Caroline May: The Killing Pictures

Magazine article Art Monthly

Caroline May: The Killing Pictures

Article excerpt

ONE National Gay and Lesbian Archives Los Angeles 26 October to 26 January

Close to downtown Los Angeles and founded in 1952, ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives is the oldest existing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organisation in the US and claims to have the largest collection of LGBT material in the world. For such an august institution, it is a bit of a cultural secret, and I was mildly surprised to discover not only the venue itself but also the exhibition space within. In one room it was presenting a selection of work by British photographer Caroline May, whose work was last seen in London at the Freud Museum a few years ago.

As all the work at ONE has an LGBT theme, I didn't automatically dismiss what at first glance appeared to be a collection of bland landscapes. Arranged both on the walls of the exhibition space and on tables in the middle of the room, the photographs were taken in various parks in London and in one specific spot in Central Park, New York. The few Central Park images were arranged on one wall and each contained a single, semi-nude male figure. Entitled The Ramble, Central Park, 2006, its location as a famous gay male cruising ground is revealed, and the solitary man in the pictures is an easily recognisable gay archetype. Gay theme thereby received and understood. But, not surprisingly, there is more to it than that. Having stepped in from West Adams Boulevard in aggressively urban central LA, I was more receptive than usual to the transformative power of a quiet exhibition space. Drawn at first to the slim, muscular body partly displayed in these pictures, confrontationally flaunting his sexuality in a public - and therefore assumed to be heterosexual - environment, I recognised familiar theatrical images of masculinity parsing the landscapes. Familiar from other exhibitions as well as from all kinds of leafy public spaces all around the world, gay culture has long flourished, albeit discreetly, in parks, which probably isn't surprising as they are environments for leisured display. Whether it is riders comparing bikes, proud parents showing off babies and buggies, or men with biceps, it is hard to think of a place where people are less ostentatious, or less intensely observed. The few pictures from 'The Ramble' series quite frankly do what similar LGBT-themed work has done in that the overtly sexualised man depicted 'confronts and reclaims' public space by merely being present in the landscape. What stops these pictures simply retreading the same old formula is the way the photographer has presented the man who appears as the subject in each. May has distilled an essence of relaxed self-confidence and intense sexuality from this man, who carries the casually magnetic presence of the off-duty porn stars photographed so magnificently by Larry Sultan in his 'Valley' series. By successfully making everything in these images - the landscape, the light, the composition - hinge on him, May catches the drama and palpable erotic charge of a chance alfresco encounter.

The rest of the images on display had no human presence, and therefore offered no clues as to potential narrative content besides the fact that they were all taken in London parks. What appeared to be studies of trees or rural landscapes were occasionally marked by sections of buildings given no more prominence than their surroundings. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.