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July 23rd

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Wilhelm Plüschow's work


When we look at the works by Plüschow, Glœden, and Vincenzo Galdi, the first impression is one of great similarity. Most are of Italian boys or young men, nude or dressed in pseudo-antique costume. All three photographers used similar props (leopard skins, oriental rugs, imitation Greek vases, etc.).

Plüschow's studies are perhaps more sharply delineated, which is really an indication that he handled light less effectively and less subtly than von Glœden, and his boys are somehow "harder" than those of Glœden. He also tended to photograph boys with large genitals, and it would have been less easy for collectors to claim these as specimens of the antique pastoral.

But Plüschow is a more sensual photographer of boys and young men than Glœden and this esnsuality ultimately led Plüschow into legal difficulties that have, perhaps, conributed to his subsequent obscurity. And he is not as "pornographic" ad Galdi often is.

Galdi was a pornographer working mainly with young adult models; relatively few of his images are boys or girls. He often depicts heterosexual couples who are about as aroused as the slow shutter speeds of the day could record. His frontal images of individual models were frequently in a similar vein (young women with splayed legs, over endowed youths, etc.).

The earliest books on Glœden were based on albums or collections of photographs; since some of the photos were known to be by Glœden, it was assumed that all the images in each group must be by him. The books on Glœden by Jean-Claude Lemagny and Jack Woody, though of hight quality in their reproductions, contain many images that are actually by Plüschow.

The new books have a much better record of separating out the three photographers correctly. In many cases the identification has been made through the photographer's stamp on the back of the print, establishing it as his work. These are usually reliable in regard to Plüschow and Galdi: there has never been any reason to fake or disguise their work, since their auction prices have always been lower than Glœden's.

Separating Glœden's work from Plüschow's, though more difficult, is increasingly possible. Both published large number of photographs under their own names, and these publications give us a terminal date for each photograph. Some photographs pose problems that cannot be resolved at present. A photo of two nude youths before a Roman tomb by Galdi, is nearly identical to another shot by Plüschow, who certainly photographed one of the models on another ocasion.

Looking first at their settings, Glœden used a variety of backdrops, all outdoors, for his nudes: a spacious, cluttered courtyard; the beaches and rocky crgs around Taormina; even the town square, with its spectacular views of Mount Etna and the sea.

Plüschow's settings were much more restricted: some indoor scenes with artificial light; an outside doorway with a bit of whitewshed wall; and a small terrace with a stone parapet and a view of the hills of Rome. One gets the impression that Plüschow, living in the city, had little space available in which to work.

The two photographers also used different props, including (for Plüschow) an ornate, moveable wooden door frame, various cloth hangings, a sword, etc. Tracing the appearances of these items, though tedious, can be very helpful in identifying authorship.


Plüschow's portrait, shot in 1980 by Wilhelm von Glœden,
on the landing of his house in Taormina

Glœden and Plüschow differed greatly in their choice of model (and did not share any models). Glœden concentrated on males from childhood through early adulthood, plus a few young females. Plüschow rarely made nudes of preadolescent boys. Otherwise he "covered all the bases" for both male and female models through early adulthood.

While some of Glœden's model appeared many times over a period of years, many of Plüschow's were photographed only once ot twice, implying a casual encounter rather than a long-term working relationship.

One of the most striking diferences between the two photographers was in their selection of boy models. Though Glœden's models were, ont the average, somewhat younger, he had a marked preference for beefy, muscular boys. The Baron also felt that Latin youths should be dark-skinned; since many of the Sicilian boys were in fact relatiely pale, he often painted their bodies with a dark liquid before photographing them. Streaks of this oily substance can be seen clearly on the boy's legs in some Glœden photographs.

Plüschow's models, in contrast, had the pallor of urban, working class boys who spent most of their time indoors, and tended to be much more slender.

Glœden's tendency to alter the complexion of his models highlights a difference between the two photographers from the point of view of thechnique. In addition to paying greater attention to the accessories and backgrounds, Glœden often manipulated or touched up the negatives. His original prints were tinted in different colors, including a dark sepia. All of these procedures were considered standard practice by the photographers of the era.

Plüschow's style, by contrast, was one of unvarnished realism. Shown with only the most perfunctory background and accessories, his nude male and female models were presented as they were: blemishes, clothing marks, and all. Contemporary hir styles were not rearranged to produce an "antique" look. Negatives were unretouched, and the few albumin prints by Plüschow available in this country tend to have a simple pinkish tint.

Since Plüschow was aware of the activities of Glœden and other photographers of the time, these elements represented conscious stylistic choiches on his part, not accidents.

The bits of "Greek" trappings, exotic "Oriental" props, and "noble" facial expressions favored by both Glœden and Plüschow are the aspects of their work that are most foreign and today's sensibility. In Glœden's case this approach was related to the photogrpher's Romantic arcadianism, a desire to escape the repressiveness of the modern world and to reconstruct a lost Classical paradise of open man-boy eroticism. In remote Taormina such fantasies may have been possible.

For Plüschow, working in the hectic urban environment of Rome, Classicism and exoticism were merely pictorial conventions. They clashed with the fundamental realism of his approach, and he used them sparingly, mainly to get around the censors.

Perhaps the most important distinction between the two photographers was that Plüschow, without straying into pornography, was by far the more sensual of the two. This admittedly subjective response has been noted by both Bruce Russell and Ulrich Pohlmann, though it remains difficult to put into words. The difference is not, as smetimes claimed, in the pose, since each photographer utilized both frontally and indirectly posed models. According to Russell, Glœden "employs a kind of noncentered, fleshy voluptuousnes..., while Plüschow creates situations with unmistakable sexual tension far more explicit and evocative than his cousin's romantic sensuality."

Pohlmann describes it this way: compared to Glœden's peasant models, Plüschow's proletarian boys "have the effedt of one hand posing less naturally and acting less convincingly. On the other hand they are for this reason les enraptured and nearer to reality; thus they have an erotic aura many times greater than the youths in the photos of von Glœden."

Plüschow's greater "centering" or "tension" is seen in his focussing on only one or two models at a time, with only a few token props and without the distracting outdoor clutter of Glœden's settings. Boys just entering adolescence are shown in a provocative way, often with their arms raised to their heads. Nude teenaged boys and girls appear together, something rarely attempted by Glœden. Finally, nude boys are shown embracing discretely yet intensely.

These pictures were sold to tourists, though it is hard to imagine that there were many lady tourists doing much of the buying. This was for a "men only" market and the kind of men who preferred other men. In Rome, photographers Calavas and Vincenzo Galdi soon began shooting male nudes for the same market but without classical references.

A group of eight photographs of the ruins of Pompeii with youths draped in pseudo-Roman costume was published in Scribner's Magazine in New York. At least a dozen other publications of photographs bu Plüschow, mostly male and female nudes, took place throughout the artist's lifetime.

In the most unusual example a thirteen-year-old communes soulfully with a slightly older friend before an unexpected setting: a wall palastered with anti-papal and anti-German political cartoons from the Roman satirical journal L'Asino. Compared to some stagey compositions of this kind (with young men) by Glœden, the sexual electricity is greatly increased in Plüschow's works.

Today, there are a small limited amount of Plüschow's postcards in circulation, and when an image does come to market, be prepared to pay a high price.

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