In early 1966 Hockney went to Beirut, which he saw as the contemporary equivalent of Cavafy's Alexandria, to research imagery for the prints. While taking inspiration from Cavafy's poetry, Hockney also drew upon his own experiences and environment. For instance, his ink drawing Boys in Bed, Beirut (1966) (in fact drawn in London using two of his friends as models) was adapted for one of the prints, According to Prescriptions of Ancient Magicians. Photographs were also used as reference material, especially for such prints as In an Old Book and The Beginning, and the portraits of Cavafy - images he describes as 'very posed' (Livingstone, p.86). Hockney was not entirely pleased with the results, however: 'Things like weight and volume are very hard to get from a photograph. You don't get the information you need to be able to do the line' (Livingstone, pp.87-8).
Hockney conceived the images, like the English texts, as an updated translation of Cavafy's imagery. Portrait of Cavafy II depicts the poet in front of an architectural setting copied from a drawing Hockney made of a Beirut police station, with a modern car in the foreground. Only a few of the etchings (He Enquired After the Quality, The Shop Window of a Tobacco Store) depict a particular place or scene as described in the poems. Hockney did not work with the poems at his side, nor did he intend each image to be an illustration of a particular poem. Rather, he and Stangos assigned poems to the etchings only after the prints were done. Intended as visual equivalents to the mood and theme of all Cavafy's homoerotic poetry, Hockney's etchings depict variations on the theme of two men engaged in endless, anonymous pick-ups. Certain themes are found in the work of both Hockney and Cavafy: fleeting experiences, a nostalgia for the erotic, and a desire to be deeply involved in the lives of others while remaining a detached spectator.
Nikos Stangos (ed.), David Hockney by David Hockney, London 1976, pp.14, 102, reproduced pp.137-9
Marco Livingstone, David Hockney, revised edition, London 1987, pp.85-89 (reproduced)
Marco Livingstone, David Hockney: Etchings and Lithographs, exhibition catalogue, Waddington Graphics, London 1988, introduction [pp.10-11], reproduced pls.16-19