Archive for January 19th, 2013

19
Jan
13

Exhibition: ‘Bob Mizer: ARTIFACTS’ at Invisible-Exports, New York

Exhibition dates: 14th December 2012 – 27th January 27 2013

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** Warning this posting contains male nudity – oh no! **

There are some appealing but relatively tame photographs from one of the doyens of male physique photography from the 1950s-1970s in this posting. More interesting to me are the photographs that never get published or shown in a gallery. While visiting The Kinsey Institute in Bloomington, Indiana as part of my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male in 2001 I made a list of all the physique photographers present in their collection, as well as annotated notes on the photographs of Baron von Gloeden, George Platt Lynes, male homosexual catalogue photographs, male homosexual photographs and male2male sex photographs. Unfortunately almost nothing of this amazing collection of photographs at The Kinsey has ever been published, mainly I suspect due to the prudish nature of American society.

The physique photographers include artists such as Russ Warner, Al Urban, Lon of New York (who began their careers in the late 1930’s), Bob Mizer (started Athletic Model Guild (AMG) in 1945 and later, on his own, Physique Pictorial), Charles Renslow (started Kris studio in 1954), Bruce of Los Angeles, Douglas: Detroit, Dick Falcon, Melan, Karl Eller and Physique Culture and Early Homosexual Magazines. Read my notes from The Kinsey on these photographers.

Bob Mizer set up AMG in 1945 to photograph male bodybuilders and it is now the oldest male model photography studio in the United States of America. All models in the photographs that I studied were well built, smooth, toned. Lots of outdoor shots! Models are usually quite young (18-22 approx.) Tiny waists and v shaped. For example Image No. 51820. 3 studio portraits of one smooth boy featuring twisted back, arms and torso to great effect. Total V shape. Lots of erotic wrestling photographs from AMG as well.

Although not showing nudes in publications such as Physique Pictorial, private photographs by Bob Mizer heavily feature nudity. Wide use made of projected backdrops – abstracts, leaves, mountains, ships, classical Roman ruins. 4″ x 5″ prints are much better than the 8″ x 10″ enlargements. The Annotations on back of both size images tell of the models jobs and sexual orientation and what they will or will not do sexually if known. It is interesting to note that these annotations are usually the only thing that places the physical bodies in a social context. The studio shots really have no context while the outdoor shots have slightly more context. The annotations helps define the social and sexual structures within which the models circulated.

What surprised me the most in The Kinsey Institute collection were the black and white and colour photographs of the beefcake models with erect penis and having full on male2male sex out in the open. These photographs are never seen, never published or exhibited but these prurient texts provide an important touchstone when trying to understand the more sexually and aesthetically passive work. It is a pity that the viewer cannot make an informed decision on the development of an artist’s oeuvre without immorality raising its ugly head.

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Many thankx to Invisible Exports for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting.

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Bob Mizer. 'John Benninghoff' 1991

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Bob Mizer
John Benninghoff
1991
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
7 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Rick Gordon, rooftop studio, Los Angeles' 1972

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Bob Mizer
Rick Gordon, rooftop studio, Los Angeles
1972
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
10.5 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown, Los Angeles' 1972

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Bob Mizer
Unknown, Los Angeles
1972
Vintage color transparency
Cibachrome print
10.5 x 10.5 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. Production still from "Boy Factory", 1969

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Bob Mizer
Production still from “Boy Factory”
1969
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
16 x 20 inches
Edition of 3
Printed in 2012

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“Most widely known as a photographer-filmmaker, independent publisher, and midcentury iconoclast, Bob Mizer (1922-1992) was an erotic auteur and a lyrical chronicler of the pre-Stonewall demimonde. In his meticulously staged idiosyncratic private work, Mizer revealed himself as a conscientious artist of intimacy and depth, a visionary stylist of the male-on-male gaze as it was refracted through a culture suffused with masculine iconography, which yet stymied and redirected the vectors of desire. The objects and photographs here show Mizer to be the progenitor of a new kind of devotional work that honors the kaleidoscopic typology of desire in the final stages of the underground era, while approaching it simultaneously as an improvised and mesmerizing ethnography.

Mizer founded the Athletic Model Guild studio in 1945 when American censorship laws permitted women, but not men, to be photographed partially nude, so long as the result was “artistic” in nature. In 1947 he was wrongly accused of having sex with a minor and subsequently served a year-long prison sentence at a desert work camp in Saugus, California. But his career was catapulted into infamy in 1954 when he was convicted of the unlawful distribution of obscene material through the US mail. The material in question was a series of black and white photographs, taken by Mizer, of young bodybuilders wearing what were known as posing straps – a precursor to the G-string.

Upon his release from prison, he continued working undeterred, founding the groundbreaking magazine Physique Pictorial in 1951, which also debuted the work of artists such as Tom of Finland, Quaintance and many others. Models included future Andy Warhol superstar Joe Dallesandro, actors Glenn Corbett, Alan Ladd, Susan Hayward, Victor Mature, and actor-politician Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Throughout his long career he produced a dizzying array of intimate and idiosyncratic imagery, some flattened of explicit content but bathed nevertheless in an unmistakable erotic glow – tributes to the varieties of desire. Although Mizer’s studio was successful, his influence on artists ranging from David Hockney (who moved from England to California in part to seek out Mizer), Robert Mapplethorpe, Francis Bacon, Jack Smith, Andy Warhol and many others is only now beginning to be more widely appreciated.

The works collected in Bob Mizer: ARTIFACTS include a rare selection of staged tableux, images of California subcultures and an intimate collection of objects from various private sessions – preserved by Mizer along with photographs, films, videos and an ever-expanding catalog of props which over time evolved into a haphazard private museum and a natural history of American desire.”

Press release from the Invisible-Exports website

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Bob Mizer. 'Jim Carroll, Los Angeles' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Jim Carroll, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Bill Holland, Los Angeles' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Bill Holland, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Beau Rouge, Los Angeles' c. 1954

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Bob Mizer
Beau Rouge, Los Angeles
c. 1954
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown, Handstand, Santa Monica' 1945

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Bob Mizer
Unknown, Handstand, Santa Monica
1945
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown Woman Lifting, Santa Monica' c. 1951

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Bob Mizer
Unknown Woman Lifting, Santa Monica
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown Woman, Los Angeles' c 1951

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Bob Mizer
Unknown Woman, Los Angeles
c. 1951
Vintage large-format black and white negatives
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Bob Mizer. 'Unknown on Platform, Santa Monica' c. 1945

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Bob Mizer
Unknown on Platform, Santa Monica
c. 1945
Vintage large-format black and white negative
Silver gelatin print
10.5 x 8.4 inches
Edition of 5
Printed in 2012

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Invisible-Exports
14A Orchard Street, Lower East Side
New York City

Opening hours:
Wednesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm

Invisible-Exports website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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