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GEORGE PLATT LYNES (1907-1955)

photo of George Lynes
Frederick Melton / Portrait of George Platt Lynes, 1952
Gelatin silver print

Born in East Orange, New Jersey, George Platt Lynes did not initially intend to have a career in photography. The summer after his graduation from high school, Lynes traveled to Paris, where he met the writers Gertrude Stein and Jean Cocteau. He returned to enroll at Yale University but left school after one semester. His parents helped him start a publishing house, but the business soon failed. The serendipitous gift of a camera led him into taking portraits of his literary friends, including Marianne Moore, Colette, and W.H. Auden. In 1933 Lynes opened his first New York studio where he did fashion photography for Vogue and Harper's Bazaar; throughout the 1930s his elegant portraits gained popularity among the city's elite. The 1940s saw at once Lynes' decline as a fashion photographer and the production of his exceptional work with the male nude. After an ill-fated foray into Hollywood publicity photography, Lynes returned to New York, but was stricken with debt and illness. Diagnosed with cancer in May 1955, he died later that year at age 48.
In 1935, Lincoln Kirstein and George Balanchine invited Lynes to produce promotional photographs for their ballet company. Kirstein, who had been Lynes' schoolmate, realized that this work would perfectly fuse Lynes' talents in fashion and portrait photography. For twenty years, Lynes photographed many of the era's greatest ballet dancers. In 1956, possibly thinking of his own mortality in the wake of Lynes' premature death, Balanchine hailed the photographer's work as "all that will be remembered of my repertory in a hundred years."

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