Queer Patrimony: George Platt Lynes's Portraits of E. M. Forster

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The Yale University Library Gazette


The "Event"

For an hour and a half on the afternoon of June 1, 1949, E. M. Forster and his partner Bob Buckingham posed for a series of portraits in the Manhattan studio of the photographer George Platt Lynes. It took me five years to write this sentence. Before I could interpret the cultural meaning of these pictures, I first had to learn that these very different images of Forster and Buckingham taken by Lynes--now scattered in disparate archives and private collections around the world--had been created on a single occasion. Like many events in gay history, the photographic session on this afternoon in 1949 does not exactly exist as an event: that is, until now it has not had the coherent and articulable status of evidence. Through interviews with the few living friends of Forster and Lynes, and long meanders in archives, I came to understand that the photographs were the trace-record of "an event" rather than objects in themselves. Since the photographs have been scattered, the glass plates lost, the written record of the encounter sparse, and all the principals long dead, we can understand why an important moment has been constituted until now as silence, or as nothingness. Not nothingness, exactly--more like a fractured, pre-evidentiary state. I would like to explore how this event and its reconstruction are emblematic of some practical and theoretical problems in queer archival work. Though it has never been written about, the session has an important position in Forster's life and in the broader history of gay self-representation.


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