19 February 2007
As reported earlier on the F blog a new issue of the interesting photo-magazine Motiv has been released. Now we are proud to present the introduction and an interesting article from the issue on the F blog. For more information about the magazine, please look a Motiv's homepage or our earlier presentation of this excellent not-for-profit venture!
Motiv #10. Theme: illegal. Introduction.
What is illegal? Perhaps one should also ask: Where is illegal?
It is lawful to urinate, as long as you don’t piss in a doorway. Brothels are illegal in Stockholm but not in Berlin. A book of photographs disseminated anonymously in the street and underground is unlawful littering in one place and visual poetry somewhere else.
Every phenomenon, and especially photography, changes its meaning according to its intention or the perspective from which it is viewed. The Bertillonage, or mug shot as it is called now, emerged at a time when the bourgeoisie portrait – brooches, handlebar moustaches and grave facial expressions – was synonymous with the phenomenon of portraits. The photographic depiction of faces was suddenly lent a degrading function. In this issue of Motiv we tell the story of two originals created by the inventor of this pragmatic photo genre: Alphonse Bertillon.
We are also very pleased to be able to print images from Lukas Moodysson’s book of photographs/litter, Contectoplasmos, with texts from his latest collection of poetry Apo kryp hos. And to show a selection of photographic works centred on the illegal, not least Carl von Platen’s models, more or less comfortably posing in daylight from a window at Sturegatan in Stockholm around 1900.
Many thanks to all participants.
The theme of the next issue is HOME. It will be published in June. Please submit your proposals before April 1.
The editorial staff of Motiv, February 2007
Forbidden Eroticism (article in Motiv #10)
In the autumn of 1903, a wealthy member of a well-known aristocratic family from Stockholm, Carl von Platen, known in certain circles as the Baron Photographer, was called in for questioning by the police. Three of his photo albums were confiscated as evidence in a case of suspected indecency.
In the 19th century, a male homosexual subculture started to emerge in Stockholm, as in other European cities. Homosexuality was illegal and would remain so until the law was abolished in 1944. The 1865 penal code prescribed a sentence of up to two years imprisonment for “unnatural fornication”.
At this time, homoerotic images started to be disseminated in secret. Since the pictures implied a forbidden inclination, they could be dangerous, which is why strategies were developed in which the photographs in an ingenious way often disguised precisely that which they wished to depict. The staged tableaux were charged with coded messages, innuendos aiming at evoking desire. The implicit eroticism was supposed to be lost on the uninitiated viewer: A portrait of a young cavalryman – could that be risqué? These were the questions facing the police as they sifted through von Platen’s photo albums.
In the course of the investigation, several of the men who had posed for von Platen were questioned by the police. The photographer had kept close to the limit of the permissible. He had not photographed anyone in the nude (although such images could be seen in the background or as attributes), neither did he appear to have violated any of his models or paid for their modelling. He had, however, made detailed notes of their names and titles, which made it easy for the police to find witnesses, except among the servicemen photographed in von Platen’s home, all of whom are anonymous, most likely in order to protect them and to protect von Platen himself. At the turn of the 19th century, it was quite common for young recruits in Stockholm to eke out their meagre income by prostitution. In other words, the depicted young men in uniform in von Platen’s collection could have been prostitutes. On the other hand, the military uniform could, by itself, point to this possibility, as an innuendo.
Other costumes used by von Platen for his photo sessions were the Neopolitan fisherman’s outfit, the Scottish shepherd’s outfit with a kilt, and the Arabian tunic shirt, the toaba. Also, silky cabaret dresses were to be found in the pictures. The female and the erotic were thus represented in the early homoerotic pictorial language. Clothes that suggested that the male model was naked underneath the loosely-fitted costume seemed to have titillated von Platen’s imagination.
Charges of indecency were brought against Carl von Platen at the Stockholm city court, based on the police investigation that was completed on December 19, 1903. But Carl von Platen’s father pre-empted the court by having his son pronounced insane due to his homosexual inclination, and thus declared incapacitated. We do not know if the intention was to save his son from prison or his family from disgrace, but his move was successful. The family escaped being pilloried in court and Carl escaped the Långholmen prison. The fact that von Platen was declared incapacitated did not have an adverse effect on his upper-class lifestyle. After a sojourn at a nursing home, he continued his travels and his activities as a poet and a writer. We do not know of any more photographs than those confiscated by the Stockholm police. Nevertheless, von Platen was arrested by the police a second time, 15 years later. This time in Malmö when he tried to kiss an elevator boy at the Kramer hotel.
Translation from Swedish: Hans Olsson.
Photographs: Carl von Platen
Patrik Steorn, “Nakna män – Maskulinitet och kreativitet i svensk bildkultur [Male Nudes – Masculinity and Creativity in Swedish Image Culture] 1900-1915”, 2006
Göran Söderström, “Sympatiens hemlighetsfulla makt: Stockholms homosexuella [The Secret Power of Sympathy – Stockholm Homosexuals] 1860-1960”, 1999 .