The artist and sex symbol of the 1970s speaks to Miss Rosen when an exhibition of his hot self-portraits arrives new York
“Some people have a passion for climbing Mount Everest, but my passion was to look sexy,” says the artist Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene. It was a desire he incorporated into the creation of his alter ego Peter Berlin; the legendary libertine who revolutionized fashion, photography and porn in the 1970s.
“When you imagine Peter Berlin, don’t picture me naked, do you?” He asks, alluding to his striking self-portraits that embody sex and seduction. Wrapping its perfectly chiseled body in handmade clothes, Berlin looked into the camera with cool blue eyes peeking out from under blond page curls and invited the audience to indulge in the joys of denim, leather, meat – and little else.
In his twenties, Berlin began designing and making its own sexy ensembles before cruising through the parks and train stations of Berlin, Rome, New York, and Paris. “In the 1960s, gay men would run through the parks and on the beaches,” he recalls. “It was a very exciting moment; the longing for a sexual encounter. I wasn’t looking for a lover like a friend. I just wanted that reaction, the idea of upsetting someone else. Sex is nature’s most beautiful invention. “
In 1969, Berlin moved to San Francisco, where he still lives today, and began taking his iconic self-portraits to document his favorite outfits. “Because I’m so visual, most of the information in life is what I got through my eyes,” he explains. “I looked in the mirror, put on jeans, spent hours getting them fit, and when it looked natural I wanted to freeze that picture.”
Berlin also took photos after returning home from the beach, the street or the club. “Maybe the next morning I was alone and feeling really good, so I took out the camera. I think that’s why the pictures have this effect. What you see is a very honest representation of my sexual arousal. It felt right and I wanted to hold on to it. “
With what he describes as the “great luxury of the time”, Berlin was able to live according to its own rules, go its own way and dive into the newly legalized realm of pornography. In the early 1970s, Berlin became a gay icon after producing and starring in the iconic films Black leather nights and This boy, which he also directed.
With the increased visibility, the demand for Berlin’s photographs grew steadily towards a mail order business. As production increased, he sometimes accidentally underexposed some film frames. In order not to waste any of the prints, Berlin started using a brush with acrylic and oil paint to enhance the images.
After a visit to New York with the painter Jochen Labriola, Berlin learned to airbrush his photographs, a technique that shaped the 1970s and 80s. Anticipating the filters we see in digital photography today, Berlin has carefully embellished, adorned, exaggerated, and enhanced its self-portraits to make them even more dazzling.
The new exhibition, Peter Berlin: Unique, brings together the artist’s unique hand-painted self-portraits. “Back then I didn’t develop any color photos myself, so I didn’t want to throw away the bad pictures when I got the pictures back,” says Berlin. “Sometimes I went on. I would have a perfect photo and would change the background. “
The photographs, which record Berlin’s characteristic style, anticipate our current love affair with the selfie. But unlike many others, Berlin did not have great ambitions for these works. “I never thought of exhibiting these pictures in a gallery. It wasn’t that I was thinking, ‘I want to keep this picture when I get older to look back,’ ”he says. “I just kept a diary, like some people sit and write on their own. Oh, I wish I had written down my adventures too. “
Peter Berlin: Unique can be seen at ClampArt until December 18, 2021.