THE WORLD knows him as Peter Berlin, but his real name is Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Heune. “Peter Berlin” was a stage name that he adopted upon arriving in San Francisco from Berlin, Germany, in the early 1970s—just in time to take advantage of the sexual revolution that was sweeping America. Acting as his own photographer, model, and fashion designer, his erotic self-portraits—rarely nude but instead wearing form-fitting leather, denim, or the like, dramatically posed—were widely published, and Berlin became an iconic sex symbol and masturbation fantasy of the Gay Liberation era. He starred in two feature films, Nights in Black Leather in 1973 and That Boy, which he also directed, in 1974.
Berlin’s photographs have been exhibited around the world, yet he never thought of himself as an artist. A 1986 exhibit of his works was curated by Robert Mapplethorpe, and a retrospective was mounted in 2006 at New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum. He was the subject of the 2005 documentary That Man: Peter Berlin. He currently resides in San Francisco.
Yusuf Eckholm: Why did you choose photography to showcase your art rather than mediums like watercolor, oil, collage, or sculpture?
Armin Hagen aka Peter Berlin: Well, I didn’t see my photographs as art. I never thought about doing any art for the sake of art. I just found it interesting to freeze a moment in time, the way I looked and the way I dressed in that time as Peter Berlin. So that was the quickest way to freeze the visual moment. Of course, you had to have a good camera.
Yusuf Eckholm is freelance journalist, aspiring photographer, and founder of the zine called Libertine. He lives in South Pasadena, CA.