There was a time in the 50’s when young men arriving in Los Angles seeking fortune and fame in the film industry were recruited by photographers to be photographed nude or nearly nude for companies like Athletic Model Guild to showcase these young guy’s bodies in the hopes of hiring them for work. It seemed harmless at the time, and the photographs grew into such publications as the Physique Magazine that were adored by a complete male culture as a means of becoming healthy and strong. I recently watched a movie called Beefcake that documented the rise of fall of one particular photographer named Bob Mizer who was eventually brought down and indicted on a charge steaming from a prostitution sting. Looking back at his images they are spectacular, well conceived, well photographed images of beautiful fit young men in the prime of their lives. Many of them becoming classic works of art that have become highly collectable today, with prices ranging to $400 to $1000 plus for a standard 8×10. During that era the post office began to shut down such distribution of these images as being lewd and lascivious. Many of the photographers of this era’s images and negatives were confiscated by the courts and destroyed. Mizer went to elaborate lengths to refine and define this style of imagery that was by nature erotic and arousing for much of the culture and was yet socially acceptable by the general public at large. It became a cultural phenomenon to see near naked men exposed in such ways. This was of course before my time so I was never really exposed to such things. But I do member as a kid seeing the puny weakling on the beach having sand kicked to his face and wanting to become more masculine and strong and the beautiful Adonis you would become and who would be adored by everyone if you subscribed to this sort of ad. I am not even sure what the product was then. I had never really paid much attention to this sort of photography, but now I see the influence it has on my own work and style. Mizer was a man of vision who worshiped and paid such adoring homage to it. He opened his house to lost wayward boys, giving them a sense of dignity and respect. Paid them small sums for posing and gave them a place to stay. Many of them hustled on the side and took advantage of his generosity. But to look back, his artistic vision was astonishing and at the time may have felt or seemed worthless but inspired countless others to pursue the art of men naked. In the end he lost everything and become labeled as a pornographer, but for one fleeting time in our history defined a new adoration of oneself, with dignity and respect becoming a beacon and icon for others to follow. The film Beefcake by Thom Fitzgerald is a delightful film to watch unfold. It is filled with actual images and footage of this era and style, and yes contains lots of nudity mixed with live interviews from some of the models from that time and their perceptions of themselves and how they viewed culturally what was happening. I recently had ordered a book put together by Reed Massengill called Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes that pays homage to many of these artists, images lost but suddenly recovered. I have been looking at it with a new found adoration for those who have paved our way in this modern era.
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