PRINT May 1996


FLIPPING THROUGH A RECENT pictorial by Terry Richardson in Details, this is what I saw: young men at odds with the poses their bodies struck. Not unhappy, not shy, just unsure. One model, pitched forward, tucks his hand into the waistband of his pants, mimicking a pose he saw in a magazine: it’s exciting to see someone looking like they’re about to fall out of the frame. From four pages of mod black and white that deflate Christopher Makos’ pumped-up youths, Richardson switches to color. Two guys, one with Andy Gibb hair, look like Dennis Cooper memories of Larry Clark teens. Prom night. A money-green tie marries well with the rosy lips of a virgin out to get lucky.

At 30, Richardson has shot ads for Levi’s and Katherine Hamnett and editorials for Vibe, iD, and The Face; shooting for Arena, he was the only photographer backstage at John Bartlett’s last show. Richardson’s post–new wave view unfolds through a fragmented mélange of static poses, and fits of seemingly unchoreographed preening. Mixing up the documentary, the snapshot, Kenneth Anger, and Robert Mapplethorpe, Richardson moves in and out of fashion, at times meticulously alert to the commercialism of his endeavor, at others, lost in the magnification of his own world.

In a Hamnett ad, a hiked-up dress reveals a white-pantied crotch, unairbrushed; the crucial stray hairs mark Richardson’s desire to re-frame fashion’s hermetically sealed ideal. In a spread for iD, Richardson’s favorite model Nicki Uberti throws her broad-shouldered frame around inside a lamé bodysuit. Her hair and everything is golden as her smile rips into the pretense of the garment. The following page showcases a liquid brunette straddling a toilet seat, her breasts evaporating beneath a “nude” bodice. Picturing these models together in the backseat of a taxi, the photographer makes sure we notice that the arms of the brunette, which wrap around her blonde prize, are dusted in downy brown hair. Virility, comedic or otherwise, these pictures assert, is equally the property of women.

Bartlett, four years into his own label, is also an avid constructor of trans-sexy. He has used “manly” girls as models and plans to produce a line of menswear for women. For his fall ’96 show, however, Machismo’s swan song “Each man kills the thing he loves . . . ” ushered only “real” men onto the fake bearskin runway. Every model was dressed in a conglomeration of nostalgias: bell-bottoms that button up the side, blindingly white suits, and tight bomber jackets that suggest the heavy trade of the former West Berlin. Bartlett likes Genet’s Querelle, but he loves Fassbinder’s Brad Davis. Brick shithouse Brad, who carried his crotch like it was a wheelbarrow full of tree trunks. Straight Brad’s sailor who knew how to turn heads and bend over in tight pants that ran up and chased his ass. Bartlett’s clothes are those clothes. Dock-prowling uniforms that advertise the wearer’s assets in a way typically reserved for women’s fashion. Nice tits under sheer shirts tucked into flat front pants, tight on the thigh and flared at the boot. Solemn and cartoonish, Bartlett’s apparitions of bygone beefcake are inspired by images from the ambiguous ’70s “entertainment” ’zine Afterdark. This rarefied macho of underground Euro discos and expensive hustle is signified as much by intensely sculpted sideburns and mustaches as by polyester that puckers just where you want it to. Beyond gay or straight, Bartlett’s presentation unveils only to veil the essence of hypermasculinity. The sentimental theatricality of his line led Richardson, in his shoot for Artforum, to revision the banished interludes these clothes conjure.

Collier Schorr is an editor of Frieze and a frequent contributor to Artforum.