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Review: Manly Affections

Sun 7 Oct 2012 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

Manly Affections. The Photographs of Robert Gant (1885-1915) Author: Chris Brickell Publisher: Genre Books The moment you pick up Chris Brickell's newest history of gay men in New Zealand you know something is absolutely right. The cover photo is cheeky, the production values are excellent and it feels weighty but not ponderously so. Inside Manly Affections Brickell traces the life and times of a remarkable gay man and his friends and associates, some gay, some not, in Wairarapa around the turn of last century. The impish Robert Gant was a small town chemist and photography enthusiast. He delighted in creating photographs which, though typical of the times, also include frequent illustrations of the affection of men for men. Some are camp, some are po-faced. Some are artfully posed, some are merely record shots. But through them all Brickell weaves a fine narration, blending recorded fact with research of Gant's time in the Wairarapa and restrained, insightful interpretation of the images themselves. The title seems at first glance a little naff, but by the time you get to the end of Manly Affections - it's a great 'chapter a night' book - you understand exactly what he is getting at. Lavishly illustrated with excellent reproductions of Gant's photos, Manly Affections exudes grace, charm and a knowing campness. It defines and describes a time and milieu when masculinity was not a posturing front but a natural quality of men who crossed the barriers of sports, the arts, friendship and love effortlessly. Brickell's magisterial first work of NZ gay history, Mates and Lovers, cut a broad horizon to horizon swathe through NZ history as it uncovered the often hidden tidbits of gay history passed down to us. But Manly Affections is much more intimate, a bijou gem of research and writing which transports us back to another place, another time, almost another sexuality. By the end of this book we feel we know Gant and his mates and lovers, we feel as though we have walked in their footsteps... and that's the sign of damned good research and thoroughly excellent writing.   - Jay Bennie Jay Bennie - 7th October 2012    

Credit: Jay Bennie

First published: Sunday, 7th October 2012 - 5:53pm

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