Janser also describes what made Weinberger’s approach so unique. “His photography was not only explicitly apolitical and entirely aesthetic,” she writes, “but also never depicted violence, just as, by the way, even the sexuality it portrays is remarkably free of coercion, domination, and power games.” If Susan Sontag claimed the camera to be both a phallus and a weapon, Janser argues that Weinberger offered an alternate, more respectful relationship between artist and subject.
Weinberger’s most potentially fraught series, “Alex,” focuses on a Zürich prostitute of the same name from 1995–2006. The photographer invited Alex to his apartment, where the subject would drink, smoke, masturbate, and ejaculate for the camera. In much the same way that photographer
photographed male prostitutes for a fee close to what they’d charge a trick, so too did Weinberger pay Alex. “He was very respectful. He never touched me,” recalls Alex in the Swiss Rebels
monograph. “For him, the photographs were the most important. He never talked about his sexual preference. He liked what I did. And for sure afterwards at home he jerked off to them.”
The pair chatted after the studio sessions, and Weinberger’s demeanor allowed his subject to feel comfortable being himself. Desire is evident in the images, which showcase Alex’s naked torso and semen-splattered stomach. Yet, there’s also a sense of respect for one man’s complexity, beyond just his body. Alex sits, half-clothed, in front of a stack of books in Weinberger’s apartment. He smokes, he ponders, he looks out a window. Weinberger avoids exploitation, instead turning his work into a cooperative and mutually gratifying process.
Most of Weinberger’s photographs remained private for decades, reaching international galleries just years before his 2006 death. Created without commercial and art world concerns, his body of work indicates a devotion to the medium as well as a reverence (and barely restrained obsession) with its subjects. Carefully built trust contributed to rich images of multi-dimensional characters and the landscapes they inhabited. The style in the photographs became Weinberger’s own: comically strange, singular, intimate, and refreshingly unexpected.