Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor Love

Courtesy of Indiana University
While selecting some images of vintage military men for my previous Memorial Day post, my eyes lingered for a few moments on this picture of two sailors kissing. I wondered if it was an actual vintage photo or if, perhaps, it was a more contemporary photo made to look vintage. I surprised when looked into this image. I found a whole lot more than I expected!

This picture looked vaguely familiar to me. In 1988 an artist collective, Gran Fury, in association with ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) started producing social protest art about the AIDS pandemic. I was peripherally involved in the Cleveland ACT-UP chapter and later participated in some protests with the group in NYC.

No wonder this image looked familiar. It was one of the most iconic works of art that Gran Fury made--I probably saw it a hundred or more times when I was in my early 20s. 

If you want to do some deep research, check out this New York Times article When Political Art Mattered, visit the New York Public Library and explore their Grand Fury collection, and read this review of a Gran Fury art exhibition at NYU.

This isn't the end of our journey in this history of this image of two sailors kissing. The original image was displayed at an exhibition at the Kinsey Institute Art Gallery on the Indiana University campus in Bloomington. As part of an exhibit called Love and War, the original image leaves no mystery about the feelings these two sailors had for each other. Read a review of the exhibition here

The original image is handsome and sexy, erotic and tender. It's also NSFW, so you'll have to journey to my Tumblr page to see the original version.

I still don't know when, where, or why the image was produced. I've emailed the curator at the Kinsey Gallery to see if she has any additional information. If I learn more, I'll update this post.

For more images of vintage men and their relationships (some gay, some straight) visit: Two Men and Their DogAdam and Steve in the Garden of Eden: On Intimacy Between MenA Man and His DogThe Beasts of West PointVintage Men: Innocence Lost | The Photography of William GedneyIt's Only a Paper Moon;Vintage Gay America: Crawford BartonThese Men Are Not Gay | This Is Not A Farmer | DisfarmerDesire and Difference: Hidden in Plain SightCome Make Eyes With Me Under the Anheuser BushHugh Mangum: Itinerant PhotographerTwo men, Two PosesPhotos are Not Always What They Seem,Vintage Sailors: An Awkward RealizationThree Men on a HorseWelkom Bar: Vintage Same Sex MarriagePretty in Pink: Two Vintage Chinese MenMemorial Day Surprise: Vintage Sailor LoveMemorial Day: Vintage Dancing SailorsThe Curious Case of Two Men EmbracingThey'll Never Know How Close We WereVintage Love: Roger Miller Pegram,Manly Affections: Robert GantHomo Bride and Groom Restored to DignityThe Men in the TreesThe Girl in the OuthouseTommy and Buzz: All My Love,Men in Photo Booths, and Invisible: Philadelphia Gay Wedding c. 1957. You can also follow me on Tumblr.

Hi Jason,

Thanks for contacting me about the photograph of the kissing sailors from World War II.  We have several photographs from that shoot, which was done in San Diego by an unknown photographer.  I learned more about the images when someone from ACT UP contacted me a couple of years ago.  He said that one of the men in the photo saw the Gran Fury poster and contacted the ACT UP office to let them know that he and his boyfriend were the men in the image.  They were sailors in WWII who were approached by a photographer and invited to pose for him.  They then shipped out and never saw the photographer again.  This man had no idea that the photographs had been distributed until he saw the ACT UP campaign using the cropped version of one of the photos.  The full story is given in the catalog for the show "Gran Fury: Read My Lips" that was held in NY last year: 

With best wishes,


Catherine Johnson-Roehr
Curator, The Kinsey Institute
Indiana University

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