Queer Beyond London is delighted to highlight exciting research and projects exploring queer local histories that will be featured in our upcoming Queer Localities international conference from 30 November – 1 December 2017.
The main aim of my paper is to attempt to bypass a lamentable absence of written sources which preserve LGBT voices from a specific time and locale—1930s Oxford—by exploring some possibilities of recapturing lost queer experiences through images. A group of gloriously homoerotic photographs by the Russian émigré photographer Cyril Arapoff, resident in Oxford during the 1930s, presents a unique opportunity to glimpse the otherwise hidden homoerotic possibilities that were afforded by the (still predominantly male) university culture of Oxford at this time.
Despite the diversity of subjects he photographed during his time in the city, it is apparent that Arapoff, a gifted and renowned photographer of the era, had a particularly keen eye for handsome young men, ever abundant in Oxford. Around a dozen images featuring nude and semi-nude youths, whilst by no means pornographic, are especially evocative. Firmly situating this beguiling group of photographs in the context of 1930s Oxford, the paper will explore a set of interconnected cultural, institutional, and spatial circumstances which enabled Arapoff to take these images. These include the vibrant culture of student drama at Oxford and the homoerotics of Parsons Pleasure, a small area of city centre on the bank of the Cherwell partitioned for male nudism and which is readily identifiable in a number of the photographs. The dearth of other sources which document homoeroticism in Oxford during the era after the “Brideshead generation” moved on make this distinctive group of photographs especially valuable.
Ross Brooks is a Wellcome Trust-funded doctoral student at Oxford Brookes University. His thesis, Evolution’s Closet: The New Biology and Homosexuality in Britain, 1900-1976, explores the engagement of leading British biologists with changing concepts of sexuality wrought by new discoveries in genetics and endocrinology. Ross’s 2006 self-published LGBT guide is entitled Queer Oxford. His interest in local queer history continues apace and is currently being channeled into a new website (queeroxford.info) showcasing over six centuries of LGBT history in the city Oscar Wilde called “the capital of romance.”
Queer Localities: a two-day international conference
Birkbeck, University of London
30 November – 1 December 2017
Free and open to all, but please REGISTER your place here