Contemporary imitations of Karlheinz Weinberger’s documentary-style street photography are everywhere. A factory worker from Zurich, Weinberger elevated and injected his hobby photography into the national conscience, revealing the faces of Swiss subculture in a social milieu where cultural uniformity implied political superiority. Weinberger, who published under the pseudonym Jim in the Swiss gay magazine Der Kreis (The Circle), reminds us of the cultural implications of dress in Jeans, a facsimile of the self-designed portfolios Weinberger began making in the late 1950s.
With Jeans, Weinberger confirms utilitarian denim as a canvas onto which cultural, social, and sexual associations are projected. Weinberger’s subjects, all of them men, betray traditional masculinity in different varieties. Men flex and fight, flaunt and pose.
Denim is gendered for this artist, but also ideological. The American export gives Swiss youth a decidedly un-neutral Cold War stance. Many of Weinberger’s subjects stand alone, often with props and confections conferring them unequivocally American. The denim threat is abetted by cowboy hats, wife beaters, and motorcycle jackets. Depending on perspective, jeans can be worn as a proud badge of rebellion or mischievous social menace. Weinberger places emphasis on neither, angling only to confirm the textile’s capacity to carry such weight.
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