The London gallery Austin Desmond Fine Art has uncovered a group of early photographs and collages by the British artist Keith Vaughan. These experimental images chronicle the summer trips that Vaughan and a close group of male friends made to Pagham Beach in West Sussex in the late 1930s, on the cusp of the Second World War. Previously thought lost, the majority have never previously been shown publicly but will be exhibited for the first time at Austin Desmond from 25 October to 8 December. Thought to have been taken in 1939, the photographs depict a carefree group of young men, often naked or near naked and lying languorously on the beach or in idealised athletic poses, along with tender studio portraits.

As gay men in a time when homosexuality was still illegal, Vaughan and his friends lived dual lives, of secrecy and, arguably, repression. Yet these photographs, kept for decades in boxes, are unguarded, playful, often hauntingly beautiful. Their revelation is timely; 2017 marks the 50th anniversary of the passing of the 1967 Sexual Offenses Act, which legalised homosexuality, and Vaughan’s later work is also included in the Tate Britain’s current show, Queer British Art 1861-1967. After buying his first camera, in 1932 Vaughan set up a darkroom in his family home in Hampstead where he could experiment with developing such risqué images of the male nude, which might have raised suspicion if taken into a high-street processing shop. It is not known conclusively whether these were original prints by Vaughan himself, but as many are inscribed on the back in the artist’s hand with his name and address, it seems likely. read more