HISTORICAL PRESSINGS

 
 

Physique Photographers I

 
At the same time that Minor White was exploring anxieties surrounding his sexuality and his war experiences, many other American men were returning home from WWII to America to find that they had to reaffirm the traditional place of the male as the breadwinner within the family unit. Masculinity and a muscular body image was critical in this reaffirmation. Powerful in build and strong in image it was used to counter the threat of newly independent females, females who had taken over the jobs of men while they were away at war. Conversely, many gay men returned home to America after the war knowing that they were not as alone as they had previously thought, having socialised, associated, fought and had sex with others of their kind. There were other gay men out there in the world and the beginnings of contemporary gay society started to be formed. A desire by some gay men for the masculine body image found expression in the publications of bodybuilding books and magazines that continued to be produced within the boundaries of social acceptability after the Second World War. Photographers such as Russ Warner, Al Urban, Lon of New York (who began their careers in the late 1930's), Bob Mizer (started Physique Pictorial in 1945), Charles Renslow (started Kris studio in 1954), and Bruce of Los Angeles, sought out models on both sides of the Atlantic. Models appeared in posing pouches or the negatives were again airbrushed to hide offending genitalia. Some unpublished images from 1942-1950 by Bruce of Los Angeles show an older man sucking off a stiff younger man (Image No. 52001 - 52004) but this is the rare exception rather than the rule. Appealing to a closeted homosexual clientele the published images seem, on reflection, to have had a more open, homoerotic quality to them than earlier physique photographs. This can be observed in the two images below. The first image carries on the tradition of the Sansone image "Master and Slave," but further develops the sadomasochistic overtones; such wrestling photographs became popular just because the models were shown touching each other, which could provide sexual arousal for gay men looking at the photographs.

 

 

Bob Mizer/AMG "Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross" nd

Bob Mizer/
Athletic Model Guild.
"Irwin Kosewski
and Jerry Ross."
n.d.

Joe Corey.
"Bill Henry and Bob Baker"
n.d.

Joe Corey "Bill Henry and Bob Baker" nd

 

 

Some photographs were taken out of doors instead of always in the studio, possibly an expression of a more open attitude to ways of depicting the nude male body. The bodies in the 'beefcake' magazines of the 1950s tend to be bigger than that of the ephebe, even when the models were quite young in some cases. As the name 'beefcake' implies, the muscular mesomorphic shape was the attraction of these bodies - perfectly proportioned Adonis's with bulging pectorals, large biceps, hard as rock abdomens and small waists. The 1950's saw the development of a more open fixation by gay men with the muscular mesomorph body as the ultimate image of the male. Lithe bodies of young dancers and swimmers now gives way to muscle - a built body, large in its construction, solid and dependable, sculpted like a piece of rock. These bodies are usually smooth and it is difficult to find a hirsute body in any of the photographs from the physique magazines of this period.