To the contemporary eye, Karlheinz Weinberger’s photographs of feral young men look like precursors to street style pictures, only roughed up and grunged out. His subjects, most of whom Weinberger shot in the Fifties and Sixties, were largely limited to the rebel teens of Zurich who had been bitten, like today’s Tokyo youth, by the Americana style bug: they wore snug denim and motorcycle leather; they had James Dean haircuts; they were beautiful, ineffably cool, and—most important—transparently authentic, untouched by the stylist’s hand or the blogger’s eye. The late Swiss photographer has a touch of Mapplethorpe’s sublime homoeroticism, but his male forms feels less studied and more intimate, like a Chris Makos picture. No wonder Martin Margiela drew upon them in his collections, or that Steven Klein appropriated them for a Versace Jeans Couture campaign.
A new book, Jeans, published by the Swiss Institute, offers a first look at the amateur artist’s early work, when he began training his camera on the streetwear princes of Zurich. The book’s launch party is tonight, at the Swiss Institute’s Soho gallery in New York.