Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Queer Looks: Documentary on Photographer John Deakin




John Deakin (1912-1972) is a photographer who first started his career as a dresser of shop-windows which explains his obsession with shop window in his work. The newly published British Art Studies Journal by the Paul Mellon Centre commissioned the film-maker Jonathan Law for a movie about John Deakin's life and career. The first episode focused on his double-exposure images in relation to the history of photography, available here.

The second episode is what I am particularly interested in because it focused on two aspects of Deakin's work: queer and glances/glaze. Two terms which have always been correlated with each other. Deakin took pictures of shop-windows but is not only interested in what was in the window but also about who is looking at it. This technique is called in the documentary "queer cruising", which about re-using cisgender everyday codes, like shop window, and adding an extra meaning to this activity, looking for a lover/partner. These photographes illustrate how queers could meet in the streets without others realising. Window-glazing becomes suddenly a parallel activity, you add meaning to a rather common activity, it is subversive while being totally meaningless to most passers-by. 

A dummy in a shop window wearing Greek sailor's uniform, Greece, circa 1953.
A dummy in a shop window wearing Greek sailor's uniform, Greece, circa 1953.

The technique is described in the movie, you would stare at the window and someone would come near you and start a conversation while starring at the window reflection to try recognise the person next to you. This window is now your safe space, you are playing a game that you control and can give, or not, information about yourself. This double identity, yourself and your reflection, is a common feature in queer art, expressing how society alienates people's own persona and how you have to create several images of yourself. But it is also a way to explore your different personalities and to play with your identity. Finding spaces in which you can glance and be glanced as a queer or homosexual at Deakin's time was a rarity but not an impossible task, you just needed to know the codes and how to use them.  

Religious statuettes in the window of a church reliquary shop in Rome, Italy 1947. The church of Santa Maria in Vallicella (aka the Chiesa Nuova) is reflected in the window.
Religious statuettes in the window of a church reliquary shop in Rome, Italy 1947. The church of Santa Maria in Vallicella (aka the Chiesa Nuova) is reflected in the window.
He also took a lot of pictures of George Dyer, Francis Bacon's lover! But that's another story... 
Portrait of George Dyer, petty criminal and gangster, model and boyfriend of Francis Bacon, Soho, London, mid 1960's.
Portrait of George Dyer, petty criminal and gangster, model and boyfriend of Francis Bacon, Soho, London, mid 1960's.


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