New York

Johnny Alterman and Jeff Gates

Photograph Gallery/Robert Samuel Gallery

The art of the fin de siècle is marked by a tendency for the artist to withdraw from the world. Romanticism was degenerating into narcissism; the artist became a self-regarding esthete, a sensibility too fine for the vulgar age in which he or she lived. Since few people like to live in utter solitude, though, male artists whether heterosexual or homosexual usually tried to take with them in their retreat a companion, a lover, a soul mate to help while away the hours. Having rejected or shut themselves off from all other subject matter, artists concentrated on these companions as their only subjects. Sometimes a single lover/subject couldn’t provide diversion enough. A whole harem was brought in. The ivory tower became a bower of bliss.

This mixture of the esthetic, the ascetic, and the erotic was most fashionable at the moment when photographers first began thinking of their work as art.

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