- Lust Unearthed: Vintage Gay Graphics from the DuBek Collection
Lust Unearthed must be considered an extension of Thomas Waugh's Out/Lines: Underground Gay Graphics from before Stonewall (Arsenal Pulp 2002). In that work Waugh compiled a pioneering survey of two hundred vintage homoerotic graphic illustrations. Just as Out/Lines was going to press, however, a large, previously unknown collection of unpublished gay erotic images was donated to the Gay Lesbian Bisexual Transgender Historical Society (GLBTHS) in San Francisco. The hoard consisted of excellent images, often in complete sets, of items that fitted directly into Waugh's 'pre-Stonewall underground filthy graphics corpus.' A sequel volume was suggested, based on the newly unearthed images, and Lust Unearthed was born.
The enormous collection (comprising almost fifty large document boxes) was assembled by one Ambrose DuBek (1916-2002), an openly gay man who worked for many years as a costume and set designer in film and television. His secret passion was collecting graphic depictions of gay men 'in action,' whether in original art, photographs, magazines, books, or moving images. Lust Unearthed focuses on more than two hundred images of original art, and photographs of original art, dating mostly between the 1930s and 1970s. Note that most 'obscene' gay artwork produced before 1970 circulated clandestinely in the form of small photographs of erotic art originals. Famous artists like Etienne drew some of the original works, but many of the artists remain unknown. Most of DuBek's collecting was done at a time when erotic images of men were illegal. Surviving examples in good condition, especially in large collections, are rare.
Waugh's introductory essays include notes on DuBek's collecting habits, the selection and organization of images from the collection, and political implications of the artwork. Of particular value is Waugh's ongoing project to identify and flesh out the biographical details of the artists of these works. Willie Walker, the late archivist and co-founder of GLBTHS, provides a capsule review of DuBek's life, accompanied by several pages of evocative personal photographs.
The meat of Lust Unearthed, of course, lies in the reproduction and discussion of the images themselves. Arrangement is thematic, beginning with a whole section of National Dreams, with Teutonic, French, and American ('Homo on the American Range') fantasies in abundance. All the images are provocative, some are arousing. The artwork itself ranges from the highly skilled to the merely crude. Each section has a brief introduction, and each image is accompanied by a commentary by Waugh. The notes, a heady blend of erudition and camp, are engrossing. Lust Unearthed concludes with generic sections on fantasies: 'Phallic,' 'Thebans and Thracians,' 'Uniforms,' 'Boys in the Sand,' 'Please Master ... S/M,' 'Couples,' 'Trios,' 'Group Dynamics,' and 'Softcore.'
Production costs likely limited the possibilities of reproducing these images. They are all presented in black and white, on uncoated paper. Was [End Page 455] there ever any colour in the originals? We are not told. More distressing is the fact that although we can glean from the text that many of the images were reduced in size for reproduction, not one of the images lists the measurements of the original. The result is a gap in our context for appreciating these images as physical objects. But these are really minor concerns when we consider the major contribution that Lust Unearthed, and the previous Out/Lines, have made to the delicate task of reconstructing, preserving, and celebrating the history of gay representation. Waugh's work here, in conjunction with his Hard to Imagine: Gay Male Eroticism in Photography and Film from Their Beginnings to Stonewall (Columbia 1996), places him in the very forefront of this new and stimulating field of study. [End Page 456]
Donald McLeod, Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives