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Now On: Before We Were Men


The display coincides with the acquisition by the Gallery of 14 portraits by the photographer David Gwinutt that includes unseen images of artists Maggi Hambling and Duggie Fields, fashion designers Stephen Linard and David Holah and filmmakers Derek Jarman and John Maybury.

David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men captures the generation of young creatives that emerged in London against a backdrop of financial recession and unemployment in the early 1980s. The photographs of male directors, writers, fashion designers and artists who together formed a vibrant and influential underground gay culture. Gwinnutt documented this scene while still at art college, having moved to London from Derbyshire in 1979.

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While his work is rooted in the city’s vibrant underground club scene, Gwinnutt chose to capture these sitters away from the lights and publicity of the clubs such as Blitz in Covent Garden. Gwinnett photographed these men in the intimacy of their homes, often squats or rented council accommodation.

Most of these men were studying at art college by day and transforming into poseurs by night, escaping the bleak realities of Thatcherite Britain through handmade clothes and elaborate make up which blurred genders and refashioned identities.

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The title ‘Before We Were Men’ indicates that this London scene was made up of young men, who in the following years would go on to become influential in the worlds of art, film, fashion and music. The display also celebrates the 1980s as a moment when figures such as Leigh Bowery and Trojan, also photographed by Gwinnutt, began to play with gender identity and redefine the idea of what a man could be.

Sabina Jaskot-Gill, Curator of David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men,and Associate Curator of Photographs, National Portrait Gallery, London, says: ‘Using only his handheld camera and natural light, Gwinnett’s grainy black and white photographs feel unguarded and spontaneous, offering a glimpse into the private worlds of these rising stars who lived, worked and played together, a network of subversive collaborators. Gwinnutt’s photographs serve as a social document of a moment that had far-reaching effects on the cultural landscape.’

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David Gwinnutt (b. 1961) is an artist and photographer. During his long career he has known and photographed many of the most influential gay people from the last 30 years. In 2013 he was voted 16th on The Independent’s Pink List of the top 100 most influential gay people in Britain for creating the Pink Jack, a symbol of modern Britain and gay pride. Born in Derbyshire, Gwinnutt graduated from Middlesex University in 1984. He was part of the ‘Blitz Kid’ group and the subsequent avant garde crowd that fuelled the club scene of 1980’s London. His un-posed portraits, taken in intimate settings away from the club scene, show us the private side of his subjects and offer us a candid insight into their world.

David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men forms part of a year-long programme of special displays and events, entitled ‘I am me,’ at the National Portrait Gallery exploring sexuality, gender, art and identity.

David Gwinnutt: Before We Were Men Room 39, Admission Free (16 March – 24 September 2017)


Images courtesy of the National Portrait Gallery & David Gwinnutt

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