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Photo of the Week #182

Walter Rutter

Three black and white portriats of trans men in dresses and wigs, posing and smiling for the camera.

Casa Susanna, 1966
Vintage gelatin silver prints


February 28, 2022
In 1966 Walter Rutter, a successful commercial photographer based in New York City, received an invitation from a colleague to spend a day shooting at Casa Susanna, a property in The Catskills which served as a meeting place for gender non-conforming guests. Casa Susanna was named for its owner Susanna Valenti, the adopted name of Tito Valenti, who had emigrated to the US from Latin America in the 1940’s. Valentini wrote a column “Susanna Says” for Transvestiamagazine and had organized the regular gathering by advertising in the magazine. 

Casa Susanna specialized in shooting and printing photographs so guests often arrived with the intention of being photographed. Cross-dressing was historically prosecuted under the auspices of “masquerade laws”, so Casa Susanna offered an alternative to the genuine risks associated with taking film to a commercial developer. Walter Rutter was an in-demand fashion photographer who regularly shot for magazines like Cosmopolitan, a fact which no doubt resonated with Casa Susanna’s clients who looked to the images in women’s beauty magazines to guide their exploration of what Susanna called “inner-femininity”.

In October 2003 Laurence Miller Gallery presented the acclaimed exhibition The Girls of Casa Susanna, which represented the first New York exhibition of the pictures. Since then there has been a book and a Broadway play devoted to the story of Casa Susanna. We are pleased to partner with Walter’s widow to offer a selection of vintage prints from this important historic document.