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Thursday 10 November 2016

Chris Brickell's latest treasure

Posted in: Books
By Jacqui Stanford - 1st October 2014

Chris Brickell’s beautiful new work looks at gay men in the 40s, 50s and 60s. As well as love affairs on active duty, nude sunbathing, gossip and long-term relationships he finds men who may just have laid the foundations for our own gay liberation.

You only need to glance at previous works Mates and Lovers, Two-by-Two: Men in Pairs and Manly Affections to understand Brickell is something of a treasure hunter.

He loves to dig for stories and pictures from times that we may not necessarily realise were incredibly interesting for our communities.

He’s struck gold again with Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures, which offers up more than 200 images from the 40s, 50s and 60s.

All images from Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures

The book is basically a set of three private collections of materials from three gay men who all knew each other. Along with the many glorious photos, there are letters, a war diary, an autograph book from a gay man in a conscientious objectors camp and interviews from a biography project.

Brickell says the middle of the 20th Century it was a time when gay culture grew rapidly in New Zealand, beginning with wartime connections.

“One of the things which turned up was a gay man’s war diary. And in it he talks about his very passionate affair with another New Zealander when they were both stationed in New Caledonia. I’ve got one of these guy’s photos and material in there out of his war diaries which talks about that relationship.”

All images from Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures

He says the diary plugs a gap that his seminal work Mates and Lovers left open, as does the content from the 50s which looks at “the physique culture beefcake moment” that has been explored quite a lot in the American context. “If you like, the forerunner to gay gym culture,” he explains.

Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures looks at the relationship between gay New Zealand men and their international counterparts, Brickell says, through images of sunbathing, physique culture and body magazines.

He says the content has allowed him to build up quite a detailed picture of gay men’s friendship groups during the middle of the 20th Century and think about how they laid the foundations for the gay liberation that came a bit later.

In a chapter called New Worlds he looks at how the social circles they had established carried through the years of HIV emergence and law reform.

“Through tracing the threads of that modern era of ‘gay liberation’ and tracing back through to more or less the Second World War and doing a bit of tying together,” he says.

“And also making a little suggestion that perhaps that the groundwork for gay liberation was laid by a group of men whose histories go back quite a lot further back than the 1970s.”

All images from Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures

Southern Men: Gay Lives in Pictures is out now for $44.95, from the very best independent bookshops, and First edition limited to 120 signed and numbered copies.

Jacqui Stanford - 1st October 2014

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