Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Exhumation of Bobbi Campbell (28 Jan 1952-15 Aug 1984)

Bobbi Campbell at 1983 SF Pride :: I can hardly be the first person to have been warmed by the angelic light of Bobbi Campbell, a soulfire extinguished two decades ago. Disarmingly handsome, Bobbi blazed for us a trail with the single-minded determination to make it safer for his brothers even as the world was about to enter its darkest hours with the onset of the AIDS plague.

I ached for him the first time I read Bobbi's words while browsing through some random items at the San Francisco gay archives (GLBT Historical Society) last week, just a few days after Valentine's. He'd written them for the June 1982 SF Pride Guide. It contained a warning, a haunting but gentle cry uttered as the terrible long night was about to descend upon us all: "Slow down. Take care of yourself". Bobbi Campbell already had AIDS at a time when no one knew what it was. He would live, at a frantic pace, to see but two more Pride Days.

Have you ever felt someone's ghost standing at your side, with his hand on your shoulder, and you can almost feel his warm breath on the nape of your neck? That afternoon in the archives I knew I had stumbled upon someone very special who I simply had to learn more about. Bobbi was only three years older than me and, at first blush, he seemed like a number of men I knew in my own early activist days in Toronto working as a volunteer at the The Body Politic.

"It was 20 years ago today ..."

How many of us are still alive who remember the Bobbi of flesh and blood? A registered nurse, and an early member of the drag troupe Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, there remain traces of his life story lingering on the net. Unlike others who survived the plague years, or lived on for some time - time enough for memoirs or artistic accomplishments -- Bobbi was taken from us in late 1984 -- much, much too soon.

Barely three years before Bobbi's death, reporter Lawrence K. Altman wrote a story in the Friday July 3, 1981 edition of the New York Times: "Rare Cancer Seen in 41 Homosexuals".

Doctors in New York and California have diagnosed among homosexual men 41 cases of a rare and often rapidly fatal form of cancer. Eight of the victims died less than 24 months after the diagnosis was made.

The cause of the outbreak is unknown, and there is as yet no evidence of contagion. But the doctors who have made the diagnoses, mostly in New York City and the San Francisco Bay area, are alerting other physicians who treat large numbers of homosexual men to the problem in an effort to help identify more cases and to reduce the delay in offering chemotherapy treatment.

The sudden appearance of the cancer, called Kaposi's Sarcoma, has prompted a medical investigation that experts say could have as much scientific as public health importance because of what it may teach about determining the causes of more common types of cancer. But in the recent cases, doctors at nine medical centers in New York and seven hospitals in California have been diagnosing the condition among younger men, all of whom said in the course of standard diagnostic interviews that they were homosexual. Although the ages of the patients have ranged from 26 to 51 years, many have been under 40, with the mean at 39.

In a letter alerting other physicians to the problem, Dr. Alvin E. Friedman-Kien of New York University Medical Center, one of the investigators, described the appearance of the outbreak as " rather devastating." According to Dr. Friedman-Kien, the reporting doctors said that most cases had involved homosexual men who have had multiple and frequent sexual encounters with different partners, as many as 10 sexual encounters each night up to four times a week.

Bobbi Campbell Kissed by His Lover - 1981 :: By September, Bobbi became the 16th person in San Francisco to be diagnosed with Kaposi's. This relatively rare cancer usually appeared first in violet-coloured spots on the legs but these new cases showed up anywhere on the body. They did not itch or cause other symptoms, often could be mistaken for bruises, sometimes appeared as lumps and could turn brown after a period of time. The cancer often caused swollen lymph glands, and then killed by spreading throughout the body. Doctors investigating the outbreak believed that many cases had gone undetected because of the rarity of the condition and the difficulty even dermatologists had in diagnosing it.

What Bobbi and his doctors didn't know yet was that Kaposi's, and a rare pneumonia called Pneumocystis, were merely symptoms of something else soon to be recognized as far more terrifying. In time for Hallowe'en, Bobbi distributed pamphlets about the new "gay cancer" at a Castro pharmacy urging caution for the community. When he made his public declaration that he was stricken with this new scary disease in the December 10th edition of the San Francisco Sentinel, he became known as the "KS Poster Boy". From that moment on, till he drew his last breath, Bobbi was dedicated to raising awareness around the disease which would claim a generation of our brothers and change the course of the sex-and-drug liberation which had been launched a half-generation earlier.

Early in 1982, he began a column in the Sentinel in which he openly discussed his health, his ongoing experiences and pointed to resources for others. He began sporting a button that boldly commanded: "SURVIVE". A few blocks away, writer, composer and one-time intern to Tennessee Williams, Dan Turner was diagnosed in February and, at the suggestion of his doctor, Marcus Conant, shortly after met with Bobbi. They developed an instant rapport and, in Dan's home in the hills above the Castro district, the seed of what was to become People With AIDS San Francisco had been planted. But most importantly, Bobbi and Dan focussed on the concept of PWA self-empowerment itself. It would become their greatest legacy and an incalculable gift to us all. Bobbi was determined not to become a victim; he would live his life to the fullest and with the fullest dignity.

Yet even as young men were dying in San Francisco and New York at alarming rates, doctors still didn't know what was wrong. Whispers of "gay cancer" and "gay pneumonia" slowly gave way to the ugly term "GRID" -- Gay Related Immune Deficiency. (Researchers in France were known to voice out loud their astonishment than anyone in the US could believe a disease had a sexual preference.) It wouldn't be until a meeting at the Centers for Disease Control on January 4, 1983 that the more neutral Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) was embraced.

Some politicians were being roused to action and on April 13, 1982 Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca), chairman of the Congressional subcommittee on Health and the Environment, held a first-of-its-kind hearing at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Community Services Center. Waxman hoped to raise political awareness, bring in media attention, and underscore the depth of the crisis for the relatively new Reagan administration. As expected, a number of established health bureaucrats spoke; but both Bobbi Campbell and Marcus Conant testified as well.

Waxman had grasped the seriousness of the situation even at this early stage and appealed for funding from the Federal government. "I want to be especially blunt about the political aspects of Kaposi's Sarcoma," Rep. Waxman said. "This horrible disease afflicts members of one of the nation's most stigmatized and discriminated against minorities."

"There is no doubt in my mind," Waxman continued, "that if the same disease had appeared among Americans of Norwegian descent, or among tennis players, rather than among Gay males, the responses of the government and the medical community would have been different."

Dr. Bruce A. Chabner, acting director of the National Cancer Institute's Division of Cancer Treatment, disagreed saying the National Cancer Institute had sufficient funds to research the new ailments and asserted that Kaposi's sarcoma has received a "tremendous" amount of attention from the medical community during the past year.

"Advancements in research in this area will have a profound effect on research into all cancers," Chabner said. "Thirteen papers have already been written on the subject." And with those words, and the concurring sentiments of others in the medical and political establishment, the fate of so many was sealed. Gay males for now would be acceptable research fodder for cancers in general. There would be no special funding for research, care or prevention. The afflicted class didn't matter. It would be five more years before President Reagan uttered the word "AIDS" in public.


Turner at Candelight Vigil - c1983 :: Marcus Conant and Cleve Jones were among the organizers of the Kaposi's Sarcoma Research & Education Foundation created in April to educate the public about KS. It was Jones who encouraged Dan to join Bobbi and speak out publicly.

Following Bobbi's lead, Dan chose the occasion of the late Harvey Milk's birthday on May 22 at a rally on the closed streets of the Castro. His message contained three points: "Stay informed. Be cautious, but not paranoid. Be supportive." It was the start of his own journey of activism to which he dedicated enormous time, energy and love. At the time of his death, in 1990 at age 42, Dan was celebrated as the oldest surviving diagnosed AIDS patient.

(Another noted writer, Daniel Curzon, was a frequent collaborator of Turner's and delivered "The Monster in the Wood" at his friend's funeral. It is an angry, defiant, and yet hopeful tribute -- fitting for the lives of both Dan and Bobbi.)

A month later, buried in the closing pages of the 1982 SF Pride Guide, Bobbi's words rang out in an article entitled "What's it like to have Kaposi's sarcoma? It's a bummer." His plea follows in its entirety.

It's a bummer being thirty years old and having cancer. It's a bummer seeing friends stricken and die. It's a bummer going through the medical procedures that doctors use to diagnose and treat cancer. It's a bummer running up a medical bill into tens of thousands of dollars. It's a bummer not knowing what caused this cancer or if I can be cured.

Now, I'm a lucky guy in many ways. I don't feel sick. My cancer hasn't spread. I still function pretty much normally.

Also, I have a good support system -- a lover, a therapist, understanding parents, lots of friends. I have health insurance and disability insurance.

Even so, sometimes I get real depressed. This thing could kill me -- it killed two friends of mine, and hundreds of other brothers that I don't know personally. I don't want you to get it, too.

Are you thinking, "This can't happen to me"? I didn't think it could happen to me, either. But it did.

The main thing that underlies KS, and the other, related illnesses, is that the patient's immune system (how one fights off disease) has somehow weakened. No one knows for sure why this is happening. It is likely that immune suppression may be very widespread in urban gay communities.

How can you protect yourself? Well, I don't want to sound moralistic, but frequent use of " recreational drugs" lowers your immunity. So, too, does having sex with lots of different partners -- besides sharing good times you're also likely sharing all kinds of germs.

If your sex-and-drug lifestyle is in the fast lane, slow down. Take care of yourself.

Yes, it's your business, and only you can decide. But I want you all to be around for next year's Parade and Celebration! And the next ...

Bobbi Campbell in SF Pride Guide - June 1982 :: In the picture accompanying the Pride Guide column, the youthful, moustachioed activist smiles impishly at us, eyes twinkling, despite the severity of his message. It may be a key to why he was so effective: direct, yet gently non-judgemental.

In 1979, at the First Spiritual Conference for Radical Faeries Gathering in Arizona, two men performed in nun's habits and in doing so hatched the idea of a theatrical group later called The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. By the time of the health crisis in early 1982, and in his guise as Sister Florence Nightmare, Bobbi joined the troupe and co-authored the first SF safer-sex manual, "Play Fair!", written in plain sex-positive language, offering practical advice and adding an element of humour. In these early days, the full gloom of the AIDS disaster had not yet struck our community.

A year later, Bobbi and Dan helped organize the 1st AIDS Candlelight Vigil on May 2, 1983 proclaiming starkly the words "Fighting For Our Lives" on a 20 foot long banner. And while there was a lot going on in San Francisco, activists were being created in the other, bigger AIDS hotspot, New York City. As part of the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference planned for Denver, organizers were co-sponsoring the Second National AIDS Forum. The work Bobbi was doing on the West Coast was just barely on the radar screen -- something hard to imagine in today's Internet world -- and spread largely through outdated copies of the Sentinel. Suddenly it occurred to the organisers that AIDS patients ought to be at the conference participating, not just listening. It was a turning point.

Rick Berkowitz is the only surviving member of the group of PWAs which included: from SF -- Bobbi Campbell, Dan Turner, Bobby Reynolds; from NYC -- Phil Lanzaratta, Michael Callen, Rick Berkowitz, Artie Felson, Bill Burke, Bob Cecchi, Matthew Sarner, Tom Nasrallah; from LA -- Gar Traynor; and two others whose names are lost. These heroes, along with about 400 other conference delegates, spent June 9-13, 1983 making history midway between the nation's two "ground zeros".

In 1997 Rick recalled in a poignant essay entitled The Way We War:

We came to Denver as sick people and left as activists. The friendships and romances forged kept us alive and fighting for years to come and, of course, made the deaths terrible to bear. We marched in parades, testified before legislatures, started newsletters and hot lines, organized PWA coalitions. Against a barrage of medical reports that an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence and media images of PWAs as disfigured monsters, we gave the most stigmatized disease of our time a human face.

Bobbi Campbell, a San Francisco nurse, was the first person ever to go public as a PWA. Along with Dan Turner, Campbell founded People With AIDS San Francisco, the first organization of its kind, and organized the first AIDS candlelight vigil, leading a march with a 20-foot red banner that read FIGHTING FOR OUR LIVES. At the same time, a handful of gay men with AIDS in New York City was meeting in a weekly support group, with Michael Callen as its queen mother.

In Denver, the two cadres immediately clashed. The New Yorkers were uneasy about how the men from San Francisco kept hugging and holding one another and taking time for spiritual reflection -- a far cry from our tendency to complain, yell and curse. But our differences went deeper than style. We argued over treatment approaches (holistic or mainstream), the cause of AIDS (single agent or multiple infections) and, most fiercely, the connection between promiscuity, STDs and immune deficiency (a theory advocated by New York but denounced as homophobic by San Francisco).

One night at dinner, Michael Callen suddenly asked, "Who here knows how to take two dicks at once?" Opinions flew as Michael picked up two spoons and demonstrated his own technique. But, in fact, it was a trick question intended to reveal exactly what, other than AIDS, the 11 of us had in common: We were all sluts. By accepting the role of promiscuity in the development of AIDS, as personally painful and politically provocative as it was, Michael told us we could lead the way in protecting the gay community by promoting and having safer sex. For 11 men made to feel like lepers while aching more than ever for affection, this was a revelation.

Michael Callen - 

1980s :: It was a very powerful, empowering notion: we are not victims. (Michael Callen, another remarkably talented artist/activist, co-authored with Dan Turner a more extended version of the events of the conference that is worth reading.) Importantly, not only did they insist that the phrase "People With AIDS" (or PWAs) sink in with the health professionals attending, but the group created "The Denver Principles" which became something of a Charter of Human Rights for PWAs.

These included:

We recommend that all people:

Support us in our struggle against those who would fire us from our jobs, evict us from our homes, refuse to touch us or separate us from our loved ones, our community or our peers, since available evidence does not support the view that AIDS can be spread by casual, social contact.

We recommend that people with AIDS:

Substitute low-risk sexual behaviours for those that could endanger themselves or their partners. We feel that people with AIDS have an ethical responsibility to inform their potential sexual partners of their health status.

People with AIDS have the right:

To as full and satisfying sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.

To quality medical treatment and quality social service provision without discrimination of any form based on sexual orientation, gender, diagnosis, economic status, or race.

To privacy, to confidentiality of medical records, to human respect, and to choose who their significant others are.

To die and to LIVE in dignity.

Bobbi Campbell at SF Pride March 1 - 1983-06-24 :: Bobbi headed to New York directly after the conference and brainstormed with several of his new friends and colleagues on how to launch a national People With AIDS organization. AIDS was increasingly appearing in the mainstream press and this year the theme of June 1983 SF Pride was People With AIDS. Ever ready to lead, Bobbi had an "AIDS Poster Boy" t-shirt made for his appearances at Pride, to the delight of friends and onlookers.

For those of us living in large cities with visible gay populations -- such as Toronto in my case -- we were following the news with alarm and confusion. But for all of the talk in our community, it was still at least a year before the mainstream public "got it": that was when the gaunt, death -like grimace of Rock Hudson was splashed across the tabloids, newspapers, magazines and television sets the first week of October, 1985.

So when brave Bobbi Campbell and his lover appeared on the front cover of Newsweek on August 8, 1983, it was news! The cover story shrieked: "EPIDEMIC: The Mysterious and Deadly Disease Called AIDS May Be the Public Health Threat of the Century. How Did it Start? Can it Be Stopped?". In a sense, Bobbi was our human face on AIDS: a good looking, optimistic, undefeatable man who spoke plainly and compassionately and urgently on our behalf. Just as we had cheered when Leonard Matlovich, the Air Force Sergeant who came out as gay in 1975 and made the cover of Time, this was our moment to share with Bobbi. We were listening, even if hetero America, and the politicians, and the wealthy celebrity class were just as determinedly burying their heads in the sands intoning nervously "gay disease, can't touch me".

For almost the next year Bobbi drops out of sight on the net. I don't know if he was ferociously active or suffering bouts of ongoing illness. I haven't been able to verify if he even made it to 1984 SF Pride. I did discover that, in an ironic twist, Bobbi had moved into the same apartment previously occupied by Ken Horne -- the first man to be reported to the CDC infected with (what was later termed) AIDS -- and San Francisco's first AIDS casualty. But Bobbi did make two last important public appearances.

Bobbi Campbell & Andrew Small Kissing in Kitchen - 1983-06-25 :: First, at the Rally for Gay Rights on July 16, 1984 outside the Moscone Center where the Democratic National Convention was taking place. Inside, Mario Cuomo made the most impassioned speech of his career while the delegates chose a doomed slate of Walter Mondale and Geraldine Ferraro. Outside, Bobbi was joined by 100,000 marchers demanding that the next group of elected politicians heed the dire health situation which by this time was sweeping through all major cities.

The Los Angeles Times writer Harvey Weinstein called the rallies (a second one that day included 150,000 unionists) "stirring". He reported:

One of the principal demands of the march was "immediate and massive federal funding to end the AIDS epidemic," a reference to acquired immune deficiency syndrome, a disease that has struck many gay men. "AIDS is the issue," said Bobbi Campbell, who is afflicted with the disease.

The Democratic platform includes a plank calling for more federal money to combat AIDS and several other positions advocated by gays and lesbians, including an end to job and housing discrimination against them.

But, civil rights lawyer Mary Dunlap and co-chairman of the march said: "We have to do more than be visible and have the Democrats pat us on the head. Achieving our goals will be harder work than all this."

Near day's end, Bill Olwell, vice president of the United Food and Commercial Workers, the highest ranking union official who is a publicly declared gay, linked the two events in a speech to the gay rally.

"This morning, I marched up Market Street with tens of thousands of my labour brothers and sisters demanding an end to the Reagan Administration," Olwell said. "This afternoon, I marched down Market Street with tens of thousands of my gay brothers and lesbian sisters demanding the same justice and equality and an end to the same repressive Reagan policies. This is what today is all about."

It was all for nought in the end as the Mondale-Ferraro ticket was crushed and Reagan sailed blithely and silently into a second term. Even the death of his friend Rock Hudson, a year later, did not move him to speak publicly about AIDS before 1987.

Two weeks later, on August 2, 1984, Bobbi appeared on the CBS Evening News in a remote interview live with Dan Rather. Fighting to the end, his words of inspiration allowed him to overcome the indignity of the circumstance. He was placed in a glassed in booth and the technicians refused to come near him to wire him for the interview. The rumours, and fears had reached the mainstream audience, but not the facts: AIDS was not easily communicable.

Two weeks later again, on August 15, the angel that was Bobbi Campbell, died.

Aids Quilt - 

Bobbi Campbell :: The 1985 SF Pride was dedicated in his honour and the ongoing third Sunday in May AIDS Candlelight Vigils feature an award in his name as an AIDS Hero. The uplifting, life-affirming work he did to found the PWA self-empowerment movement, and to insist on the dignity of gay men and women everywhere, is a debt we all share.

Afterword: I believe Bobbi Campbell was a true Aquarius child.

According to the stars, he had a talent for anticipating future trends, an inventive mind which gave rise to successful leadership. His flexibility made it possible to accept new circumstances and move forward where others faltered. He was best understood by other creative people and by those who appreciated an inventive sense of humour. As an Aquarian he made a good friend because he rarely judged anyone harshly.

I did not know Bobbi except from what I have read of his words and deeds and those of fated ones who shared part of his journey. I would have been bursting with pride to call him my friend. Perhaps, sweet Bobbi, we'll meet next time round.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Poetry and Innocence: Life in Sepia Tones

Sicilian Youth with Flowers (detail) c1900 - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: The last few days I have found myself mesmerized by the life and times -- and mainly by the extant photographic artifacts -- of the astonishing Wilhelm von Gloeden. Thriving in the late Victorian and early Edwardian era, he was a pioneer photographer of nude adolescents, whose influence on the visual artistic community at the turn-of-the-20th-century, cannot be understated. While many of his photographs were known in postcards from the charming and sleepy Sicilian seaside village Taormina, Gloeden in fact made something on the order of 7000 images, mainly in the period 1890 - 1914. They are heart-warming, erotic, compelling, haunting, captivating ....

As music is never far from my thoughts, I can't help but keep humming The Pet Shop Boys' Being Boring whose opening lyric resonates with Wilhelm's story:

I came across a cache of old photos And invitations to teenage parties "Dress in white" one said, with quotations From someone's wife, a famous writer In the nineteen-twenties When you're young you find inspiration In anyone who's ever gone And opened up a closing door She said: "We were never feeling bored"
If there are occasional scholarly lapses in this post, please forgive me: everything I learned I learned on the net. :-)

This story has many different threads in it: male lovers, orgies, community tolerance, church and political repression, war, poverty, outrageous success, celebrities, and, not least, a life which constantly raises issues of public and private sexual expression.

Self-Portrait as Arab Nobleman - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: Wilhelm was born in northern Germany 16 September 1856 of royal blood (he was, in fact, a baron). It makes him an almost direct contemporary of Vincent van Gogh, Gustav Mahler, Giacomo Puccini, Sigmund Freud and George Bernard Shaw; no doubt had he stayed in Germany he would have settled in the artistic communities of Vienna, Berlin or Paris -- and hung out with Gustav Klimt, Alban Berg and Arthur Schnizler.

But it was not to be. The young man fell ill with tuberculosis and had to abandon his university studies. On the advice of doctors and friends, he traveled to Italy for a rest cure. At the age of 22, he arrived in Taormina and immediately fell in love -- with the countryside, with the townsfolk, with the local boys, and with one boy in particular: Pancrazio Bucini. With an eight or ten year age difference, the two remained forever devoted to one another, even beyond the death of Wilhelm in 1931.

Wilhelm had a natural painter's eye and had studied art history, and then the craft of painting. His father died when he was young and his mother re-married (another baron), Wilhelm Joachim von Hammerstein who was a well-known, and well-to-do, journalist. The step-father provided Wilhelm the means to live in some splendour in Sicily. It wasn't long before the painter became photographer -- in the early 1880s something exotic and looked down upon as an artistic medium. However the painter made this medium his own and, at first, made memorable -- and saleable -- pictures of the surrounding countryside, including the famous Mount Etna which appears in a number of his later pictures.

Clothed Youth with Vase (detail) c1900 - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: But all this was really nothing more than the expressions of a dilettante who, though art was his hobby, turned his social life into an art. The parties, and the generosity Wilhelm was able to spread to the locals, not least of which included the lithe, adolescent peasant boys, quite literally spread the name "Taormina" far and wide. Single-handedly, von Gloeden turned a sleepy paradise into a thriving tourist destination, in particular for homosexual men.

It's remarkable that in the Victorian Age von Gloeden's fame spread so rapidly. His images first appeared in magazines and soon galleries throughout Europe began to feature his works. By 1893, the artist's fame had won him awards in Europe, not only for his work as landscape photographer, but for his stagings of classical settings and even for his growing interest in nude photography which was almost exclusively focused on adolescent males. A cousin, Wilhelm (Gulgielmo) Pluchow, as it turns out, was also in Italy, also working as a photographer and soon the two Wilhelms were co-producing nude male pictures.

A third photographer with a similar style, Vincenzo Galdi, joined the two Wilhelms in founding a sub-artform of its own. However, it was von Gloeden's eye for soul of the subject which his artistic companions rarely captured; Galdi's work, in fact, slips easily into pornography, something that few of von Gloeden's works do, however explicit in subject matter they may be.

Three young men overlooking a low wall - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: When the political fortunes of his step-father changed, Wilhelm found himself in near-poverty. His sister had come to live with him and with the cut-off of his stipend, the servants were laid off and a lavish lifestyle came crashing to an end. But Bucini, who had first joined the household as a houseboy, remained on, finding jobs off the estate to pay for the needs of his mentor and lover. The community, too, did not turn its back on von Gloeden who, in better times, had been very generous. It was time to turn art into business and, on the basis of his fame, Wilhelm was able to begin selling postcards of his photographs, as well as individual prints, to the tourists who continued to arrive in ever greater numbers. It wasn't long before Wilhelm was again thriving and living a lavish existence.

By 1900, Wilhelm's Taormina estate had been visited by a number of world celebrities, not least of which were Oscar Wilde and Alexander Graham Bell (who took away a number of original prints which later were published in the October 1916 edition of the National Geographic). André Gide came to stay for a while penning his famous "The Immoralist" inspired by his stay at resort town. King Edward VII stayed at the von Gloeden estate; as did composer Richard Strauss, the King of Siam, celebrated French author Anatole France, industrialist Alfred Krupp and many others.

Fortunately, while a homosexual scandal hit his cousin Pluchow, forcing him to return to Germany, von Gloeden was adored by, and ultimately protected by, the locals. And nothing stopped the prolific photographer from creating, and distributing, image after image of male models, scantily clad and, more often unclad -- except for props such as sashes, flowers, leaves weaved into the hair, ancient columns, urns, and other paraphernalia evoking antiquity.

Two Youths on a Loveseat - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: It's not just the flaccid penises or firm buttocks which litter his output: there is magic in Wilhelm's vision which makes these images decidedly erotic rather than pornographic. The contrast to the depiction of male beauty in our own times couldn't be more striking: there is not a single young man whom you would described as "buffed" or "gym built". Nor, contrary to the writings of some observers, are many of the images particularly "androgynous": the masculinity of the models in unmistakable, quite apart from the genitalia; this is not the art of gender-bending. And it is true that some of the models are younger than we are accustomed to viewing in our current puritanical climate. It is rare to find gratuitous nudity or raw sexuality in any of von Gloeden's images: the pictures invariably inspire, rather than titillate.

With the outbreak of WWI, Wilhelm, and his sister Sofia, were forced to return to Germany or stay in a camp in Italy as enemy aliens. During the five years away, the estate was managed by Bucini. With conscription, Bucini himself was forced into service but managed to be posted in his native town. At one point, letters from von Gloeden to "Il Moro" (The Moor), as Bucini was affectionately called, were intercepted and Bucini faced court-martial as a spy, charged with consorting with the enemy. But a silver-tongue -- which would come in handy years later -- convinced his superiors that Bucini was a loyal Sicilian. After a three-month gap, the correspondence between the lifelong partners resumed till the end of the war.

Seated Youth Playing Flute (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: For the remaining dozen years of his life, Wilhelm returned to his villa at Taormina and continued to make new images. The world had changed, as so many artists who were famous before 1914 discovered, and the taste for antiquities -- the "hook" in so many of his pictures -- became less desirable. On 16 February 1931, three months after the death of his sister, Wilhelm followed her to the grave; they are buried side-by-side in the local protestant cemetery.

Bucini, who had married and had children, inherited the estate and the vast picture collection and the surviving masters. In 1933, and again in 1936, the fascists, in collaboration with the Catholic church, charged Bucini with being a pornographer and seized most of the collection. In a passionate plea before the judges, Bucini insisted the work was art and included as evidence names of the many important people, and institutions, which held copies -- including his oppressors. He was acquitted but much of the collection had been destroyed, the remnants of which were not returned until after WWII. Bucini passed away in the 1950s but his descendants remain in Taormina to this day.

Clothed Youth Laying on Rock (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden :: It's difficult to estimate the exact output but a commonly held figure is around 7000 pictures. Of the 3000 glass masters and negatives seized by the authorities in the mid-30s, only 25% were returned intact. Substantial collections reside in the hands of the Florence firm Alinari; the Kinsey Institute claims 250; and smaller collections are prized by institutions and independent collectors. Currently, shows travel on all continents and still, occasionally, provoke controversy. A 1999 showing in Australia by the Martin Browne Fine Art gallery was threatened with potential closure after complaints to police by the Rev Fred Niles that the images constituted child abuse and pornography. However, no formal request was made and the exhibit, after a police visit, remained fully on view for the remainer of the scheduled exhibition.

In researching this piece, I have found almost 200 different images accredited to Wilhelm von Gloeden, in various states of quality. To be sure, a small screen image doesn't do justice to lighting, shading and detail of the originals, or even the copies of same. In a separate exhibit, I have created The Boys of Taormina, 22 images with captions which I invite you to visit and explore.

Von Gloeden - Youth Sitting Resting Hands on Face (detail) - Wilhelm von Gloeden One hundred years ago, the world was a far different place, and the pace of life much slower than today. It's hard to imagine the pace at which von Gloeden created his life, his art, largely unfettered by modern preoccupations. Where once the camera was a quiet, intelligent observer, in our age it is the despised paparazzi or the eye of big brother, not the friend, or even sensual lover which von Gloeden's images often conjure up. The last surviving boy model who exposed himself to the great photographer's lens, died in 1977, at the age of 87. It is accepted that all of the models were photographed willingly and many were paid handsomely in royalties, their descendants continuing to prosper as a result today. No harm was done then; how can there be any harm done by showing the images, savouring the male beauty, and reliving, however briefly, the halcyon heaven von Gloeden created for himself, his friends and lovers on the romantic seaside in the heart of the ancient world.

Friday, October 24, 2003

Marking Anniversaries: It Was Seven Years Ago Today

Percy Alexander Inglis (1922-1996), my dad, taken on my 41st birthday, in May 1996 :: My adopted dad, Percy (Ping) Alexander Inglis passed away suddenly on October 24, 1996. Today marks the seventh anniversary of his death. I am suddenly so terribly aware I have so few pictures ....

Below is the eulogy I delivered on at a local chapel in a gathering of about 100 friends and family, Sunday October 27th, 1996.

Tribute by son Alexander Inglis

Although "Inglis" is of Scottish origin, had it been an Indian name, I'm sure it would translate as "Still waters run deep". My dad personified this idea: he was a man of great strength and quiet dignity. He strode through life with a rare gentleness and distinction. And he was the quintessential devoted husband and father.

Dad loved to laugh and had a sly, wry sort of humour and a kind of quirky smile -- you could see his natural playfulness peeking through. That playfulness is evident in many pictures. This past summer, my mum and dad took a trip to Nova Scotia and returned to visit the place they originally met. During the trip, a snapshot was taken of dad sitting at table with an absolutely enormous lobster in his hands. That characteristic look of fun was captured to a tee.

As an unflagging optimist, he was always able to find the clear-headed view. Yet though he held some ideas strongly, I never heard him force his views on anyone. His quiet optimism emanated a self-assurance that easily put fears to rest that those around him might be feeling. A few days before Christmas one year, the family home caught fire and needed extensive repair. What might have been a hugely stressful experience for many, dad helped us treat as an adventure.

As an engineer, he had a rational, logical way of looking at the world. He was always to curious to know about new things and ideas. I always think of how calm he seemed to be most of the time. Growing up, especially as a young teenager, I certainly gave him reason to be angry and frustrated with me. Yet he was always understanding: it was a very rare moment in which he even raised his voice.

Dad loved to travel: it was part of his constant quest to learn new things. Mum and he had the opportunity to take a number of journeys to many parts of the world. Whether exploring some of the byways of Europe, the Middle East or travelling through Asia to see the Great Wall of China, he engaged his mind and heart to examine new ways of doing things.

My father was a man of relatively few words. If he didn't have something to say, he said nothing. He measured his words with some care and always waited for the right moment to share them. And dad was the last person to blow his own horn.

Love for his family was an absolute with dad. There was never a time - never a single moment - in which I didn't feel his unswerving, deep love for me. My sister and my mother, his partner for 50 years, knew that same love each day.

These days, to say someone is a "moral person" can have a pejorative twinge to it. My dad was a "moral person" in all the best senses: he knew what the right thing to do in a given situation was and he unfailingly did it. He led by example: he would never tell his children that "this is what you should do and it is what you will do". He was able to step back and let us fall on our faces, if necessary, but be there whenever he was needed.

My father always encouraged us to do the best at whatever felt right for us. My sister fell in love with horses at a young age; I developed a strong taste for music. He let us explore those things, with his encouragement and deeds. I don't think dad had a judgmental bone in his body. If neither of us aspired to become Prime Minister, he was content to know that we were happy in our own pursuits.

I have always admired dad's relationship with mum. Different personalities to be sure, they made a uniquely satisfying balance. One always knew how deeply they cared for each other, how deeply they shared each other. I have often commented over the years -- in wonderment -- that I never saw them have a major rift. Sure, all families have moments of disagreement. But as a couple, they always managed to find an easy consensus, a path both willingly went down. I know mum and dad have had an unusually satisfying time together. In my view, they are an ideal example of spiritual soulmates.

Although I've focused on the immediate family, dad had a solid group of friends. His quiet nature meant he didn't go out of his way to make new friends. Yet when he made them, there were strong bonds there, many of which lasted a lifetime. Years after selling the cottage home he built for us on Lake Kushog, he and mum remained in constant contact with the lake crowd. Other friends, made in school or during their time living in Niagara Falls in the early 50s, remain friends for life.

There are ways in which my father makes me think of him as the embodiment of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Rational, calm, always optimistic, joyful, a wise, quiet self-assurance, beautiful on the surface, and always so much more below -- "Still waters run deep in the sparkling sunshine."

Dad had the good fortune to remain amazingly healthy throughout his life, allowing him to enjoy his work, his family and most definitely his retirement. And even when the end came so early and so suddenly, in a graceful way which was so characteristic of him, dad gave us a few hours to adjust and make peace before passing on.

My father's spirit, which touched so many of us more deeply than he'll know, will live on in all of us for the rest of our days.

We'll miss you always, Dad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

Tuesdays with Tao: Six - Unending Fertility

A Doorway to the Way of Tao? :: Every Tuesday, I've been publishing one more chapter of my personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Despite being written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight. The opening chapter, The Essence of Tao, is here.

Occasionally the feminine is specifically invoked, in particular to clarify the role in the world of the masculine -- much of the Tao being illustrated in a yin-yang sort of way. But while the "eternal source" is likened to a womb, or flow from the legs of the mountains in a river valley, Tao itself is neither feminine nor masculine, and neither polarity has any more importance than the other. As will be pointed out repeatedly, strong/weak, sharp/blunt, white/black, male/female, day/night cannot exist without the other.

Six - Unending Fertility

In and beside a river, life flourishes.
Shrouded in eternal morning mist,
its source remains hidden,
but ever fertile, inexhaustible;
some call the source Valley Spirit.
Embrace the spirit, feel it inside, use it;
this primal "Mother River" of Tao never runs dry.

Comments welcome!

Monday, October 20, 2003

Magic Sparks: The Birth Moment of Creativity

Bart Howard, composer of Fly Me To The Moon :: The act of creation -- writing a poem for example -- is very much like giving birth: once issued, it grows, taking its own life beyond the control of the parent. Like a bird released into the sky, its owner can only watch, admire, worry ... and hope that the world treats it kindly. I've been thinking about what it's like for the creator at that moment of creation ....

Fly Me To The Moon, American songwriter Bart Howard's most memorable tune, was written in 1954. I don't know where he was or what he was doing when the inspiration hit -- humming in the shower? on a date with his beloved on a moonlit cruise? half buzzed in front of a dusty upright piano in a seedy rundown apartment as he feverishly puffed through a second pack of cigarettes and hadn't showered in three days? Or perhaps it was a standard commission and he calmly dashed off the few lines of the lyrics and quickly added the melody in a flash of "that's it, that's good", nodding and smiling as he set it aside to polish after lunch before sending it to his publisher in the afternoon post -- another productive morning for a commercially successful songster.

Fly me to the moon
And let me play among the stars
Let me see what spring is like
On Jupiter and Mars
In other words hold my hand
In other words darling kiss me

In those few moments of work for the human brain and heart -- Bart Howard, all alone in this case -- created a marvelous, memorable song which, surely, most people in the english-speaking world recognize instantly, like Lennon and MacCartney's plaintive Yesterday. How does someone touch the soul of so many with a few words, or a few sequences of musical tones, that were never quite put together that way before? What's the unique magic behind such creations which elude the millions (and billions) of other combinations of words or music?

Mona Lisa, by da Vinci c1503 and a playful hommage by Meyerowitz in 1971 When he painted it c1503, Leonardo da Vinci's modestly scaled portrait (a mere 21 x 30.5 inches, oil on wood) of a 24 year-old local noble woman, the expectation was that only a handful of people would ever have the opportunity to view it. But something took life in those brushstrokes the Italian laboured over exactly 500 years ago and countless reproductions since have brought the young lady's wistful smile to the attention of, literally, billions of people. An army of admirers has studied it, analysed it, poked it, prodded it, scanned it, scrapped it, touched it -- trying to figure out what makes the image so compelling. Even lampooning it has turned into a cottage industry; Rick Meyerowitz's Mona Gorilla from 1971 has in itself become a well-recognized image whose source of delight for the viewer stems directly from the playfulness of the original. Isn't it fascinating? We see the original in a new, and not a disparaged, light.

But, soft! what light through yonder window breaks?
It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.

... two lines among hundreds penned by Shakespeare, one of many evocative inspirations which all of us can recite (even though relatively few of us has ever seen the play live), which fell from the Bard's richly fevered imagination. In the movie Shakespeare in Love we caught a glimpse of what the young playwright might really have been up to when he drew from the ether his most memorable lines ... but of course we shall never know for sure. Man, as a species, can boast many collaborative creative accomplishments -- like cosmological myths (the stuff of sacred texts) or the construction of an engineering marvel like San Francisco's Golden Gate Bridge -- yet it is these solo acts of magic -- one man, one spark, one birth -- which I am most interested in. What do you suppose Handel was doing the day he wrote down "For unto us a child is born" or JS Bach dashed off the "Goldberg Variations"? While all of us have felt that visionary spark -- a special "aha!" -- in our own lives, and our own creations, how many of us have stumbled upon something bigger? Did John Donne recognize the impact of what he just wrote down when "No man is an island, entire of itself" slipped past a shakey quill clutched by his inky stained fingers?

AA Milne's beloved Winnie The Pooh as drawn by Ernest H Shepard :: Creativity is not unique to the arts of course. e=mc2 is as familiar to us as any line of poetry and it is an incredible stroke of insight -- but how many of us have any idea what it really means? It doesn't touch us; it doesn't make one's heart smile (although to a physicist his intellect may break out in a knowing grin). Creativity needs a context, something to give the words, or music, or images a background from which it may tap the power to capture the profound attention of millions, and occasionally (and remarkably) billions of people, and across the diverse cultures and dozens of generations. Now that it has been born, can we imagine a world in which King Lear or George Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue has been forgotten? Childhood, or at least the child-like in all of us, bubbles giggling to the surface in AA Milne's character Winnie the Pooh (and in the delightful drrawings of co-conspirator and illustrator Ernest H Shepard) on page after page. Milne could have had Pooh utter the words "Oh nuts!" or "Gosh oh golly" or "How amazing" ... but somewhere, somehow, Milne sucked out of the collective consciousness that endearing groan of the bumbling, all-knowing, honey-obsessed bear -- "Oh, bother!". Have those two words ever been more charming? The context, as well as the words themselves, are part of the creative energy.

Recently, I have been working on a new rendition of Lao-tsu's Tao Te Ching, a thin book of chinese philosophy from about 500 BC. I am struck by how men so very long ago had such modern insight into what the world really is and how we may safely and serenely navigate through the whims and adversities of daily life using Lao-tsu as our guide. We are not so modern after all, if a voice -- 2500 years old and counting -- speaks to us so plainly. But that is the magic of the creative spark which far transcends its originator.

Michaelango's Sistine Chapel 1512 fresco, The Creation of Man When I was a teenager this notion fascinated me even then -- how could the Italian poet Dante, or middle-European lesbian Abbess Hildegard von Bingen, or Dutch painter Pieter Breughel, set down words and music and images which could set my heart on fire, feeling the "aha!" revelation in my toes that they had felt, though we are shifted across generations of time and a radically different cultural world? How awesomely glorious that a description of a descent into the circles of hell, or the soothing whisperings of women's voices in A Feather on the Breath of God, or the enchantment of peasants dancing in a rustic town square can make a heart leap today ... what was it like in that single moment that the artist "got it"?

It also occurred to me, and I have been testing this theory as I hurtle much too quickly toward 50, that a chief difference between "high art" and "pop art" is not merely that one may endure longer than the other but that whatever essence is in the original creation taps into something deeper in our souls and this grows inside us every time we revisit it. "Fly Me To The Moon", and "Yesterday", are both great songs but, for me, they are the same experience every time I digest them. They don't change me; they don't grow with me, or help me grow. But when I hear Beethoven's Ninth Symphony ("Ode to Joy"), I am moved differently each time. I bring a new part of myself that has lived since the last hearing; and the work is richer. But of course the sounds, the notes, are the same, aren't they?

Andy Warhol's Campbell Soup Cans as seen at New York's Museum of Modern Art, from 1962 :: I'm trying not to belabour the point, or belittle creations that lack "more spark", because those works are valuable too. But let's face it: Andy Warhol's "Campbell Soup Cans" or posterized portraits of Marilyn Munroe do not grab the gut in the same way as da Vinci's "Mona Lisa" or Michaelangelo's Sistine Chapel frescos. What's different? The "high art" transfers something living to distinguish itself from its sometimes no less memorable "pop art" cousin. We are changed by the best, and continue to change. High art, perhaps, is a creative virus, egging us on, inspiring us to live richer, deeper lives.

Which brings me back to where I began: the act of creation, the moment of creating something really marvelous, might be a time of mundane everydayness. Did Michelangelo paint in the nude flat on his back high atop some scaffolding? Did Tennessee Williams pen "Glass Menagerie" in his underwear? Did Shakespeare have a fight with his lover the day he conjured the balcony scene? Was Bach embroiled in a petty bureacratic battle with his autocratic bosses while jotting down the Goldbergs? Was Bart Howard swooning over the memory of a tender kiss when he wrote the second half of his most famous song:

Fill my life with song
And let me sing forevermore
You are all I hope for
All I worship and adore
In other words please be true
In other words I love you

As a creative writer, I hope I may someday cobble together a phrase or two as successful as these, capable of stirring the souls of readers I'll never meet but who will come away from my words a little richer, a seed planted in the heart, and, when recalled, knowing the world is less black-and-white, and reality a little less harsh, discovering that we live our true lives inside, not outside, our skins.

(And it will be my secret what I was wearing, or thinking, or tasting, as these paragraphs slid from my fingers into electrons for you.)

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Tuesdays with Tao: Five - Impartial Nature

A Doorway to the Way of Tao? :: Every Tuesday, I've been publishing one more chapter of my personal re-interpretation of Lao-tzu's awesomely inspiring and quietly wise Tao Te Ching. Despite being written down some 25 centuries ago, it is a marvel of contemporary insight. The opening chapter, The Essence of Tao, is here.

Lao-tzu sometimes uses the word "nature" as a synonym for Tao. Taoism recognizes, profoundly, in a way overlooked by most religions, that we are one with the world, a part of the physical reality we call the earth, and our power comes form being a part of it, not beyond it, or temporarily hampered by it. Alan Watts makes a delicious observation that we don't "come into the world" but "come out of it", like a leaf on a tree ... we are not a separate piece of matter in the world but rather an extension of the "one piece of matter" which is Tao.

Five - Impartial Nature Nature is not sentimental;
it faces the world impartially.
The Sage is neither kind nor hateful;
he treats all he meets with parity.

Like a bellows, Nature is empty;
yet in moving, inexhaustible as a giver of breath.
And so the Sage, in witnessing Nature,
finds his own wisdom constantly replenished.

Just as Nature's power lies internally,
your own good is found within.

Comments welcome!

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