George Platt Lynes (April 15, 1907 – December 6, 1955) was an American fashion and commercial photographer.
Born in East Orange, New Jersey to Adelaide (Sparkman) and Joseph Russell Lynes he spent his childhood in New Jersey but attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts. He was sent to Paris in 1925 with the idea of better preparing him for college. His life was forever changed by the circle of friends that he would meet there. Gertrude Stein, Glenway Wescott, Monroe Wheeler and those that he met through them opened an entirely new world to the young artist.
He returned to the United States with the idea of a literary career and he even opened a bookstore in Englewood, New Jersey in 1927. He first became interested in photography not with the idea of a career, but to take photographs of his friends and display them in his bookstore.
Returning to France the next year in the company of Wescott and Wheeler, he traveled around Europe for the next several years, always with his camera at hand. He developed close friendships within a larger circle of artists including Jean Cocteau and Julien Levy, the art dealer and critic. Levy would exhibit his photographs in his gallery in New York City in 1932 and Lynes would open his studio there that same year. He was soon receiving commissions from Harper's Bazaar, Town & Country, and Vogue including a cover with perhaps the first supermodel, Lisa Fonssagrives.
In 1935 he was asked to document the principal dancers and productions of Lincoln Kirstein's and George Balanchine's newly founded American Ballet company (now the New York City Ballet).
While he continued to shoot fashion photographs, getting accounts with such major clients as Bergdorf Goodman and Saks Fifth Avenue during the 1930s and 1940s he was losing interest and had started a series of photographs which interpreted characters and stories from Greek mythology.
By 1946, he grew disillusioned with New York and left for Hollywood, where he became chief photographer for the Vogue studios. He photographed Katharine Hepburn, Rosalind Russell, Gloria Swanson and Orson Welles, from the film industry, as well as others in the arts among them Aldous Huxley, Igor Stravinsky, and Thomas Mann. While a success artistically, it was a financial failure.
His friends helped him to move back to New York City in 1948. Other photographers, such as Richard Avedon, Edgar de Evia and Irving Penn, had taken his place in the fashion world. This combined with his disinterest in commercial work, meant he was never able to regain the successes he once had.
He was also most notably friends with Katherine Anne Porter, author of the novel Ship of Fools, with whom he often enjoyed photographing wearing elaborate evening gowns and occasionally reenacting Shakespeare.
During his lifetime, Lynes amassed a substantial body of work involving nude and homoerotic photography. In the 1930s, he began taking nudes of friends, performers and models, including a young Yul Brynner, although these remained private, unknown and unpublished for years. Over the following two decades, Lynes continued his work in this area passionately, albeit privately. "The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved — he couldn't exhibit it, he couldn't publish it." - Allen Ellenzweig, art and photography critic who wrote the introduction to George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes, published in 2011 by Rizzoli. In the late 1940s, Lynes became acquainted with Dr. Alfred Kinsey and his Institute in Bloomington, Indiana. Kinsey took an interest in Lynes work, as he was researching homosexuality in America at the time.
By May 1955, Lynes had been diagnosed terminally ill with lung cancer. He closed his studio and destroyed much of his print and negative archives, particularly his male nudes. However, it is now known that he had transferred many of these works to the Kinsey Institute. "He clearly was concerned that this work, which he considered his greatest achievement as a photographer, should not be dispersed or destroyed...We have to remember the time period we're talking about—America during the post-war Red Scare..." The body of work residing at the Kinsey Institute remained largely unknown until it was made public and published in 2011. The Kinsey collection represents one of the largest single collections of Lynes's work.
After a final trip to Europe, Lynes returned to New York City, where he died.