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September 16, 2020

Homoerotic Images of Young Men in Blue Jeans in Post-War Switzerland

An unsung pioneer of vernacular photography since the 1950s, Karlheinz Weinberger (1921–2006) captured a young generation of Swiss rebels who were greatly influenced by American culture.

For most of his adult life, Weinberger worked in the warehouse department of the Siemens-Albis factory in Zurich. In his free time, he escaped his job’s monotony by immersing himself in photography. His artistic career began by taking photographs for the gay underground Zurich club and magazine Der Kreis, taking candid shots of lovers, friends and strangers on the street with an overt erotic investment in his subjects.

In 1958 Weinberger met a small group of teenagers known as “Halbstark” (or “half strong”). The group was comprised of working class boys and girls dissatisfied with the conservative Swiss climate. Its members demonstrated their anti- establishment stance with embellished outfits of denim and leather, in an exaggerated and homemade version of the popularized American bad-boy style of the time.

Weinberger captured the unfiltered attitude of the group in the parks and fairgrounds that they gathered while processing and developing the photos in his home makeshift studio. In his stark, posed photographs of these young rebels, Weinberger focused on individual figures, exploring both a personal erotic obsession and the cultural symbolism of blue jeans, whose scarcity in post war Switzerland implied not just a fashion statement but a badge of pride.

(Photos by Karlheinz Weinberger)


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