Whether or not you were an early subscriber to homoerotic nudie mags, you've been exposed to the influence of photographer Bob Mizer. A pioneer in the beefcake genre, Mizer began his career in the mid-40s, when imagery of the male nude was banned, and the female nude permissible only in an "art" context. So in 1945, Mizer started the Athletic Model Guild, producing films and photography of scantily-clad men in an "athletic" context.
Even early in his career, Mizer faced his share of legal battles. He was sent to a work camp for nine months after being wrongfully charged with having sex with an underage model. It didn't seem to slow him down, though, and in 1951, Mizer founded the photographic mailer Physique Pictorial.
In its 13-year run, the publication debuted the work of frequent contributor Tom of Finland and influenced a number of artists— it’s said, credibly, Robert Mapplethorpe and Jack Smith. Physique also made a huge impact on Billy Miller, the current publisher of like-minded self-described cumrag, Straight to Hell.
Miller has worked with the Bob Mizer Foundation to curate a selection of Physique images and Mizer's subsequent work at Invisible Exports Gallery (up now) on the Lower East Side. It fits Invisible Exports’ programming (see Stephen Irwin's erased porn) but what's interesting here isn't so much the artful photography but the culture documented itself.
Mizer's world represents a liberating fluidity and innocence, embracing just about anything that drifts in from male Dom culture: greasers, cowboys, Indians, cops, Spartans, even Nazis. In the selection at Invisible Exports, the women never look as good, especially when comically (and maybe a little cruelly) posed lifting a tiny barbell, or performing a handstand. As if to leave room for an alibi, a handful of contact prints featuring rows and rows of man play toss a ball-and-chain in the last few shots for good measure.
And the men themselves are as happy-go-lucky as their costumes; dudes easily capable of snapping each other's necks sit weightlessly on each other's backs, and tug mischievously at leather jackets. Like great porn, they're just playing around. Their secret culture is so much fun that it almost seems wrong to consume them in a one-off blog post.
With that in mind, enjoy.