Being gay means living on the edge. In the same way, taking pictures of male nudity has been, for too long, an overlooked and mocked activity in the artistic spheres, because it has been considered an offensive act to society. Many decades, and ideological revolutions had to pass in order to place the male body into the role of the muse in the world of art and publicity.
While men do luxuriate in unparalleled freedom, there are other taboos, conditions, rules, and duties that bind them tightly to society's expectations. This can be seen especially if the definition of being a complete man isn’t met –in many places manhood is still based on heterosexuality– or if the body is shown with erotic undertones, when only female anatomy is expected to do so.
To explain one of the steps of this situation that society is still processing, it’s quite enough to see the photographs by Bob Mizer, a pioneer in contemporary gay porn and in the seductive gaze on men. Of course, having developed his craft during the fifties and sixties, he wasn’t as free to do his craft as we can boldly do nowadays. The photographer had to find the means to 1) satisfy an audience without visual means for their pleasure; 2) show his ideas without offending anybody or being seen as suspicious, and 3) put female and male genders in the same level as objects of lust, desire, and sexual usage. Although Mizer never said he intended it, we can infer from his art that, in a world of Pin-up girls, a contrast was needed for those with other tastes.
Of course, this contrast had to be carefully designed, and everything had to be adapted to the time's demands. How could he achieve this and avoid any sort of scandal? By portraying men as manly beings. Even when they were being seductive, they wouldn’t look exaggerated or overacting; they would send a clear message without breaking the standards of inter-masculine relationships. In other words: they followed the rules of heterosexuality, avoiding any contact with an even more dangerous otherness than the feminine one.
What was the final result? A collection of photographs whose outcome would be a gay magazine disguised as a sports/men health publication: Physique Pictorial. For five decades, this magazine, capable of inspiring the works of David Hockney and Robert Mapplethorpe, has even expanded without boundaries to the body-building show. Its success would show how hypocrite and hypersexualized the North American culture of the time was and still is.
With hints of obscenity –going from wearing loincloths to full nudity, oscillating between classical sculpture shots to extreme close-ups of genitals, and always making tasteful compositions that masturbate the mind with the idea of friendship and secret concepts like slavery, roleplay, and even illegality–, Mizer’s images are one of a kind. Moreover, they resonate in everything we nowadays know as gay pride and erotic diversity.
Among his many contributions we can highlight the impeccable use of black and white effects to portray penises and testicles, still somehow aggressive to the sight. In his works we can also find the presence of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Dallesandro, one of Andy Warhol’s most important models, the incursion of black characters in racial contexts, and the demystification of the feminine homosexual. Even though this last fact can be understood as offensive or servile to heterosexuality’s demands, we can’t deny that his stereotypical photographs have opened a discussion regarding sexual connections, gender, orientations, preferences, etc.
From 1945, going through the chaotic and good mannered fifties, and getting up to the nineties youth, Bob Mizer began a trend in which the body was represented like never before. Through his art, he sheltered a homosexual audience for the first time; he satisfied a female sector that was barely discovering the possibilities of pleasure, and gave men the idea of seeing their bodies in a way that shouldn’t be seen as dishonorable or misunderstood: as sexual objects. You can visit Bob Mizer Foundation website to see all his work or check Matt Lambert’s Photographs That Will Help You Escape From The Cruel Routine Of Modern Life Through Eroticism.
::Translated by María Isabel Carrasco Cara Chards