George Platt Lynes was born in New Jersey in 1907 and attended the Berkshire School in Massachusetts, graduating in 1925.
As a young adult, Lynes had a passing interest in photography, but his dream was to be a writer: he published a literary journal called The As Stable Publications and opened up a bookstore in New Jersey. Neither endeavor proved fruitful, so when he happened to inherit a studio’s worth of photographic equipment from a friend, he decided to focus on photography as a career.
One of Lynes’s friends from his Berkshire School days was Lincoln Kirstein, who had recently co-founded the School of American Ballet with choreographer George Balanchine
. Lynes and Kirstein became reacquainted and Lynes became the primary photographer for the school, later to be called the New York City Ballet, for 20 years.
Beginning with his ballet photography, Lynes would follow an impulse to upend established norms.
Whereas most photographers would take photos of dancers during their performances, Lynes would take photos of the dancers off-stage, often bringing them to his studio. He wanted to encourage the viewer to focus on the interplay of light, shadows and the body. These images are considered to be some of the finest ballet photographs ever taken.
“I consider that George Lynes synthesized better than anyone else the atmosphere of some of my ballets,”Balanchine wrote
after Lynes passed away. “[His] pictures will contain, as far as I am concerned, all that will be remembered of my repertory in a hundred years.”
Lynes’s fashion photographs were no less groundbreaking. He started photographing for fashion magazines in 1933 to supplement his income. But through his innovative use of props and lighting, he soon found himself one of the most sought-after photographers in the industry.
, Lynes would juxtapose seemingly disparate ideas and objects to create something new. He posed models in odd, sometimes humorous settings. In one image
, included in the exhibition at Newfields, Lynes has placed a basket full of hay and birds atop the head of a model who wears a glittering, beautifully tailored dress, and displays her perfectly manicured nails.
Lynes often shot fashion spreads in his apartment in Manhattan, which was lavishly decorated and provided a more personalized atmosphere than photographs shot in a studio. Lynes was also a master darkroom manipulator, working with his negatives and prints to achieve the look he wanted.
Portraiture was another of Lynes’s specialties. Lynes had an active social life, and was known for throwing lavish parties that were attended by the stars of the avant-garde.
He was able to capture in his photographs some of the most influential creative people of his time, including writer Tennessee Williams
and composer Igor Stravinsky
. He did so with great attention to detail, using props and creating individualized sets for his subjects.