(Nearly) Naked Musicians

Okay, so the photos on the previous page may not have been the kind of "Naked Musicians" you were expecting...:) As I am not only fascinated by the older music of our culture, I also find interesting other aspects, such as vintage male photography. So I'm including this small tribute to that facet of our history.

In the early 50's if you wanted to see even partially-clad photos of men, you were limited to the physique muscle magazines, which were very heterosexual in their presentation. They offered weightlifting tips and the models often posed with women. All that changed with the emergence of the "gay" physique magazines, which threw off the facade of being about pumping iron, and had more to do with just exposing skin and looking fetcthing. These were men simply showing off their bodies, and there was a very willing audience. Examples of these publications were "Physique Pictorial, " "Tomorrow's Man," "MANual," and "Vim."

One of the most noted pioneers in the field of photography for these magazines was Bob Mizer. He formed the Athletic Model Guild in 1948, at first as a modeling agency, but he found more success in selling his photographs, to the extent that in 1951 he turned his catalog into a magazine, becoming "Physique Pictorial." Entering that market the next year was "Tomorrow's Man," and while it definitely appealed to the gay market, the photos were by community standards still so tame that Tab Hunter's studio didn't mind him appearing on its cover in 1953.

Times moved on and in the more progressive 60's publishers began challenging the laws against their including totally nude photos. Tim Wilbur, who maintains the excellent site "Vintage Physique Photography," summarized how the laws finally changed:

"In 1965, DSI published the magazine Butch, featuring full frontal male nudes. DSI challenged in court the constitutionality of prohibiting full nudity on the basis of such depictions as "obscene." Obscenity had been the rationale used for such restrictions in state and local community laws, and especially by the US Post Office. In mid-'67 the US Supreme Court ruled in favor of DSI, that nudity alone could not be considered "obscene." In the same year it also ruled as legal the importation of nudist magazines from Denmark (again, this fight had been mounted mainly by the Post office).

Previously, the law allowed nudes in photographic "art" only if the genitals were "draped," meaning covered. However, Walter Kundzicz (Champion) noticed a giant loophole because no laws specifically stated that covering the genitals had to obscure them. So he went ahead and covered them with semi-sheer fabric or semi-transparent or mesh posing straps, thereby sticking to the letter of the law. Earlier than Champion, Bob Mizer (AMG) experimented with attention-seeking materials such as fur and striped designs, as well as more revealing clinging fabrics and disassembled jockstraps which his mother sewed up for him. While this didn't go quite as far as Walter, Bob did have his fights with the LA vice squads and courts nevertheless.

The moral climate may have been changing among the young and the educated in the latter part of the '60s and early '70s; the heated anti-war movement fueled the women's and minorities' rights movements as well as the gay rights push. The times being as turbulent as they were did have its effect, but only briefly in the short run and minimally in the long. Meanwhile the establishment was not necessarily becoming very much more tolerant of either gays or nudity yet, despite the fact that it had never been a secret to law enforcement that "physique" mags and photos appealed primarily to that audience. It wasn't until 1971 that the Supreme Court let stand the Sacramento US District Court ruling allowing the mailing of obscene material "upon request," finally taking the wind out of the sails of the Post Office."

I highly recommend the website maintained by Tim Wilbur, and also the Yahoo newsgroup "V-M-P" (standing for Vintage Male Physique), which has enabled me to download all of the images presented on the previous page. And I also recommend the movie "Beefcake," which does an excellent job presenting this early history.

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Tomorrow's Man

Tad, Rock, George