At 71, Peter Berlin admits that he gets the same high from preparing a meal of red snapper, baked potato with chives and garden salad as he used to from cruising for sex.
“It was so delicious,” the porn icon says with gusto. “The tomatoes were so fresh.”
This is the side of the reclusive Berlin that few see, and what producers of the exhibit “Peter Berlin: Photographer / Porn Star / Gay Icon,” opening this week at Magnet, hope to reveal to the public.
The brainchild of co-curators Eric Smith and Mark Garrett, the exhibit showcases 20 images, everything from hand-painted, black-and-white vintage photos printed by the artist himself in the 1970s and '80s, to recently printed color photos, to a life-size poster produced especially for this show.
“People know the image and they come to the image, which is silent but powerful, and compelling,” Smith says. “And they come with preconceived notions of who they think this person is. This is an opportunity to give Peter a voice and have people hear who he is.”
Smith, a local filmmaker, and Garrett, a studio artist, who met Berlin a decade ago when his documentary “That Man: Peter Berlin” played at international film festivals, regarded Berlin's immense photo archive of artful selfies as worthy of preservation.
The Polish-born photographer and provocateur (born Armin Hagen Freiherr von Hoyningen-Huene) has been a source of fascination since moving to the U.S. from Germany in the early '70s and appearing in seminal porn palace films “Nights in Black Leather” (1973) and “That Boy” (1974).
He was also the subject of countless self-portraits, Robert Mapplethorpe and Andy Warhol photographs, and Tom of Finland drawings. His 2005 feature-length documentary introduced him to a younger generation fascinated by pre-AIDS San Francisco.
“I was never out to become anything,” he recalls. “I just wanted to have a good time and give people a climax. My career was having sex, and the photography was the sideshow. But that must have translated into the photos, because they've given people great excitement.”
Since age has taken its toll on Berlin's sex drive, other passions have risen to the surface.
“I'm older, so I'm not driven sexually,” he confides. “Once in a while I get into Peter Berlin mode and I can go there. But mostly I'm living like an old housewife. I clean my house and cook very well. I'm with my cat in bed drinking my tea, laughing like an old lady, thinking, 'What a trip it was.'”