Posts Tagged ‘male bodies in early gay pornography magazines


Text: “In Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’, RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

March 2023


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C.
Gelatin silver print



Since the demise of my old website, my PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001) has no longer been available online.

I have now republished the third of twelve chapters, “In Press”, so that it is available to read. More chapters will be added as I get time. I hope the text is of some interest. Other chapters include Historical Pressings (examines the history of photographic images of the male body) and Bench Press (investigates the development of gym culture, its ‘masculinity’, ‘lifestyle’, and the images used to represent it).

Dr Marcus Bunyan March 2023



“In Press” chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter investigates the photographic representation of the muscular male body in the (sometimes gay) media and gay male pornography. In the title of the chapter I use the word ‘press’ to infer a link to the media.



photography, muscular male body, muscular male body in the media, appearance, lifestyle, narcissism, advertising, media, appearance, consumer capitalism, visible bodies, gay male, gay male pornography



  • Consuming the Appearance
  • Consumer Capitalism and Narcissism
  • Visible Bodies
  • Gay Male Pornography
  • Alternatives to American gay male pornography
  • Alternative bodies


Word count: 6,884



In Press


“Not only do the media shape our vision of the contemporary world, determining what most people can and cannot see and hear, but the very images of our own body, our own selves, our own personal self worth (or lack of it) is mediated by the omnipresent images of mass culture…”

Douglas Kellner1


From the fervent explosion that saw the birth of the gay liberation movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s there emerged a period of amazing freedom and growth for many gay people. Sexualities that were previously hidden behind a veil of secrecy were now being expressed and fought for out on the streets. Sex, especially the desire of gay men for casual sex, was now out in the open. A new body image emerged from this revolution, one that was neither male nor female, but androgynous. This new androgynous body image can be seen as a reflection of societal changes that were happening during the swinging Sixties, the era of “free love.” You could swing, i.e., move both ways sexually. The joining together of male and female, gay men and lesbians was a very positive force in the formation and acceptance of new identities.

But the honeymoon was soon over.

The idealism of the early gay liberation movement did not last long. Gay men, long persecuted for their camp and feminine ways sought images to combat the long held stereotype of the limp-wristed pansy who had abdicated his male power to others through his effeminacy. Manliness came out of the closet of the physique magazines to express the longed for power of patriarchy that gay men sought. There was an enormous surge in the production of homoerotic imagery and gay men responded by imitating heterosexual masculinity in an ironic way; the ‘clone’ image was born: boots, tight fitting jeans, check shirts, short hair and usually a moustache to top off the image. Anybody could go out and purchase such an outfit. It did not discriminate along class or social boundary lines and the ‘look’ was relatively ageless. This clone image extended to other identities that included the leather man, the sailor, the construction worker & the cowboy. But the image was still ‘butch’; skinny or fat guys really need not apply.

The pop group ‘The Village People’ are a perfect example of the camp irony that infused the gay scene at this time. Their song “Macho Man” echoes the desire for gay men to be seen as butch: “I wanna be a macho, macho man – I wanna be, a macho man,” they sing parading around in their tight fitting and revealing outfits. By making their stereotypical cloned images of the cowboy, construction worker, cop, etc., … incredibly camp they undermined the credibility of traditional masculinity. But soon this camp ironic comment was devoured by the dichotomy of existing sex and gender differences. As Dennis Altman has said,

“In the early days of the movement, both women and men saw the process of gay liberation as intimately related to the blurring of sexual and gender boundaries, a move toward androgyny … Our biggest failure was an inability to foresee the extent to which the opposite would happen and a new gay culture / identity would emerge that would build on existing male / female differences.”2

The body and its visibility became increasingly important as a site of construction that was and is crucial to a persons identity and self-esteem. Appearance is critical to this construction.

I suggest that in contemporary gay culture the muscular body of the gay male has stopped being a ‘camp’ ironic comment on ‘normal’ masculinity and instead the body and photographic images of it have become a marketable asset, a commodity3 in a selling and surveillance exercise. Men advertise for sex by displaying their muscular body for admiration and desire by others and observe themselves and others reactions to it. Identity is now mediated by acceptance of their image and by ‘measuring up’ to a perceived image ideal. Media started to make use of this new availability of the male body as an objectified image of desire as it opened up new markets to companies. It encouraged men to undertake face lifts, tummy tucks, pectoral implants and hair removal, to purchase underwear, toiletries, clothes and all manner of goods so that they too could approach the archetypal ‘ideal’ of the masculine male.


David Lloyd. Cover of Naked Men of San Diego calendar 1998


David Lloyd
Cover of Naked Men of San Diego calendar
Santa Monica: The Phenomenon Factory, 1998



Today images of the smooth, muscular, white male body are everywhere in advertising, encouraging us to purchase more, to help us get closer to the ideal. As David Kellner has said in the quotation at the beginning of the chapter, the images of mass culture have become omnipresent. Naked men now adorn calendars containing full frontal nudity of smooth muscular white bodies all sporting the latest in designer erections! You can have your man any time of the day, any time of the year, when you get poked in the eye with this calendar.

The muscular Billy Doll, complete with huge anatomically correct penis, (read ‘scientifically’ or how big a gay man’s penis should be) is the contemporary idealisation of earlier stereotypical gay fantasy images, a kind of male Barbie doll on steroids for gay men. I believe that in today’s incarnation of the gay male body the camp ironic comment present in the fantasy images of an earlier generation has disappeared.


Behavior Saviour. 'Untitled' 'Billy postcard' 1998


Behavior Saviour
‘Billy postcard’


“Born to love you!! Billy is an anatomically correct adult doll standing 32 cm tall, weighing 320g. Choose from – Master Billy, Sailor Billy, Cowboy Billy and San Francisco Billy! Billy, the world’s first out and proud gay doll, comes beautifully packaged in a high quality presentation case with photographic backdrop.”


'Billy Doll' c. 1997


Billy Doll
c. 1997



It has been replaced by a desiring consumerism, in this case the desire for a muscular form complete with jaw dropping penis, the envy of every gay man. And after all, consumerism is a form of self-obsession. Makes you feel a little insecure, eh? Billy doesn’t have an inch of fat or any body hair, is perfectly proportioned (particularly his huge endowment) and is made of plastic. No fear of infection here! Women have been fighting this kind of body stereotyping with the Barbie Doll for years and now the gay male has his own equivalent.

Oh but Billy – he’s born to love you!!


Consuming the Appearance

Sex sells. The appearance and image of hard bodies sells. They are consumed by individuals and societies eager to attain what they offer; individuality, success, popularity and ‘lifestyle’. But these images are not individual, they are ‘the same’, to be consumed by every-body. Below are three examples of the current genre of male body photography; all bodies are of the same homogenised type. Only the photographers are different, but they might as well have been the same.


Various photographers of the male body in Blue Magazine


Michael Childers
Blue Magazine
Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p. 68

Jason Lee
Blue Magazine
Sydney: Studio Magazines, April 1997, p. 108

Rob Lang
Blue Magazine
Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p. 93



Apparently, “Jason Lee’s brooding male nudes plumb the shadowy depths of Mystery, Sensuality and Despair … Figures possess an aura of subdued eroticism … Faces and identities are almost inconsequential, the subject reduced to a study of line and texture.”4 He says that he doesn’t want to use clichés that tend to occur when photographing women and to establish an identity and style all of his own. Michael Childers images are supposedly, “Dynamic, sensual and glamorous,”5 while Rob Lang’s desert studies of the male nude, “Document his search for the man within … and [are] essentially about unearthing an emotional bond.”6

These “types” of photographer (ie. ones who take generic photographs of the muscular male body) and many more like them feature heavily in Blue Magazine, a glossy publication aimed at the gay ‘lifestyle’ demographic. Of course most photographers would like to think that their work contains a deep revealing: mystery, sensuality, emotional bonds, etc., … but speaking as a photographer myself, I believe that this type of body photography (with its self-absorption and narcissism), isolates the body from communication with others. The bodies are complete(d) within their own sensual gratification. The construction of these images is formulaic, the body forming a masturbatory landscape endlessly repeated by different photographers in slightly different poses that appeal to a gay erotic consumerism. There is no individual identity present in photographer or subject contrary to what Jason Lee would like to think.

Identities of the models and photographers are inconsequential. These images are used by advertisers, fashion photographers, media and “artists” alike to sell product and fall into clichés that have developed in the photography of the male body over the last 60 years.


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' Nd Yves Saint Laurent advertisement 'Blue Magazine'


Anonymous photographer
Yves Saint Laurent advertisement
Blue Magazine
Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p. 9



I suggest that these images are no longer just a fashion, but that they are here to stay. I believe that the problems associated with the idealisation of these male images (for example steroid abuse, low self-esteem, body dysmorphia), can be compared to the eating disorders that women have succumbed to in their attempts to attain the waif like super-model look of many contemporary women fashion models.

Some social commentators have argued that the multiplicity of images available to the public (in consumer culture) open up new identities and new areas of becoming, deconstructing the hierarchy of what is seen as valuable in body image types. Central to this hierarchy is the ability of dominant groups (such as supermodels or muscular mesomorphs) to prove that their lifestyle7 and body type are desirable, are superior and worthy of emulation. Chris Schilling has observed that,

“The rapid internationalization and circulation of consumer and ‘lifestyle’ goods threatens the readability of those signs used by the dominant to signify their elite physical capital. These issues raise doubts about the continuing management and control by the dominant class of those fields in which physical capital is recognized and valorized. If fields become saturated with increasing body images and social practices which are presented as constituting valuable forms of physical capital, then their structure may change. Unless dominant sections of society are able to classify these styles into existing hierarchies, and have these classifications recognized as valid, then the logic of differences in which taste in cultural and consumer goods and lifestyle activities are held to be oppositionally structured is threatened. In contemporary consumer society, then, we may be witnessing processes which will make it extremely difficult for any one group to impose as hegemonic, as worthy of respect and deference across society, a single classificatory scheme of ‘valuable bodies’.”8

I disagree with this argument.

It is still all too easy for the dominant group within a subculture or society to impose and identify a ‘valuable’ body. This can be seen in any of the above images and the way they are used by all types of artists, media & advertisers to attract ‘value’ status. The body of the muscular mesomorph attracts a projected desire that media and advertisers rely on. It is still very difficult to put forward alternate body images that can be seen as fantasies, both desirable & ‘valuable’. Since most males would like to have a muscular mesomorphic body shape this body type does have social status. Covers of gay magazines such as Outrage (below) sell far more copies when they have an attractive, muscular smooth young man on the front of them.


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' Nd in Blue Magazine 1999


Anonymous photographer
2(x)ist underwear advertisement
in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p.15


Darren Tieste. 'Geoff' Nd in Outrage Magazine 1999


Darren Tieste
Outrage Magazine cover, “Making Porn” play and underwear feature
in Outrage Magazine No. 189. Melbourne: Bluestone Press, February 1999. Front cover / p. 63



Here Outrage kills three birds with one stone. Firstly, they have their attractive semi-naked cover model to help sell the mag. Secondly, there is an article on the play in which the model / actor is acting (different photographs). This promotes both the play and fills the magazine. Thirdly, the image is repeated inside the magazine with other models / actors in designer underwear as part of a photographic feature. Nice one Outrage!

This and other contemporary images of muscular male bodies are unlike the clone image of an earlier generation because the ‘look’ is now ageist, elitist and requires great sacrifices in order to come close to possessing the ‘ideal’. Great value is put on appearance, youth, beauty, and lifestyle to the possible detriment of everything else.


Consumer Capitalism and Narcissism

Consumer capitalism encourages the consumption of items that promote a socially valued model. This encourages narcissism9 in the individual as each seeks to tailor their appearance through the consumption of such items. The individual reflexively watches how they ‘measure up’ to the model of a socially valued self and modulates what they consume so that they can be seen as popular, attractive & possessing a good ‘lifestyle’. Anthony Giddens notes,

“Consumption addresses the alienated qualities of modern social life and claims to be their solution: it promises the very things the narcissist desires – attractiveness, beauty and personal popularity – through the consumption of the ‘right’ kinds of goods and services. Hence all of us, in modern social conditions, live as though surrounded by mirrors; in these we search for the appearance of an unblemished, socially valued self.”10

I suggest that looking at the self in a mirror may not be the same as seeking the truth of the Self in reality; after all, a mirror image is only a reflected surface, seen in reverse. This reflection, this appearance, dominates your social ‘value’ in contemporary society. Appearances are marketable, and the more unblemished a product you have the better. Across the many spectrums of life it is a buyers and sellers market, whether it is the body, the underwear or the aftershave. They have what you want; you might have what they want. What price a sale? Maybe it’s all an illusion with mirrors?

(Please see the Eye-Pressure chapter for more information on the gaze).


Anonymous photographer. 'Fresh, Pure, Cool – It's milk' Nd in Large Magazine 1997


Anonymous photographer
Fresh, Pure, Cool – It’s milk
Style Council milk advertisement
in Large Magazine Issue No.8. Melbourne: Large Publications Pty Ltd., 21st March 1997, back cover


Anonymous photographer. 'Fresh, Pure, Cool – It's milk' Nd in Large Magazine 1997


Anonymous photographer
Fresh, Pure, Cool – It’s milk
Style Council milk advertisement
in Large Magazine Issue No.8. Melbourne: Large Publications Pty Ltd., 21st March 1997, pp. 1-2



The surface of such an identity construction hides the cost of its production. Seemingly, no effort is required to possess such a socially valuable body and ‘lifestyle’. Advertising promotes these socially valued bodies and lifestyles; this can be seen in the imagery and advertising message of the two milk advertisements. In the above advert the (phallic) glass of milk is linked to the smooth muscular body of the man holding it, who is the only person dressed in white. The milk and the man who is about to drink it are both, by association, fresh, pure, cool. The surrounding crowd is not staring at the milk, they are staring at, and desiring, him. On the left well-heeled matrons eye him with open desire and behind a group of (gay) men, all of a similar smooth, muscular body-type stare with open mouths and obviously lust after his sculptured torso. This tableaux reinforces the message that such a body is fresh, pure and cool, and is seen as a ‘valuable’ status symbol by society. It’s possible that by drinking milk you too can acquire such a possession!.

In the second advert a women and two men are again surrounded by ‘others’, people that could be regarded as freaks, with most of them having strange hair, over the top make-up and wearing dark clothes. They are not ‘normal’. When the advertising agency was casting for this campaign in Melbourne I went along – they wanted the weirdest looking people they could find. In contrast the male model at right reveals his smooth sculptured torso to the desiring gaze of an admiring viewer, much as in the first advertisement above.

This is the desirable body and the desirable ‘lifestyle’ to which we should all aspire!


Visible Bodies


“Visible bodies are caught in webs of communication irrespective of individual intentions and these systems can exert a considerable influence on the behaviour of those involved.”

Tom Burns11


Media advertising makes use of these webs of communication to reinforce it’s system of consumer control. Sometimes advertisers do not openly deploy these lines of communication. In the example below Sheridan sheets has, perhaps subconsciously perhaps deliberately, targeted the gay ‘lifestyle’ demographic without making it too obvious. In the first photograph a beautiful, smooth, tanned young man lies in bed happily smiling at the camera …


Anonymous photographer. ''Sheer Poetry' by Sheridan' Nd in Sheridan Australia brochure 1998


Anonymous photographer
‘Sheer Poetry’ by Sheridan
in Sheridan Australia brochure. Mordialloc: DDI Adworks, 1998, pp. 17-20



On turning the page we find that this image is followed by a double page spread of towels in assorted colours. On the next page we find another gorgeous smooth, tanned young man reclining in bed smiling at the camera. Funny isn’t it that the sheets on both beds are identical, that one boy is photographed from one side of the bed and the other boy from the opposite side. They couldn’t be in the same bed could they, heaven forbid!

Instead of showing the boys in bed together which would not appeal to the wider heterosexual male or female purchaser, the designer of the brochure has cleverly suggested the possibility of homosexuality through the use of visible bodies in a disguised web of communication. The symbolic representation of such photographs (with their implicit language of sexual contact) can be recognised by gay men without the overt nature of homosexuality being thrust in the face of the general public. It took me some time to realise what the designers had done. I wonder how many gay men have consciously realised this association? I think most would only perceive and understand this message projection, this web of communication on a subconscious level. Still this subconscious recognition only serves to reinforce societal values of what is seen as worthy of esteem, what is desirable in a lifestyle, through visible bodies, possessions and in this case, sheets. It is the insidious nature of media advertising that it evens out the bumps of difference, that is, it standardises and shapes levels of diversity, style and taste into what is socially acceptable and desirable.

The advertising media that targets consumers are not the only one’s guilty of promoting a limiting desirability of ‘ideals’ through photographic imagery, the representation of valuable male bodies. Equally to blame are some well known health organisations, both gay and straight, that use ‘the same’ stereotypical muscular mesomorphic bodies to illustrate their health campaigns.


Stephen Paul. 'Are Men from Mars?' c. 1998


Stephen Paul
Are Men from Mars?
c. 1998
‘Momentum’ Postcard
Bristow and Prentice Response Advertising
Melbourne: Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Mens Health Centre Inc. c. 1998


Stephen Paul. 'Loves me, Loves me not' c. 1998


Stephen Paul
Loves me, Loves me not
c. 1998
‘Momentum’ Postcard
Bristow and Prentice Response Advertising
Melbourne: Victorian AIDS Council/Gay Mens Health Centre Inc. c. 1998


Anonymous photographer. 'Now I'm immune!' Nd


Anonymous photographer
Now I’m immune!
‘Get Vaccinated’ Postcard
Australian College of Sexual Health Physicians 1997



To be fair, there is an awareness amongst quite a few people at The Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Mens Health Centre in Melbourne, Australia, of the need for the imaging of a broader cross section of body-types in health promotions. Still, this does not stop the images on postcards such as the two above (designed by an advertising company), appearing with regular monotony. The back of “Are Men from Mars?” asks you to discover for your yourself what makes men tick by joining one of the many VAC courses. From the card image it would seem that what makes men tick is a muscular well defined body, clenched hands (symbol of phallic masculinity)12 and beer!

Once introduced to the VAC young gay men may attend the ‘Young and Gay’, ‘Boyant’ or ’18 and under’ courses. In an interview with Jim Sotiropolous13 I asked him about the courses, media advertising and body image commodification:


MAB: OK, so one example I heard about as that you looked at people’s underwear to see whether they were wearing Calvin Klein.

JS: The only thing I can relate that too is that in the first week we use autograph sheets as an icebreaker. A sheet has 6 questions on it and one of these questions is who owns a pair of CK underwear.

MAB: Why is that there? This is interesting to me because of the commodification of the body and consumer culture – if you can’t have the body you can buy the underwear!

JS: Because people talk about it. It is something that we know will get people saying “Well, yeah I do.” So they will sign it. Its no use asking very vague questions and you won’t get a response, so you have to ask very specific questions because we just know they will respond. They know about it. I think it is stronger than a gay focused strategy. You can’t miss the billboards and the advertising.

MAB: So they have been attracted by those images of men and gone out and bought this underwear pre-knowing about the gay community and what’s expected of a gay image?

JS: Yes – the images are very erotic in the CK ads. I was in New York recently and there is a billboard that stretches 2 blocks with the range of CK underwear, its amazing!

MAB: Is this self-reflective narcissism good for how people feel about their own bodies?

JS: No – I think that there a lot of people who know they will never achieve that ideal but I’m not sure …

MAB: … whether that’s a bad thing

JS: Up to a point, yeah.

MAB: I’m not positing it as a totally bad thing.”


I suggest that the very presence of this kind of question (whether it elicits a response or not), still smacks of a certain elitism and the promotion of a particular ‘lifestyle’ as desirable. Calvin Klein models are, after all, the epitome of the clean cut, well groomed, tanned, successful visible male body promoted by an advertising web of communication. This is how bodies unintentionally get caught up in webs of communication which affects the behaviour of all bodies, in this case through the proposition of such a question. This enmeshment causes problems not only for the gay male but also for the heterosexual male; increased levels of body dissatisfaction, eating disorders and steroid abuse have been noted by researchers.14 This may be due in part to the desirability and valued social status of muscular mesomorphic body images such as those used in the Calvin Klein advertisements.

I believe that the search for self-identity through consumption is, in the end, a self defeating exercise. It is like looking into a thousand mirrors at an image of infinite regress never able to find the original image, that essence of inner Self that is ours only in the most insightful of moments. WE are the ones that create the images in the media, the mirror images of how we would like to be. As Lakoff and Scherr have said,

“Who, in the first place, are these faceless hordes? Who is ‘society’ but you and me? And the ‘media’ are not active, it is well known, but reactive; what they discern that their viewers / hearers / readers want, they provide. If we, the viewing public, are not stimulated to buy by the blandishments dangled before us, the media will be instantly responsive – there will be a whole new set of blandishments dangled faster than the eye can blink. So if the same tired messages, the same recycled pictures, pass across our weary retinas year after year, we cannot in all honesty blame the media.”15

We can only blame ourselves.


Gay Male Pornography


“If one were to write the ultimate cliched Australian coming out story, it would be about a boy born in a hick town who has the lithe body of a ballet dancer. Engaged to be married, he instead becomes a flight steward. The scales of heterosexuality drop from his eyes and he moves to Sydney to reinvent himself via the Yellow Brick Road of pumping at the City Gym, over-tanning at Tamarama, pulling beers at the Albury, and joining that bare-chested Roman garrison who shoulder their way across dance party floors. There is only one thing for him left to do: preserve the dream forever by becoming an American (which means the world) video sex icon.”

Peter Jordaan16


Following on from the previous text we might be able to say that we have only ourselves to blame if the media reinforce images of traditional ‘virile’ masculinity in a consumer society. It is we who have created these erotic male fantasy images, images that express our desires, not the media. But it is also true that capitalism and consumerism rely on the sale of product and constantly enlarge and amplify product appeal by advertising, thrusting these fantasy images into our faces until they become an overpowering omnipotent archetype. The male body in the contemporary gay porn industry is a prime example of such an archetype, the (re)enforcement of masculine power in the desirable image of the muscular mesomorphic body. How did this (re)enforcement of masculine power in the body image of gay porn stars come about?


Anonymous photographers. 'Solo Man' Nd


Anonymous photographers
Solo Man
Super 8mm pornography films advertisement in Super Star Studs No. 2. New York: No publisher, Nd (early 1970s) Back cover
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan



During my research at The One Institute in Los Angeles I investigated the type of body images that appeared in the transitional phase from physique magazines of the mid-late 1960s into the early gay pornography magazines of 1969-1970 in America which occurred after the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity. I wanted to find whether there had been a crossover, a continuation of the muscular mesomorphic body image that was a favourite of the physique photographers into the early pornography magazines. From the evidence of the images in the magazines I would have to say that there was a limited crossover of the bigger muscular bodies but most bodies that appeared in the early gay porn mags were of the youthful, smooth, muscular ephebe-type body image.

As can be seen from the images (above) most of the men featured in the early gay pornography magazines and films have bodies that appear to be quite ‘natural’ in their form. Models are mostly young, smooth, quite solid with toned physiques, not as ‘built’ as in the earlier physique magazines but still well put together. Examining the magazines at the One Institute I found that the bodies of older muscular/hairy men were not well represented. Perhaps this was due to the unavailability of the bigger and older bodybuilders to participate in such activity? In the male bodies of the c. early-1970s Super 8 mm pornography films (above) we can observe the desirable image of the smooth youthful ephebe (males between boy and man) being presented for our erotic pleasure.

We can also observe in the bodies of Mark Hammer, Mike Powers and Bob Noll the presence of a bigger more muscular body. These bodies are an early indication of the later development that was to take place in the body images of men in gay pornography – a shift to older more ‘masculine’ bodies, probably as a reaction to the stereotype of the effeminate limp-wristed pansy and also the fear of being seen as a pederast, that is a person who has sex with underage boys.

In the late 1970s another revolution started to take place; towards the end of the decade porn films became more widely available on videocassette. This made porn much more accessible to the gay consumer and allowed the expansion of the gay pornography industry. Instead of having to buy Super 8 movies and use home projectors that took an age to set up gay men could now have their ‘hit’ of pornography in a quick, convenient package.


Anonymous photographer. 'Perfect Room Service' c. 1976


Anonymous photographer
Perfect Room Service
c. 1976
Homo Action
14 Color-Climax Corporation
Copenhagen: Peter Theander, 1976
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan


Not all male bodies (especially those that appeared in the early European pornography films and magazines), conformed to the ‘ideal’ of the hairless muscular ephebe, as can be seen in this magazine ‘still’ photograph taken from a Danish Super 8 mm gay pornography film. Curiously the magazine is printed in Australia.



Early gay male pornographic films have a distinctly ‘underground’ flavour but some managed to capture the frenzied passion that drives such erotic encounters where the people really want to have sex with each other. In the early 1980s the amateurism of the early films was replaced by the professionalism (and money making power) of such directors as Steve Scott, Matt Sterling, John Travis and William Higgins who still managed to capture this sexual frenzy. Gone are the really youthful body types of the earlier magazines and films – smooth, white, older muscular bodies now dominate.

William Higgins is one of my favourite directors for his unique shooting style. He makes use of oblique angles, incredible distorted close-ups of blood engorged penises (Sailor in the Wild, 1983), slow motion repeats of cum shots from many angles, and jump cuts from one carnal scene to another without a break (Class Reunion, 1982). This surreal celluloid confusion adds to the mystery and excitement of the scenes and the participants really seem to enjoy their sex; they wince as the cock goes up their arse and there is a certain ‘reality’ about the whole sex thing.

Even in these early 1980s films the star has numerous sexual partners and fucks his way through the whole video having multiple ejaculations within the space of a few minutes running time. At the drop of a hat muscular men drop their pants and their loads all over the place and some of the scenes are really horny!

As with any pornography though, you have to trawl through heaps of dross before you find the gems that get you going. Multiple orgasms by the stars of pornographic videos help reinforce compulsive sexual behaviour17 that is learnt by gay men to be a societal performance ‘norm’.18 Withdrawing before cumming enabled the director to capture the ‘money shot’ (ejaculation) for the viewer; gay male sex on video became not a passionate intimate union between two men but a performance, a display of shooting skills (both physical and pictorial) which presents the body to best advantage. Later in his career William Higgins also pioneered the shaved bum which epitomises the pumped up, perfectly groomed young white male available for plumbing lessons.


Anonymous photographer. 'Cover image from The Devil and Danny Webster pornography video' 1997


Anonymous photographer
Cover image from The Devil and Danny Webster pornography video
Champions Video of Australia catalogue Issue 31. Canberra: No publisher, 1997, p. 12


“Unable to compete with the ‘sun-bronzed gym gods’, Danny spends his nights alone watching old movies – hoping for a miracle … “


Anonymous photographer. 'Take it All! They Ate the Whole Thing!' Nd


Anonymous photographer
in Take it All! They Ate the Whole Thing! Vol. 1 No. 1. American: No place or publisher, Nd
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan


Rare image of thin bodies in gay male pornography.



Gay men wanted to be seen as virile ‘real’ men in reaction to the stereotype of the effeminate pansy. This emphasis on the possession and display of a muscular body became even more prevalent in pornography with the onset of the HIV / AIDS crisis in the mid-1980s.

Driven by the fear of disease and the anxiety, insecurity and dis-ease of being thin and being seen as possibly infected gay men started going to the gym and ‘pumping’ up in ever increasing numbers. A big, healthy, muscular body couldn’t possibly be infected with the virus! Body hair was out as it was a sign of experience and maturity and therefore of disease according to Michelangelo Signorile.19

Healthiness was in. Gay men with thin bodies (such as those above) or bodies like that of Danny Webster (above), hoped for a miracle otherwise they would be left on the shelf, never having any sex! Either that or they went to the gym and capitulated to the emerging stereotype. There was apparently no hope if you didn’t ‘fit’ the ideal. But this is not the real world, this is a fantasy! Many gay men gave in to this fantasy becoming ‘simulations’, carbon copies if you like, of their porn star heroes. Lots take illegal steroids to get close to their ‘ideal’.

Other gay men have carried on as they have always done; living their lives as positively as they can; incorporating their sexuality as part of their identity; coping with feelings of inadequacy that such bodily facades can generate. Perhaps if these bodies were seen as ‘unnatural’ gay men would get over some of their attraction towards them. Perhaps if they accepted them as an artifice, a deception; that the material (steroid abuse20 and possible HIV virus contraction to name two) and psychological (high / low self-esteem leading to depression and anxiety) cost of their production is hidden behind the rose coloured lens of the camera or the surface of the body, then their erotic power would be lessened. I suggest that gay men DO realise that these images are fantasies but still strive to attain the fantasy in themselves and in the bodies of their partners.


Anonymous photographer. Image from 'The Big Thrill' pornography video Nd


Anonymous photographer
Image from The Big Thrill pornography video Nd
Cover of Champions Video of Australia catalogue Issue 46, 1998



“… when a dozen handsome young college guys arrive at the Kingsley Institute, the first thing they do is have a big pillow-fight, get incredibly horny, take their clothes off and have an all-in jerk off. After that, things get increasingly out of hand. All the young men are exceedingly cute and built like young gods, so they can link up in any combination they care to and make a very handsome couple. And they do care to. The viewer soon loses track of who’s doing what with who, or indeed of who is who, but it doesn’t really matter. These boys fit together like parts of a well-lubricated machine. They appear to have been selected for something more than their writing skills, then waxed and polished till they glow.” (My italics)

Rod Pounder21


In the above quotation we can see how the bodies in contemporary male pornography have become interchangeable, replaceable one with another. The image above is also a good example of the phenomenon of the homogenised body stamped out of the same mould. I believe that in contemporary gay male erotica it is not so much the sex that matters but the display of the body for admiration. There is a certain stiffness (pardon the pun) of performance now. The frenzied passion of sex has gone replaced by the surface, the positioning of the body for the benefit of the camera. It’s all to a formula. Big pricks have become even more important and stars have their dicks cast in rubber so the viewer at home can purchase and enjoy the satisfaction of taking their heroes prick (or a ‘simulation’ of it) up his own arse whilst watching the video at the same time.

Gay pornography depicts gay sex as ‘manly’ because gay men want to see themselves that way even though one man is fucking another man, supposedly queering ‘normal’ heterosexual masculinity. I believe this is not gay men ironically challenging traditional masculinity but the confirmation it’s power over them. As noted earlier, the body becomes a phallus – hard as granite and as tough as steel – signifying and embodying a mythological power. These bodies are built ‘tough’ despite the fact that you could probably drive a semi-trailer up their rear end and they probably wouldn’t feel a thing! Now, in contemporary male pornography, the range of body types is much narrower. Of course there are still specialist videos catering to the leather subculture, shaving fetishists, young men fantasies (mainly videos from Germany), wrestling, hairy men, toys, black men, etc., … but these form a small specialist minority group of the video market. In the main the videos that fill the Champions catalogue, for example, feature models that are constructed of smooth, prime white beef.


John Travis. Cover image from 'Billy 2000: Billy Goes to Hollywood' pornography video 1999


John Travis
Cover image from Billy 2000: Billy Goes to Hollywood pornography video
Studio 2000, 1999



Recently I watched a video called Billy 2000: Billy Goes to Hollywood, directed by John Travis. The video features 4 couples and one solo performance. The story, as far as it goes, is that gay men go into a shop and sees the Billy doll (discussed earlier) and starts fantasising about meeting a man who looks exactly like the doll, including having his large ‘anatomically correct penis’. Low and behold we fade out into dream sex scenes between different men and different versions of the doll which has now come to life, wearing exactly the same clothes as the doll does. What follows are, I think, four of the most boring gay sex scenes I have ever seen. There is no passion in the sex and all four couples copy exactly (deliberately?) the same positions by rote: man sucks dolls dick, man sits on dolls dick, man gets fucked from behind by dolls dick, doll ejaculates all over mans back. This is formulaic sex. As we can see in the above image the muscular male body is now simulating the ‘ideal’ embodied in a doll! Great marketing ploy to link the sale of the doll and the video together…

As Peter Jordaan has observed,

“There is a desperate need for more gay romance. A video like 1992’s Matt Sterling effort ‘Scorcher’ stands out simply because one of the couples in it actually look with pleasure into each other’s eyes while they are fucking … dick-tugging videos which also tug at the heart remain rare delights indeed.”22

I most certainly agree.


Alternatives to American gay male pornography

As an alternative to American videos three names stand out in the pantheon of porn directors. The first is Kristen Bjorn was has made a reputation for himself and his videos by photographing men from all over the world in apparently natural, spontaneous sexual situations. His videos feature large casts of men from different ethnic backgrounds but all his actors are power- fully built, masculine men. The second is Jean-Paul Cadinot. His videos, usually set in reform schools, school dormitories, scout troops and army barracks feature young ephebes having their way with each other with a lusty abandon not usually present in American videos. Lastly there is George Duroy, pioneer of EuroAmerican videos such as Accidental Lovers (1993) and Sauna Paradiso (1994) that have been shot (using American money) in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain using East European men.

His videos include a combination of athletic, young performers who are all smooth; from the slim and toned ephebe to the more muscular built lad. And well built they are. The images below are a good examples of both body types. The boys, for they are not men in the American sense of the porn video word, really do seem to enjoy having sex and ‘making it’ with each other in a loving and intimate way. Which is great!


George Duroy. 'Untitled' from 'Sauna Paradiso' pornography video 1994


George Duroy
Image from Sauna Paradiso pornography video
Falcon International Collection 1994
in Douglas, Jerry (ed.,). Manshots: The Firsthand Video Guide Vol. 7 No. 2. Teaneck, N.J.: FirstHand Ltd., December, 1994, p. 46.


Milan Demko, Victor Gravek, Pavol Zurek and Thomas Novak compare stiff dicks


Anonymous photographer. ‘Untitled’ image from ‘Lucky Lukas’ pornography video 1999


Anonymous photographer
Image from Lucky Lukas pornography video
Blue Diamond Video Services advertisement in ‘Meetmarket’ section in Outrage Magazine No. 189. Melbourne: Bluestone Press, February 1999, p. 1



Dean Durber, in an article for Blue Magazine called “New Wood” observes,

“Even if the innocence of much cuter and younger faces is forced off the shelves, the recent interest in intimacy and tenderness cannot be ignored. We might yet see older men on screen who actually appear to enjoy what they do. Especially if there’s money to be made and pleasure to be had.”

Why forced off the shelves? Apparently because of concerns over pederasty (love of young boys) and the perceived age of the ephebes involved. But here’s the rub – it’s all in the name of money in the end. It’s all about selling product even if you do have a good time. The fantasy scenarios are just that – idealised fantasies. They are set up to sell product and use body image to do so. These EuroAmerican videos just use the fresh new faces and bodies of muscular young men to appeal to a different market demographic.

Let me comment on just one more thing that happens in a lot of porn videos. I have noticed that it is usually the bigger guy (either dick or body size) that fucks the smaller guy therefore marking him as the man – no matter who is making the video. Commenting, unwittingly, on this disparity in body size Stan Ward in his review of Sauna Paradiso says that when the boys in the above photograph have a fourway, “Soon enough the boys are separated from the men. Novak and Demko continue the oral action while Gravec gives Zurek a royal screw up the arse … For the money shots, the boys and men come together …”23

Does that mean that if you have a smaller body that you are not a man? Does it mean that to be a gay man you have to partake in anal sex? It would seem that a big cock or its substitute, a big body, will always classify you as a man and not a boy and to participate in anal sex will make you a man not a boy. But whether its boys or men, gay pornography is there for one major reason – to make money within a media driven, image conscious consumer society.


Alternative bodies

There are, however, one group of photographs that have appeared in some porn mags that do not represent the ideal of the perfect muscular mesomorph or the smooth, young ephebe. These are photographs that accompany the messages of ordinary gay men wanting to meet other men for sex and companionship. These are the images of themselves they want to show to the general public. How they perceive themselves. How they are posed reveals small contexts of identity, even though their actual identity is hidden because of the masking of the face (No. 3 is ingenious in this regard; it uses the flash of the camera in the mirror to obliterate the facial features). The backgrounds and attire (when present) can tell a lot about a person.


Anonymous photographer. ‘’Untitled Nd in 'Get In Touch section in various issues of ‘Gay’ 1984-185


(left to right)

Anonymous photographer
in ‘Get In Touch’ section in Gay No. 104. Enmore: No publisher, 1984, p. 48.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
in ‘Get In Touch’ section in Gay No.100. Enmore: No publisher, 1984, p. 46.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
in ‘Get In Touch’ section in Gay No.121. Enmore: No publisher, 1985, p. 48.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
in ‘Get In Touch’ section in Gay No. 101. Enmore: No publisher, 1984, p. 47.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan

Anonymous photographer
in ‘Get In Touch’ section in Gay No. 118. Enmore: No publisher, 1985, p. 47.
Courtesy: Marcus Bunyan



Numbers 1 and 3 remind me of the photographs of Diane Arbus, shot in that person’s lounge room and bedroom respectively (see the photograph at the beginning of the chapter and below). In the background of No.3 we can see an ironing board, a wooden bed head and the bed itself. In the foreground we can see a full cup of tea or coffee sitting on the dressing table to which the mirror is attached.

No.’s 2, 4, and 5 feature men who are obviously into leather, cock rings, boots and whips; a poster of a man stares over the shoulder of the figure in No. 2 adding to the menacing air – I’m watching you! Note in all the images the bodies are of an everyday, ‘natural’ type. Types that we can see down the beach or at the sauna that are not toned and tanned but older, plumper, taller or skinnier, and for this reason they have an attractiveness which is solely their own.

These bodies have been lived in, they have earnt every wrinkle and crease, have survived their life experiences and are still sexually valuable in their own individuality and difference. These bodies are not fantasy material in the ‘normal’ understanding of what a contemporary male fantasy body should look like. This is because in the buyers and sellers market of contemporary gay society big, buff, and beautiful is the perfect dish of the last two decades and will continue to be so as long as gay men continue to desire this ‘ideal’.

Dr Marcus Bunyan


Bodies are unstable … and how frightening, that can be, and how those two emotions comprise desire.”

Jesse Dorris. “Jimmy DeSana’s Transgressive Vision of Life and Desire,” on the Aperture website December 14, 2022 [Online] Cited 19/12/2022


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C.' 1968


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C.
Gelatin silver print




1/ Kellner, D. “Critical Theory, Commodities and the Consumer Society,” in Theory, Culture and Society 1, 3: 1983, p. 66, quoted in Evans, David. Sexual Citizenship: The Material Construction of Sexualities. London: Routledge, 1993, p. 48.

2/ Altman, Denis. The Homosexualisation of America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1982, p. 211, quoted in Chapkis, Wendy. Beauty Secrets: Women and the Politics of Appearance. Boston: South End Press, 1986, p. 136.

3/ This is not a new concept and the lament that the gay body is used as a commodity and marketable sexual tool and not exclusively joined in affection and love has been around since well before Stonewall within the gay community. Of course sex and love are NOT mutually exclusive but some people seem to think that they are:
“Not too many years ago it was unheard of to dress in a “gay” manner or to act in any way which might lead others to suspect that you were a homosexual. Now, almost overnight, we have “gay” bars “gay” dance clubs, “gay” books, even business firms openly soliciting the business of homosexuals.
While this is good in the sense that it gives the homosexual a right to live like the rest of humanity, it has led to problems which were heard of in the past. Perhaps a slave needs his chains let loose slowly if he worn them for many years. Perhaps the “gay” world was not ready for this freedom or maybe it came to quickly. However, the homosexual now finds himself in a position where his “public image” is not that it should be. The blame for this lies mainly with those who flaunt their homosexuality in the faces of the general public.
A homosexual, as defined by most medical authorities, is one who seeks love and sexual satisfaction from his or her own sex. The majority of today’s homosexuals (or so it seems to the general public) could best be described as persons who look for as much sexual satisfaction from as many of their own sex as they can, without giving their love to any of them. This has come about because of the so-called “emancipation” mentioned previously. A homosexual can gratify his passions so easily now that the finer things in life seem to be cast aside …
Inside the “gay” bars, the tourist or outsider can walk in, and with no effort, behold the spectacle of people openly trying to make a one-night stand with each other. Outside the bar, the same tourist or outsider can hear those who failed in their mission inside the bar bargaining with someone on the street for the use of his body for the night … This is the image today’s homosexual is giving to the general public …
Why not get back to caring for one another? Hurt each other if you have to – you can start over again and learn from your mistake. Stop chalking up your conquests as if sex were a commodity.
Why not see how long you can stay with one person? Put love back into homosexual life.
Stop poking fun at the person who seeks love and friendship instead of one-night stands.
Let the love that is locked away and going to waste inside yourself be let loose and given to someone who will return it with interest. Don’t be afraid of your emotions. Get back to making the “gay” life what it should be – two people living together who need love of their own kind.”
Lady Beesborough. “The Public is Watching,” in The Greyhuff Review. 1st Edition. Minneapolis, Minn: Directory Services Inc., 1965, pp. 24-25. Sourced at The Kinsey Institute, University of Indiana, USA.
Even at this date (1965, which is pre-Stonewall), some people obviously saw gay male sex (and inherently the gay male body) as being a promiscuous commodity, which is quite amazing because nothing much has changed today. It is still a sellers market and gay men still go for it! The advice not to be afraid of your emotions is a good one – but that will naturally open gay men up to experiences, including many sexual interactions and not just love! As I comment elsewhere in the Re-Pressentation chapter, gay men are paradoxically both seeking sexual release and intimate connection whilst at the same time being afraid of that connection and revealing themselves to others.

4/ Swift, Michael. “Darkside,” in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, April 1997, p. 106.

5/ Parry, Tracey. “Access All Areas,” in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p. 66.

6/ Massengill, Reed. “Sand Man,” in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, February 1999, p. 90.

7/ “Lifestyle refers to a relatively integrated set of practices chosen by an individual in order to give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity. The more tradition loses its ability to provide people with a secure and stable sense of self, the more individuals have to negotiate lifestyle choices, and attach importance to these choices.”
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, pp. 181-183. See also Giddens, A. Modernity and Self-Identity. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1991, p. 2, 5, pp. 80-81.

8/ Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, p. 143. See also Featherstone, Mike. “Perspectives on Consumer Culture,” in Sociology 24(1). 1990, pp. 5-22.

9/ Below are four quotations about the definition and effects of narcissism.
“Notwithstanding his occasional illusions of omnipotence, the narcissist depends on others to validate his self-esteem. He cannot live without an admiring audience. His apparent freedom from family ties and institutional constraints [especially gay men] does not free him to stand alone or to glory in his individuality. On the contrary, it contributes to his insecurity, which he can overcome only by seeing his “grandiose self” reflected in the attentions of others, or by attaching himself to those who radiate celebrity, power and charisma. For the narcissist the world is a mirror…” (My italics)
Lasch, Christopher. The Culture of Narcissism. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 1978, p. 10.
“Central to the narcissistic personality is an orientation to the body as youthful, enduring and constitutive of the self. The narcissistic body is open to new experiences, but only as long as they can be easily appropriated and consumed to reinforce its own sense of self as sacred and immortal.” (My italics)
Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, p. 194.
“Narcissism presumes a constant search for self-identity, but this is a search that remains frustrated, because the restless pursuit of ‘who I am’ is an expression of narcissistic absorption rather than a realisable quest … Narcissism treats the body as an object of sensual gratification, rather than relating sensuality to communication with others.”
Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. California: Stanford University Press, 1991, p. 170.
“According to what I said about the nature of love, the main condition for the achievement of love is the overcoming of one’s narcissism. The narcissistic orientation is one which one experiences as real only that which exists within oneself, while the phenomena in the outside world have no reality in themselves, but are experienced only from the viewpoint of their being useful or dangerous to one. The opposite pole to narcissism is objectivity; it is the faculty to see people and things as they are, objectively, and to be able to separate this objective picture from a picture which is formed by one’s desires and fears.”
Fromm, Erich. The Art of Loving. London: Allen and Unwin, 1957, p. 118.

10/ Giddens, Anthony. Modernity and Self-Identity: Self and Society in the Late Modern Age. California: Stanford University Press, 1991, p. 172.

11/ Burns, Tom. Erving Goffman. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 38, quoted in Schilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage Publications, 1993, p. 85.

12/ “The penis can never live up to the mystique implied by the phallus. Hence the excessive, even hysterical quality of so much male imagery. The clenched fists, the bulging muscles, the hardened jaws, the proliferation of phallic symbols – they are all straining after what can hardly ever be achieved, the embodiment of the phallic physique.” (My italics)
Dyer, R. Only Entertainment. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 116, quoted in Stratton, Jon. The Desirable Body. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1996, p. 195.

13/ Interview with Jim Sotiropolous, Melbourne. 23/09/1997. Co-ordinator of 3 different programmes at The Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Mens Health Centre, Melbourne, Victoria.

14/ For a discussion of these issues please see Mishkind, Marc, Rodin, Linda, Silberstein, Lisa and Striegel-Moore, Ruth. “The Embodiment of Masculinity: Cultural, Psychological and Behavioural Dimensions,” in Kimmel, M. (ed.,). Changing Men: New Directions in Research on Men and Masculinity. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications, 1987, pp. 37-47. An extract from this paper can be found in Appendix A of the Bench Press chapter.

15/ Lakoff, Robin and Scherr, Raquel. Face Value: The Politics of Beauty. Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 292-293.

16/ Jordaan, Peter. “The Naked VCR,” in Outrage Magazine No. 131. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 1994, p. 45.

17/ “Some people are so horny and desperate to have a connection that they will do anything to have sex, especially with someone who they find attractive. Sometimes sexually they even step over the line of physical attraction … and this can indicate compulsive sexual behaviour. I’M SO HORNY I JUST HAVE TO HAVE SEX!”
Interview with Greg Adkins. Melbourne. 02/10/1997. Outreach Beats Education Officer at The Victorian AIDS Council / Gay Mens Health Centre, Melbourne, Victoria.

18/ “We find it more important to preserve and foster the myth of sexuality as mechanical process than we do to develop any kind of detailed or sensitive phenomenology of sexual experience (ie., establishing how in fact people experience their sexual needs and feelings). I suspect that a vast proportion of people live in secret unhappiness about their sexuality because they are unable to meet what are in truth entirely mythical ‘norms’ of ‘performance’.”
Smail, David. Illusion and Reality: The Meaning of Anxiety. London: J.M. Dent & Sons, 1984, p. 113.

19/ Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passages of Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, p. 68.

20/ “Big Ears has heard of at least two cases of ‘roid rage in Sydney this week as the countdown to Mardi Gras and bodily perfection reaches its climax. One Big Ears associate minding his own business in a well known Oxford St. venue this week was set upon by an incredible hulk wielding a broken bottle after he tried to help up the hulk’s substance affected, brick shit-house of a friend who had toppled over and landed on top of him, all but crushing him to death. Meanwhile, in an inner Sydney gym, another Big Ears associate witnessed a similar savage and unprovoked attack this week. Enraged that someone was using a machine he wanted to use, brick shit-house #3 dragged off the poor girl in question, threw her against the wall and all but choked her until gym staff managed to pull him off. Hello? Mardi Gras is supposed to be a party not a battle to the death. Gone, it seems, are the days when all you needed to get yourself through an all night party were a jazzy pair of shorts and a bubbly personality…”
Big Ears. Melbourne Star Observer. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 26th February, 1999, p. 15.

21/ Rod Pounder. “Video Review: One Hot Summer,” in Brother Sister Magazine. Melbourne, 9th May, 1997, p. 29.

22/ Jordaan, Peter. “The Naked VCR,” in Outrage Magazine No. 131. Melbourne: Bluestone Media, 1994, p. 50.

23/ Ward, Stan. “‘Sauna Paradiso’ review,” in Douglas, Jerry (ed.,). Manshots: The Firsthand Video Guide Vol. 7 No. 2. Teaneck, N.J.: FirstHand Ltd., December 1994, p. 46.




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Exhibition: ‘nude men: from 1800 to the present day’ at the Leopold Museum, Vienna / Text: Marcus Bunyan. “Historical Pressings,” from ‘Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male’ Phd research, RMIT University, 2001

Exhibition dates: 19th October 2012 – 4th March 2013

Curators: Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold



Martin Ferdinand Quadal. 'Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude' 1787


Martin Ferdinand Quadal (Moravian-Austrian, 1736-1811)
Nude Life Class at the Vienna Art Academy in the St.-Anna-Gebäude
© Paintings Gallery of the Academy of Fine Arts Vienna


Joseph-Désiré Court (French, 1797-1865) 'Death of Hippolytus' 1825


Joseph-Désiré Court (French, 1797-1865)
Death of Hippolytus
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier Agglomération


François-Léon Benouville. 'Achills Zorn' 1847


François-Léon Benouville (French, 1821-1859)
Achills Zorn
© Musée Fabre de Montpellier



“When we stop and think about it, we all are naked underneath our clothes.”

(Heinrich Heine, Travel Pictures, 1826)



A great posting. I used to have a print of Querelle by Andy Warhol on my wall when I was at university in London aged 17 years old – that and We Two Boys Together Clinging by David Hockney. My favourite in this posting is the painting Seated Youth (morning) by Austrian expressionist painter Anton Kolig. Such vivacity, life and colour, perhaps a post-coital glow (was he straight, bisexual, gay? who cares, it is a magnificent painting). There is very little information on Kolig on the web. Upon recommendation by Gustav Klimt and Carl Moll Kolig received a 1912 scholarship for a stay in Paris, where Kolig studied modern painting at the Louvre. He enlisted in the First World War in 1916 and survived, continuing to work in paint, tapestries and mosaic during the postwar years and the 1920s. He received two offers for professorships in Prague and Stuttgart, he opted for the Württemberg Academy in Stuttgart, where he trained a number of important painters later. In addition, his work was also shown internationally at numerous exhibitions. He was persecuted by the Nazis and his art destroyed because it was thought to be “degenerate” art. Kolig, who was essentially apolitical, remained until the fall of 1943 in Stuttgart, where he felt less and less well, however, and eventually returned to Nötsch. On 17 December 1944 Kolig was buried with his family in a bomb attack and seriously injured. Much of his work was destroyed here. He died in 1950.

For more information on the male body in photographic history please see the chapter “Historical Pressings” from my PhD research Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male (2001, below). The chapter examines the history of photographic images of the muscular male body from the Victorian to contemporary era, as well as focusing on photographs of the gay male body and photographs of the male body that appealed to gay men. The pages are not a fully comprehensive guide to the history and context of this complex field, but may offer some insight into its development.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

Many thankx for the Leopold Museum, Vienna for allowing me to publish the text and photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.


Anonymous maker. 'Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg' 16th Century casting after Roman Original


Anonymous maker
Anonymous Youth of Magdalensberg
16th Century casting after Roman Original
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna, Antiquities


Anonymous maker. 'Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty' around 2400 BC


Anonymous maker
Anonymous standing figure of the court official Snofrunefer
Egypt, Old Kingdom, late 5th Dynasty, around 2400 BC
© Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna with MVK and ÖTM, Egyptian and Near Eastern Collection


Auguste Rodin. 'The Age of Bronze' 1875-76


Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Age of Bronze
© Kunsthaus Zurich


Anton Kolig. 'Seated Youth (morning)' 1919


Anton Kolig (Austrian, 1886-1950)
Seated Youth (morning)
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 406



Previous exhibitions on the theme of nudity have mostly been limited to female nudes. With the presentation “naked men” in the autumn of 2012 the Leopold Museum will be showing a long overdue exhibition on the diverse and changing depictions of naked men from 1800 to the present.

Thanks to loans from all over Europe, the exhibition “naked men” will offer an unprecedented overview of the depiction of male nudes. Starting with the period of Enlightenment in the 18th century, the presentation will focus mainly on the time around 1800, on tendencies of Salon Art, as well as on art around 1900 and after 1945. At the same time, the exhibition will also feature important reference works from ancient Egypt, examples of Greek vase painting and works from the Renaissance. Spanning two centuries, the presentation will show different artistic approaches to the subject, competing ideas of the ideal male model as well as changes in the concept of beauty, body image and values.

The exhibition, curated by Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold, traces this theme over a long period and draws a continuous arc from the late 18th century to the present. Altogether, the showing brings together around 300 individual works by nearly 100 female and male artists from Europe and the USA. The objective of the two curators Tobias G. Natter and Elisabeth Leopold was “to clearly show the differing artistic approaches, competing models of masculinity, the transformation of ideas about the body, beauty and values, the political dimension of the body, and last but not least the breaking of conventions.”

“Over the past few years, portrayals of nude males have achieved a hitherto unseen public presence,” says Elisabeth Leopold. To which Tobias G. Natter adds, “At the same time, this exhibition is our way of reacting to the fact that categories which had previously seemed established, such as ‘masculinity’, ‘body’ and ‘nakedness’, have today become unstable for a broad swath of society.”


Diversity and abundance: showing for what “nude men” could stand

Elisabeth Leopold remarks that, “In the run-up to our project, we were very surprised to note that some commentators expected a ‘delicate’ exhibition. But in fact, we had no intention of treating the theme in such a way – with reserve, with tact, or in any other way delicately. And we did not understand this topic to be at all delicate in terms of an exhibition on art history somehow requiring a degree of discretion.” A project like nude men would be entirely unthinkable without the experiences and impulses of feminist art as well as cultural history, cultural studies and gender studies. With the exhibition nude men, the Leopold Museum seeks to react to the circumstance that societal categories commonly thought to be firmly established – such as “masculinity”, “body” and “nakedness” – are currently undergoing major changes.

By seizing on these developments, we understand the museum to be an institution which is relevant to today’s society – that is to say, a place for both the present and the future. Tobias G. Natter: “Our objective is to show the diversity and transformation of the portrayal of nude men in light of clearly defined thematic focuses. With fresh curiosity, without traditional scholarly prejudices, and with fascination for an inexhaustibly rich field, we use this exhibition to draw an arc spanning over 200 years which, not least, make a theme of the long shadow cast by the fig leaf.”


The exhibition

The exhibition traces its theme from the late 18th century to the present day. It has three key historical themes: the classical era and the Age of Enlightenment around 1800, classical modernism around 1900, and post-1945 art. These three themes are introduced by a prologue.



The exhibition’s three focuses are preceded by a prologue. Using five outstanding sculptures from European art history, the prologue illuminates this theme’s long tradition. It runs from the “oldest nude in town” – a larger-than-life freestanding figure from ancient Egypt – and the statue known as the Jüngling vom Magdalensberg to Auguste Rodin and Fritz Wotruba, and on to a display window mannequin which Heimo Zobernig reworked to create a nude self-portrait.

Tobias G. Natter: “The curatorial intention behind prologue was to have the audience stroll through nearly five millennia of Western sculptural art in just a few steps. This is meant both to communicate both the long tradition of such images and to highlight the degree to which nude men were taken for granted to be the foundation of our art. These five thousand years form the exhibition’s outer referential frame. Strictly speaking, the showing begins in earnest with the Age of Enlightenment and the period around 1800.”


Theme 1: Classicism and the Power of Reason

In the 18th century and beginning in France, the emancipation of the bourgeois class and the swan song of the Ancien Régime occasioned a renegotiation of concepts of masculinity with both societal and aesthetic implications. The naked male hero was defined anew as a cultural pattern. It became the embodiment of the new ideals.


Theme 2: Classical Modernism

A new and independent pictorial world arose in the late 19th century with the casual depiction of naked men bathing in natural, outdoor settings. The various ways in which artists dealt with this topic can be viewed together as a particularly sensitive gauge of societal moods. In the exhibition, the genre is represented with prominent examples by Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Wilhelm von Gloeden, Max Liebermann, Ernst Ludwig

Kirchner and others. Classical modernism’s quest for a new artistic foundation also had its impact on the topics of nakedness and masculinity. But what happened when the painter’s gaze wandered on from the naked other to the naked self? A principle witness with regard to this phenomenon in turn-of-the-20th-century Vienna is Egon Schiele. With his taboo-breaking self-reflections, he radicalised artists’ self-understanding in a way that nobody had before him. Elisabeth Leopold: “The shift of the painter’s gaze from the naked opposite to the exposed self gave rise to the nude self-portrait – a shining beacon of modernism.”


Theme 3: Post-1945 Developments

In light of the abundance of interesting works from which to choose, the exhibition’s third theme comprises three specific focuses. Common to all three is the way in which the political potential of the naked body is explored. The first of these focuses concentrates on the battle fought by women for legal and social equality during the 20th century.

Outstanding examples of the intense way in which feminist artists have dealt with their own bodies as foils for the projection of gender roles can be found in the output of Maria Lassnig and Louise Bourgeois, whose works are included in the exhibition alongside others by younger woman artists. It was pioneers such as Lassnig and Bourgeois who set in motion the process which, today, underlies feminist art’s steadily increasing presence in terms of interpretation, resources, norms, power, and participation in the art business. The second area introduces artistic works that interlock nude self-portraits and the culture of protest, which bears great similarities to feminist criticism – the naked self between normativity and revolt.

The one issue is the nude self-portrait as a field for experimentation and a phenomenon which questions artistic and societal identities. The other issue has to do with substantive contributions to the gender debate, as well as with artists who take the crisis of obsolete male images as an opportunity to put forth self-defined identities. The third focus, finally, lies in the shift in roles in which the man goes from being the subject to being the object, in fact becoming an erotically charged object – perhaps one of the most fundamental shifts in terms of the forms via which nude men have been portrayed from 1800 to the present. Gay emancipation, in particular, served to radically cast doubt upon normative concepts of masculinity, which it opposed with its own alternative models. In this exhibition, these are represented above all in paintings that feature intimate closeness and male couples.

As the opening of this exhibition neared, a frequently-asked question was that of why the project is being undertaken. Tobias G. Natter’s response: “There are many reasons. But most importantly: because it is overdue.”

Press release from the Leopold Museum website


Three out of five characters from the Prologue "naked men"


Three out of five characters from the Prologue “naked men”

Anonymous maker
Freestanding figure of the court official Snofrunefer
c. 2400 B.C.
© Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Auguste Rodin (French, 1840-1917)
The Age of Bronze
© Kunsthaus Zürich

Heimo Zobernig (Austrian, b. 1958)
© VBK, Vienna, 2012


Paul Cézanne. 'Seven Bathers' c. 1900


Paul Cézanne (French, 1839-1906)
Seven Bathers
c. 1900
Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel


Edvard Munch. 'Bathing Men' 1915


Edvard Munch (Norwegian, 1863-1944)
Bathing Men
Munch Museum, Oslo
© The Munch Museum/The Munch Ellingsen Group/VBK, Vienna 2012


Wilhelm von Gloeden. 'Flute Concert' 1905


Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Flute Concert
Verlag Adolph Engel, private collection


Richard Gerstl. 'Nude Self-portrait with Palette' 1908


Richard Gerstl (Austrian, 1883-1908)
Nude Self-portrait with Palette
© Leopold Museum, Wien


Egon Schiele. '“Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd) ["Preacher" (Nude with teal shirt)]' 1913


Egon Schiele (Austrian, 1890-1918)
‘”Prediger” (Selbstakt mit blaugrünem Hemd)’ [“Preacher” (Nude with teal shirt)]
© Leopold Museum, Wien, Inv. 2365


Bruce Nauman. 'Untitled (Five Marching Men)' 1985


Bruce Nauman (American, b. 1941)
Untitled (Five Marching Men)
© Friedrich Christian Flick Collection / VBK Wien 2012


Gilbert & George. 'Spit Law' 1997


Gilbert & George (Gilbert Prousch, British born Italy, b. 1943 and George Passmore, British, b. 1942)
Spit Law
© Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, Paris / Salzburg


Elmgreen & Dragset. 'Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)' 2009


Elmgreen & Dragset (Michael Elmgreen Danish, b. 1961 and Ingar Dragset Norwegian, b. 1969)
Shepherd Boy (Tank Top)
Courtesy Galleri Nicolai Wallner
© Courtesy Galleri Nocolai Wallner / VBK Wien 2012


Thomas Ruff. 'nudes vg 02' 2000


Thomas Ruff (German, b. 1958)
nudes vg 02
Ed. 3/5
© Private collection Cofalka, Austria/with the kind support of agpro – austrian gay professionals
© VBK, Wien 2012


Jean Cocteau. 'Male Couple Illustration for Jean Genet’s 'Querelle de Brest'' 1947


Jean Cocteau (French, 1889-1963)
Male Couple
Illustration for Jean Genet’s ‘Querelle de Brest’

© Private collection © VBK, Wien 2012


Louise Bourgeois. 'Fillette (Sweeter Version)' 1968, cast 1999


Louise Bourgeois (French, 1911-2010)
Fillette (Sweeter Version)
1968, cast 1999
© Ursula Hauser Collection, Switzerland © VBK, Wien 2012


Pierre & Gilles. 'Vive la France [Long live France]' 2006


Pierre & Gilles (Pierre Commoy and Gilles Blanchard)
Vive la France [Long live France]
© Private collection, Courtesy Galerie Jérôme de Noirmont, Paris


Andy Warhol. 'Querelle' c. 1982


Andy Warhol (American, 1928-1987)
c. 1982
© Privatsammlung/ VBK, Wien 2012



‘Historical Pressings’ chapter from Marcus Bunyan’s PhD research Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001

Through plain language English (not academic speak) the text of this chapter examines the history of photographic images of the male body, including the male body as desired by gay men, and the portrayal in photography of the gay male body.

NB. This chapter should be read in conjunction with the Bench Press and Re-Pressentation chapters for a fuller overview of the development of the muscular male body. This chapter also contains descriptions of sexual activity.

Keywords: male body image, gay beauty myth, history of photographs of the male body, development of bodybuilding, queer body, gay male body, gay male body and HIV/AIDS, HIV/AIDS, photographic images of the male body, male2male sex, ephebe, muscular mesomorph, muscular male body, photography, art, erotic art, physique photography, Kinsey Institute, One Institute, gay pornography magazines, Physique Pictorial, Tom of Finland.




Since the invention of the camera people have taken photographs of the male body. The 1840 image by Hippolyte Bayard, “Self-portrait as a drowned man” is a self-portrait by the photographer depicting his fake suicide, taken in protest at being ignored as one of the inventors of photography. It is interesting because it is one of the earliest known photographic images of the unclothed male body and also a reflection of his self, an act of self-reflexivity. It is not his actual body but a reflection on how he would like to be seen by himself and others. This undercurrent of being seen, of projecting an image of the male body, has gradually been sexualised over the history of photography. The body in a photograph has become a canvas, able to mask or reveal the sexuality, identity and desires of the body and its owner. The male body in photography has become an object of desire for both the male and female viewer. The body is on display, open to the viewers gaze, possibly a desiring gaze. In the latter half of the twentieth century it is the muscular male body in particular that has become eroticised as an object of a desiring male2male gaze. In consumer society the muscular male body now acts as a sexualised marketable asset, used by ourselves and others, by the media and by companies to sell product. How has this sexual image of the muscular male body developed?

Within the history of art there is a profundity of depictions of the nude female form upon which the desiring gaze of the male could linger. With the advent of photography images of the nude male body became an accessible space for men desiring to look upon the bodies of other men. The nude male images featured in the early history of photography are endearing in their supposed lack of artifice. The bodies are of a natural type: everyday, normal run of the mill bodies reveal themselves directly to the camera as can be seen in the anonymous c. 1843 French daguerreotype, “Male Nude Study”.1 Although posed and required to hold the stance for a long period of time in order to expose the mercury plate, the model in this daguerreotype assumes a quiet confidence and comfort in his own body, staring directly at the camera whilst revealing his manhood for all to see. This period sees the first true revealing of the male body since the Renaissance, and the beginning of the eroticising of the male body as a visual ‘spectacle’ in the modern era.

Artists with an inclination towards the beauty of naked men were drawn towards the new medium. The photograph opened up the male body to the desiring gaze of the male viewer. The photograph reflected both reality and deception: the reality that these bodies existed in the flesh and the deception that they could be ‘had’, that the viewer could possess the body by looking, by eroticising, and through purchasing the photograph. Friendship between men was generally accepted up until the 18th century but in Victorian times homosexuality was named and classified as a sexual orientation in the early 1870’s. According to Michel Foucault2 this ‘friendship’ only became a problem with the rise of the powers of the police and the judiciary, who saw it as a deviant act; of course photography, as an instrument of ‘truth’, could prove the criminal activities of homosexuals and lead to their prosecution. When homosexual acts did come to the attention of the police and the medical profession it led to great scandals such as the trial and imprisonment of Oscar Wilde for sodomy.


Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904) 'Nude men wrestling, lock' (plate 345) 1884/1886


Eadweard Muybridge (English, 1830-1904)
Nude men wrestling, lock (plate 345)
Public domain

Eadweard Muybridge. Animal locomotion: an electro-photographic investigation of consecutive phases of animal movements. 1872-1885 / published under the auspices of the University of Pennsylvania. Plates. The plates printed by the Photo-Gravure Company. Philadelphia, 1887



On reflection there seems to have been an explosion of images around the late 1880’s to early 1890’s onwards of what we can now call homoerotic imagery; to contemporary eyes the 1887 photographs of nude wrestlers by Eadweard Muybridge have a distinct air of homo-eroticism about them. To keep such images above moral condemnation and within the bounds of propriety men where photographed in poses that were used for scientific studies (as in the case of the Muybridge photographs), as studies for other artists, or in religious poses. They appealed to the classical Greek ideal of masculinity and therefore avoided the sanctions of a society that was, on the surface, deeply conservative. For a brief moment imagine being a homosexual man in the Victorian and Edwardian eras, gazing for the first time at men in close physical proximity, touching each other in the nude, pressing each others flesh when such behaviour was thought of as subversive and illegal – what erotic desires photographs of the male body must have caused to those that appreciated such delicious pleasures, seeing them for the first time!


Frederick Holland Day and Baron von Gloeden

Two of the most famous photographers of the late Victorian and early Edwardian era who used the male body significantly in their work were Frederick Holland Day in America and Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden in Europe. Frederick Holland Day’s photographs of the male body concentrated on mythological and religious subject matter. In these photographs he tried to reveal a transcendence of spirit through an aesthetic vision of androgynous physical perfection. He revelled in the sensuous hedonistic beauty of what he saw as the perfection of the youthful male body. In the 1904 photograph “St. Sebastian,” for example, the young male body is presented for our adoring gaze in the combined ecstasy and agony of suffering. In his mythological photographs Holland Day used the idealism of Ancient Greece as the basis for his directed and staged images. These are not the bodies of muscular men but of youthful boys (ephebes) in their adolescence; they seem to have an ambiguous sexuality. The models genitalia are rarely shown and when they are, the penis is usually hidden in dark shadow, imbuing the photographs with a sexual mystery. The images are suffused with an erotic beauty of the male body never seen before, a photographic reflection of a seductive utopian beauty seen through the desiring eye of a homosexual photographer.


Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933) 'Saint Sebastian' c. 1906


Frederick Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Saint Sebastian
c. 1906
Platinum print

See Frederick Holland Day. “Saint Sebastian.” Platinum print, c. 1906, in Woody, Jack and Crump, James. F. Holland Day: Suffering The Ideal. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers, 1995, Plate 53. Courtesy: Library of Congress



In Europe Wilhelm von Gloeden’s photographs of young ephebes (males between boy and man) have a much more open and confronting sexual presence. Using heavily set Sicilian peasant youths with rough hands and feet von Gloeden turned some of these bodies into heroic images of Grecian legend, usually photographing his nude figures in their entirety. In undertaking research into von Gloedens’ photographs at The Kinsey Institute, I was quite surprised at how little von Gloeden used classical props such as togas and vases in his photographs, relying instead on just the form of the body with perhaps a ribbon in the hair. His photographs depict the penis and the male rump quite openly and he hints at possible erotic sexual encounters between models through their intimate gaze and physical contact.

The photographs were collected by some people for their chaste and idyllic nature but for others, such as homosexual men, there is a subtext of latent homo-eroticism present in the positioning and presentation of the youthful male body. The imagery of the penis and the male rump can be seen as totally innocent, but to homosexual men desire can be aroused by the depiction of such erogenous zones within these photographs.

In both photographers work there is a reliance on the ‘natural’ body. In von Gloeden’s case it is the smooth peasant body with rough hands and feet; in Holland Day’s it is the smooth sinuous body of the adolescent. At the same time in both Europe and America, however, there began to emerge a new form for the body of a man, that of the muscular mesomorph, the V-shaped masculine ‘ideal’ expressed through the image of the bodybuilder, photographed in all his muscular splendour!


Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (1856-1931), Germany 'Two nude men standing in a forest' Taormina, Sicily, 1899


Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden (German, 1856-1931)
Two nude men standing in a forest
Taormina, Sicily, 1899
Albumen print



The Development of Bodybuilding

Frederick Mueller, better known to the world as the Prussian bodybuilder Eugen Sandow, was launched on the public at the World’s Colombian Exposition in Chicago in 1893. He was the world’s first true bodybuilder and he had a thick set muscular body with an outstanding back and abdominal muscles.

Bodybuilding came into existence as a result of the perceived effeminization of men brought on by the effects of the industrial revolution – boxing, gymnastics and weightlifting were undertaken to combat slothfulness, lack of exercise and unmanliness. This led to the formation of what Elliott Gorn in his book The Manly Art (Robson Books, 1986) has called ‘The Cult of Muscularity’,3 where the ‘ideal’ of the perfect masculine body can be linked to a concern for the position and power of men in an industrialised world. Sandow promoted himself not as the strongest man in the world but as the man with the most perfect physique, the first time this had ever happened in the history of the male body. He projected an ideal of physical perfection. He used photography of his muscular torso to promote himself and his products such as books, dumbbells and a brand of cocoa. He often performed and was photographed in the nude by leading photographers in Europe and America and was not at all bashful about exposing his naked body to the admiring gaze of both men and women.

His torso appeared on numerous cartes de visite, inspiring other young men to take up bodybuilding and gradually the muscular male body became an object of adulation for middle-class men and boys. The popularity of the image of his perfect body encouraged other men to purchase images of such muscular edifices and allowed them to desire to have a body like Sandow’s themselves. It also allowed homosexual men to eroticise the body of the male through their desiring gaze. But the ‘normal’ standards of heterosexual masculinity had to be defended. A desiring male gaze (men looking at the bodies of other men) could not be allowed to be homosexual; homosexuals were portrayed by the popular press and society as effete and feminine in order to deny the fact that a ‘real’ man could desire other men.4 (See the Femi-nancy Press chapter of the CD ROM for more details on how homosexuals were portrayed as feminine). A man had to be a ‘real’ man otherwise he could be queer, an arse bandit!


Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896) 'Eugen Sandow' 1893


Napoleon Sarony (French, 1821-1896)
Eugen Sandow
Photographic print on cabinet card
Library of Congress, Washington, D.C.



Still, photographs of Greco-Roman wrestling continued to offer the opportunity for homosexual men to look upon the muscular bodies of other men in close physical proximity and intimacy. A classical wrestling style and classical props legitimised the subject matter. In static poses, which most photographs were at this time because of the length of the exposure, the genitalia were usually covered with a discreetly placed fig leaf or loin cloth, or the fig leaf / posing pouch were added later by retouching the photograph (as can be seen in the anonymous undated image of two wrestlers, “Otto Arco and Adrian Deraiz”).5 People such as Bernard MacFadden, publisher of Physical Culture, said these images were not at all erotic when viewed by other men. I think I would have found these images very horny (if a little illicit), if I had been a poof back in those days.

The physique of the muscular body had appeal across all class boundaries and bodybuilding was one of the first social activities that could be undertaken by any man no matter what his social position. Bodybuilding reinforced the power of traditional heterosexual behaviour – to be the breadwinner and provider for women, men had to see themselves as strong, tough and masculine. A fit, strong body is a productive body able to do more work through its shear physical bulk and endurance. Unlike the anonymous bodies in the photographs of Holland Day and von Gloeden here the bodies are named as individuals, men proud of their masculine bodies. It is the photographers that are anonymous, as though they are of little consequence in comparison to the flesh that is placed before their lenses.

I suggest that the impression the muscular body made on individual men was also linked to developments in other areas (art, construction and architecture for example), which were themselves influenced by industrialisation and its affect on social structure. In her book Space, Time and Perversion: Essays on the Politics of Bodies (Routledge, 1995), Elizabeth Grosz says that the city is an important element in the social production of sexually active bodies. As the cities became further industrialised and the population of cities increased in the Victorian era, space to build new buildings was at a premium. The 1890s saw the building of the first skyscrapers in America, impressive pieces of engineering that towered above the city skyline. Their object was to get more internal volume and external surface area into the same amount of space so that the building held more and was more visible to the human eye. I believe this construction has parallels in the similar development of the muscular male body, a facade with more surface area than other men’s bodies, which makes that man more visible, admired and (secretly) desired.

Further, in art the Futurists believed in the ultimate power of the machine and portrayed both the machine and the body in a blur of speed and motion. In the Age of the Machine the construction of the body became industrialised, the body becoming armoured against the outside world and the difficulty of living in it. The body became a machine, indestructible, superhuman. Within this demanding world men sought to confirm their dominance over women (especially after women achieved the ability to vote), and other men. Domination was affirmed partially through images of the muscular male (as can be seen in the image Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” below), although viewed through contemporary eyes a definite homo-erotic element is also present.

Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave” also presents us with a man who challenged the fame of Eugen Sandow. His name was Tony Sansone and he emerged as the new hero of bodybuilding around the year 1925. Graced with a perfect physique for a taller man, Sansone was more lithe than the stocky, muscular Sandow and can be seen to represent a classical heroic Grecian body, perfect in it’s form. He had Valentino like features, perfect bone structure and was very photogenic, always a useful asset when selling a book of photographs of yourself.


Grace Salon of Art. 'Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in "The Slave"' 1930s


Grace Salon of Art
Charles Atlas and Tony Sansone in “The Slave”


Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948) 'Portrait of Tony Sansone' Nd


Edwin F. Townsend (American, 1877-1948)
Portrait of Tony Sansone
Nd (1930s)



WWI, Nature Worship, The Body and Propaganda

The First World War caused a huge amount of devastation to the morale and confidence of the male population of Europe and America. Millions of young men were slaughtered on the killing fields of Flanders and Galipolli as the reality of trench warfare set in. Here it did not matter what kind of body a man had – every body was fodder for the machine guns that constantly ranged the lines of advancing men during an assault. A bullet or nerve gas kills a strong, muscular body just as well as a thin, natural body. The war created anxieties and conflicts in men and undermined their confidence and ability to cope in the world after peace came. During the war images of men were used to reinforce the patriotic message of fighting for your country. After the war the Surrealist and German Expressionist movements made use of photography of the body to depict the dreams, deprivations and abuse that men were suffering as a result of it. In opposition to this avant-garde art and to reinforce the message of the strong, omnipotent male – images of muscular bodies were again used to shore up traditional ‘masculine’ values. They were used to advertise sporting events such as boxing and wrestling matches and sporting heroes appeared on cigarette cards emphasising skills and achievements. These images and events ensured that masculinity was kept at the forefront of human endeavour and social cognisance.

After the devastation of The First World War, the 1920’s saw the development in Germany, America and England of the cult of ‘nature worship’ – a love of the outdoors, the sun and the naturalness of the body that would eventually lead to the formation of the nudist movement. This movement was exploited by governments and integrated into the training regimes of their armies in the search for a fitter more professional soldier. But the nudity aspect was frowned upon because of its homo-erotic overtones: Hitler banned all naturist clubs in Germany in 1933 and the obvious eroticism of training in the nude would not have been overlooked. Physical training had been introduced into the armies and navies of the Western world at the end of the 19th century and as the new century progressed physical fitness was seen as an integral part of the discipline and efficiency of such bodies. As fascist states started to emerge during the latter half of the 1920’s and the beginning of the 1930’s they started making use of the muscular male body as a symbol of physical perfection.

The idealised muscularity of the body was used by the state to encourage its aims. The use of classical images of muscular bodies reflected a nostalgia for the past and an appeal to nationalism. Heroic statues were recreated in stadiums in Italy and Germany, symbols that represented the power, strength and virility of the state and its leaders. In a totalitarian regime the body becomes the property of the state, and is used as a tool in collusion with the state’s moral and political agendas. Propaganda became a major tool of the state. During the decade leading up to the Second World War and during the war itself images of the body were used to help support the policies of the government, to encourage enlistment and bolster the morale of soldiers and public. Such images appealed to the patriotic nature of the population but could still include suspicions of homo-erotic activity, such as in the (probably Russian) poster from 1935 (below).


Anonymous photographer. 'The Ball Throwers' c. 1925


Anonymous photographer
The Ball Throwers
c. 1925
Army Training


“The training methods of Major Hans Suren, Chief of the German Army School of Physical Exercise in the 1920’s, involved training naked – pursuing ideals of physical perfection which were later promoted by Hitler as a sign of Aryan racial superiority.”

Anonymous photographer. “The Ball Throwers.” Army Training. Germany. c. 1925, in Dutton, Kenneth. The Perfectible Body. London: Cassell, 1995, p. 208


Unknown photographer. Josef Thorak "Comradeship" 1937


Unknown photographer
Josef Thorak “Comradeship”
German Pavilion at the Paris Exposition Internationale

“Comradeship”, at the entrance to the German pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition 1937, by Josef Thorak, who was one of two “official sculptors” of the 3rd Reich. Nazi era statues were often strangely homoerotic.6

Here comradeship should not be confused with friendship which was discussed at the beginning of this chapter.


Anonymous artist. 'Propaganda poster' 1935


Anonymous artist
Propaganda poster



Surrealism and the Body: George Platt Lynes

In contrast to the fascistic depictions of the male body used for propaganda, Surrealism (formed in the 1920s) was adapted by several influential gay photographers in the 1930s to express their own artistic interest in the male body. Although Surrealism was heavily anti-feminine and anti-homosexual, these gay male photographers, the Germans Herbert List, Horst P. Horst, and George Hoyningen-Huene and the American George Platt Lynes, made extensive use of the liberation of fantasies that Surrealism offered. Although the open depiction of homosexuality was still not possible in the 1930s there is an intuitive awareness on the part of the photographers and the viewer of the presence of sexual rituals and interactions. There is also the knowledge that there is a ready audience for these photographs, not only in the close circle of friends that surrounded the photographers, but also from gay men that instinctively recognise the homo-erotic quality of these images when shown them. The bodies in the images of the above photographers tend to be of two distinct types, the ephebe and the muscular mesomorphic body.


George Platt Lynes. 'A Forgotten Model' c. 1937


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
A Forgotten Model
c. 1937
Gelatin silver print


George Platt Lynes. 'The Sleepwalker' 1935


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
The Sleepwalker
Gelatin silver print


George Platt Lynes (1907-1955) 'Names Withheld' 1952


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Names Withheld
Gelatin silver print


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Armor II' 1934


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Armor II
Gelatin silver print
15 7/10 × 11 4/5 in (40 × 30cm)


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975) 'Young men on Naxos' 1937


Herbert List (German, 1903-1975)
Young men on Naxos
Gelatin silver print


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955) 'Untitled' 1936


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Gelatin silver print



In America George Platt Lynes was working as a fashion photographer. George Platt Lynes had his own studio in New York where he photographed dancers, artists and celebrities amongst others. He undertook a series of mythological photographs on classical themes (which are amazing for their composition which features Surrealist motifs). Privately he photographed male nudes but was reluctant to show them in public for fear of the harm that they could do to his reputation and business with the fashion magazines. Generally his earlier nude photographs concentrate on the idealised youthful body or ‘ephebe’. The 1936 photograph “Untitled” (above) is an exception. Here we gaze upon a smooth, defined muscular torso, the man (too old to be an ephebe) both in agony and ecstasy, his head thrown back, his eyes covered by one of his arms. Sightless he does not see the ‘other’ male hand that encloses his genitals, hiding them but also possibly about to molest them / release them at the same time. (NB. See my research notes on George Platt Lynes photographs in the Collection at the Kinsey Institute).

We can relate this photograph to Fred Holland Day’s photograph of “St. Sebastian” discussed earlier, this image stripped bare of most of the religious iconography of the previous image. The body is displayed for our adoration in all its muscularity, the lighting picking up the definition of diaphragm, ribs and chest, the hand hiding and perhaps, in the future, offering release to a suppressed sexuality. Here an-‘other’ hand is much closer to the origin of male2male sexual desire. Looking at this photograph you can visualise a sexual fantasy, so I imagine that it would have had the same effect on homosexual men when they looked at it in the 1930s.

In the slightly later nude photographs by George Platt Lynes the latent homo-eroticism evident in his earlier work becomes even more apparent.

In his image from 1942 “Untitled” we observe three young men in bare surroundings, likely to be Platt Lynes studio. The faces of the three men are not visible at all, evoking a sexual anonymity (According to David Leddick the models are Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball.7 The image comes from a series of 30 photographs of these three boys undressing and lying on a bed together; please see my notes on Image 483 and others from this series in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute).


George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled [Charles 'Tex' Smutney, Charles 'Buddy' Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]' c. 1942


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled [Charles ‘Tex’ Smutney, Charles ‘Buddy’ Stanley, and Bradbury Ball]
c. 1942
Gelatin silver print



On a chair sits a pile of discarded clothes and in the background a man is removing the clothing of another man. The bulge of the man’s penis is quite visible through the material of the underpants. On the bed lies another man, face down, passive, unresisting, head turned away from us, the curve of his arse signalling a site of erotic activity for a gay man. Our gaze is directed to the arse of the man lying on the bed as a site of sexual desire and although nothing is actually happening in the photograph, there is a sexual ‘frisson’ in its composition.

As Lynes became more despondent with his career as a fashion photographer his private photographs of male nudes tended to take on a darker and sharper edge. After a period of residence in Hollywood he returned to New York nearly penniless. His style of photographing the male nude underwent a revision. While the photographs of his European colleagues still relied on the sun drenched bodies of young adolescent males evoking memories of classical beauty and the mythology of Ancient Greece the later nudes of Platt Lynes feature a mixture of youthful ephebes and heavier set bodies which appear to be more sexually knowing. The compositional style of dramatically lit photographs of muscular torsos of older men shot in close up (see the undated image “Untitled,” Frontal Male Nude, for example; see also my notes on this image, Image 144, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute), were possibly influenced by a number of things – his time in Hollywood with its images of handsome, swash-buckling movie stars with broad chests and magnificent physiques; the images of bodybuilders by physique photographers that George Platt Lynes visited; the fact that his lover George Tichenor had been killed during WWII; and the knowledge that he was penniless and had cancer. There is, I think, a certain perhaps not desperation but sadness and strength in much of his later photographs of the male nude that harnesses the inherent sexual power embedded within their subject matter.


George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled (Frontal Male Nude)' nd


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Untitled [Frontal Male Nude]
Gelatin silver print

Platt Lynes, George. “Untitled,” Nd in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 103.
Courtesy: Estate of George Platt Lynes.


“The depth and commitment he had in photographing the male nude, from the start of his career to the end, was astonishing. There was absolutely no commercial impulse involved – he couldn’t exhibit it, he couldn’t publish it.”

Allen Ellenzweig. Introduction to George Platt Lynes: The Male Nudes. Rizzoli, 2011.


George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1953


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Date unknown (early 1950s)
Gelatin silver print


George Platt Lynes. 'Untitled' 1953


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Gelatin silver print


George Platt Lynes. 'Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)' c. 1950


George Platt Lynes (American, 1907-1955)
Ted Starkowski (standing, arms behind back)
c. 1950
Gelatin silver print from a paper negative



The monumentality of body and form was matched by a new openness in the representation of sexuality. There are intimate photographs of men in what seem to be post-coital revere, in unmade beds, genitalia showing or face down showing their butts off (See my description of Untitled Nude, 1946, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute). Some of the faces in these later photographs remain hidden, as though disclosure of identity would be detrimental for fear of persecution. The “Untitled,” Frontal Male Nude photograph (above) is very ‘in your face’ for the conservative time from which it emerges, remembering it was the era of witch hunts against communists and subversives (including homosexuals).

This photograph is quite restrained compared to one of the most striking series of GPL’s photographs that I saw at The Kinsey Institute which involves an exploration the male anal area. A photograph from the 1951 series can be found in the book titled George Platt Lynes: Photographs from The Kinsey Institute.8 This image is far less explicit than other images of the same model from the same series that I saw during my research into GPL’s photographs at The Kinsey Institute,9 in particular one which depicts the model with his buttocks in the air pulling his arse cheeks apart (See my description of Images 186-194 in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute). After Lynes found out he had cancer he started to send his photographs to the German homoerotic magazine Der Kries under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf,10 and in the last years of his life he experimented with paper negatives, which made his images of the male body even more grainy and mysterious (See the photograph Ted Starkowski (1950, above), and see my notes on Male Nude 1951, in the Collection at The Kinsey Institute).

Personally I believe that Lynes understood, intimately, the different physical body types that gay men find desirable and used them in his photographs. He visited Lon of New York (a photographer of beefcake men) in his studio and purchased photographs of bodybuilders for himself, as did the German photographer George Hoyningen-Huene, another artist who was gay. It is likely that these images of bodybuilders did influence his later compositional style of images of men; it is also possible that he detected the emergence of this iconic male body type as a potent sexual symbol, one that that was becoming more visible and sexually available to gay men.


Max Dupain. 'Sunbaker' 1937


Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
Gelatin silver print



1930s Australian Body Architecture

Around the time that George Platt Lynes was photographing his earlier male nudes Max Dupain took what is seen to be an archetypal photograph of the Australian way of life. Called Sunbaker (1937, above), the photograph expresses the bronzed form of man lying prone on the ground, the man pressing his flesh into the warm sand as the sun beats down on a hot summers day. His hand touches the earth and his head rests, egg-like, on his arm. His shoulders remind me of the outline of Uluru (or Ayres Rock) in the centre of Australia, sculptural, almost cathedral like in their geometry and outline, soaring into the sky. Here the male body is a massive edifice, towering above the eye line, his body wet from the sea expressing the essence of Australian beach culture. In this photograph can be seen evidence of an Australian tradition of photographing hunky lifesavers and surfies to the delight of a gay audience which reached a peak in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, although I’m not sure that Max Dupain would have realised the homoerotic overtones of the photograph at the time.


Minor White

Another photographer haunted by his sexuality was the American Minor White. Disturbed by having been in battle in the Second World War and seeing some of his best male friends killed, White’s early photographs of men (in their uniforms) depict the suffering and anguish that the mental and physical stress of war can cause. He was even more upset than most because he was battling his own inner sexual demons at the same time, his shame and disgust at being a homosexual and attracted to men, a difficulty compounded by his religious upbringing. In his photographs White both denied his attraction to men and expressed it. His photographs of the male body are suffused with both sexual mystery and a celebration of his sexuality despite his bouts of guilt. After the war he started to use the normal everyday bodies of his friends to form sequences of photographs, sometimes using the body as a metaphor for the landscape and vice versa. Based on a religious theme the 1948 photograph Tom Murphy (San Francisco) (1948, below) from The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors, 1948, presents us with a dismembered hairy body front on, the hands clutching and caressing the body at the same time, the lower hand hovering near the exposed genitalia. As in the photographs of Platt Lynes we see the agony and ecstasy of a homo-erotic desire wrapped up in a religious or mythological theme.


Minor White (American, 1908-1976) 'Tom Murphy (San Francisco)' 1948


Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Tom Murphy (San Francisco)
From The Temptation of Saint Anthony is Mirrors 1948
Gelatin silver print


Minor White (American, 1908–1976) 'Nude Foot, San Francisco' 1947


Minor White (American, 1908-1976)
Nude Foot, San Francisco
Gelatin silver print



Other images (such as Nude Foot 1947, above) seem to have an aura of desire, mysticism, vulnerability and inner spirituality. White photographed when he was in a state of meditation, hoping for a “revelation,” a revealing of spirit in the subsequent negative and finally print. Perhaps this is why the young men in his photographs always seem vulnerable, alone, available, and have an air of mystery – they reflect his inner state of mind, and consequently express feelings about his own sexuality. In reading through my research notes on his photographs at The Minor White Archive, I notice that I found them a very intense, rich and rewarding experience. It was amazing to find Minor White photographs of erect penises dating from the 1940s amongst the archive but even more amazing was the presence that these photographs had for me. The other overriding feeling was one of perhaps loneliness, sadness, anguish(?), for the bodies seemed to be just observed and not partaken of. As with Platt Lynes photographs of men, very few of Minor White’s male portraits were ever exhibited in his lifetime because of his fear of being exposed as a homosexual.


Physique Culture after WW2

At the same time that Minor White was exploring anxieties surrounding his sexuality and his war experiences, many other American men were returning home from WWII to America to find that they had to reaffirm the traditional place of the male as the breadwinner within the family unit. Masculinity and a muscular body image was critical in this reaffirmation. Powerful in build and strong in image it was used to counter the threat of newly independent females, females who had taken over the jobs of men while they were away at war. Conversely, many gay men returned home to America after the war knowing that they were not as alone as they had previously thought, having socialised, associated, fought and had sex with others of their kind. There were other gay men out there in the world and the beginnings of contemporary gay society started to be formed. A desire by some gay men for the masculine body image found expression in the publications of body-building books and magazines that continued to be produced within the boundaries of social acceptability after the Second World War.

Photographers such as Russ Warner, Al Urban, Lon of New York (who began their careers in the late 1930’s), Bob Mizer (started Physique Pictorial in 1945), Charles Renslow (started Kris studio in 1954), and Bruce of Los Angeles, sought out models on both sides of the Atlantic (See my notes on the images of some of these photographers held in the Collection at the Kinsey Institute). Models appeared in posing pouches or the negatives were again airbrushed to hide offending genitalia. Some unpublished images from 1942-1950 by Bruce of Los Angeles show an older man sucking off a stiff younger man (See my notes on Images No. 52001-52004 from the link above) but this is the rare exception rather than the rule.


Bob Mizer/Athletic Model Guild. 'Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross' Nd


Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild
Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross

Mizer, Bob/Athletic Model Guild. “Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross,” Nd, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 19.


Joe Corey. 'Bill Henry and Bob Baker' Nd


Joe Corey
Bill Henry and Bob Baker

Corey, Joe. “Bill Henry and Bob Baker,” Nd, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 27.



Appealing to a closeted homosexual clientele the published images seem, on reflection, to have had a more open, homo-erotic quality to them than earlier physique photographs. This can be observed in the two undated images, “Irwin Kosewski and Jerry Ross,” by Bob Mizer / Athletic Model Guild and “Bill Henry and Bob Baker,” by Joe Carey. The first image carries on the tradition of the Sansone image “The Slave,” but further develops the sado-masochistic overtones; such wrestling photographs became popular just because the models were shown touching each other, which could provide sexual arousal for gay men looking at the photographs.

Some photographs were taken out of doors instead of always in the studio, possibly an expression of a more open attitude to ways of depicting the nude male body. The bodies in the ‘beefcake’ magazines of the 1950’s tend to be bigger than that of the ephebe, even when the models were quite young in some cases. As the name ‘beefcake’ implies, the muscular mesomorphic shape was the attraction of these bodies – perfectly proportioned Adonis’s with bulging pectorals, large biceps, hard as rock abdomens and small waists. The 1950’s saw the beginning of the fixation of gay men with the muscular mesomorph as the ultimate ideal image of a male body. The lithe bodies of young dancers and swimmers now gives way to muscle – a built body, large in its construction, solid and dependable, sculpted like a piece of rock. These bodies are usually smooth and it is difficult to find a hirsute body11 in any of the photographs from the physique magazines of this time. According to Alan Berube in his book, Coming Out Under Fire,

“The post-war growth and commercialization of gay male erotica in the form of mail-order 8 mm films, photographic stills, and physique magazines were developed in part by veterans and drew heavily on World War II uniforms and iconography for erotic imagery.”12

Looking through images from the 1940s in the collection at The Kinsey Institute, I did find that uniforms were used as a fetish in some of the explicitly erotic photographs as a form of sexual iconography. These photographs of male2male sex were for private consumption only. I found little evidence of the use of uniforms as sexual iconography in the published photographs of the physique magazines. Here image composition mainly featured classical themes, beach scenes, outdoor and studio settings.


Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) (Finnish, 1920-1991) 'Untitled' 1973


Touko Valio Laaksonen (Tom of Finland) (Finnish, 1920-1991)


'Physique Pictorial' Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 1957


Physique Pictorial Volume 7, Number 1, Spring 1957. Tom of Finland, Touko Laaksonen (cover)

This issue features the debut American appearance of “Tom, a Finnish artist,” a.k.a. Tom of Finland who produced both the cover illustration of loggers and an interior companion shot.


Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild. Cover of 'Physique Pictorial' Vol. 14, No. 2, 1964


Bob Mizer (American, 1922-1992) / Athletic Model Guild
Cover of Physique Pictorial Vol. 14, No. 2, 1964
32 pages, black and white illustrations
Illustrated saddle-stapled self-wrappers
21cm x 13cm



Tom of Finland

Although not a photographer one gay artist who was heavily influenced by the uniforms and muscularity of soldiers he lusted after and had sex with during the war was Touko Laaksonen, known as ‘Tom of Finland’. His images featured hunky, leather clad bikers, sailors, and rough trade ploughing their enlarged, engorged penises up the rears of chunky men in graphic scenes of male2male sex. His images portrayed gay men as the hard-bodied epitome of masculinity, contrary to the nancy boy image of the limp wristed poof that was the stereotype in the hetero / homosexual community up until the 1960s and even later. His early images were again only for private consumption. His first success was a (non-sexual) drawing of a well built male body that he sent to America. It appeared on the cover of the spring 1957 issue of Physique Pictorial (above). Here we see a link between the drawings of Tom of Finland and the construction of a body engineered towards selling to a homosexual market, the male body as marketable commodity. His drawings of muscular men were influenced by the bodies in the beefcake magazines and the bodies of the soldiers he desired. Tom of Finland, in an exaggerated way, portrayed the desirability of this type of body for gay men by emphasising that, for him, gay sex and gay bodies are ultimately ‘masculine’.


1950s Australia

Very little of this iconography of the muscular male was available to gay men in Australia throughout the 1950’s. The few publications that became available were likely to have come from America or the United Kingdom. Instead heterosexual photographers such as Max Dupain took images of Australian beach culture such as the 1952 image At Newport, Australia, 1952 (below). Dupain took a series of photographs of this beautiful young man, ‘the lad’ as he calls him,13 climbing out of the pool. Elegant in its structural form ‘the lad’ is oblivious to the camera’s and our gaze. Although the body is toned and tanned this body image is a much more ‘natural’ representation of the male body than the photographs in the physique magazines, with all their posing and preening for the camera.


Max Dupain. 'At Newport Baths' 1952


Max Dupain (Australian, 1911-1992)
At Newport, Australia, 1952
Gelatin silver print

Dupain, Max. “At Newport, Australia, 1952.” 1952, in Bilson, Amanda (ed.,). Max Dupain’s Australia. Ringwood: Viking, 1986, p. 157.


John Graham. 'Clive Norman' Nd


John Graham
Clive Norman

Graham, John. “Clive Norman,” Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 38.


John Graham. 'Detail from Parthenon Frieze'. Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum Nd and Lon of New York in London. 'Jim Stevens' Nd


John Graham
Detail from Parthenon Frieze
Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum

Lon of New York in London
Jim Stevens

Graham, John. “Detail from Parthenon Frieze.” Elgin Marble Friezes, British Museum, Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. vi.

Lon of New York in London. “Jim Stevens,” Nd in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 13.



Later Physique Culture and gay pornography photographs

Images of the body in the physique magazines of the 1940s-1960s are invariably smooth, muscular and defined. A perfect example of the type can be seen in the undated image Clive Norman by John Graham (above). The images rely heavily on the iconography of classical Rome and Greece to legitimise their homo-erotic overtones. Use was made of columns, drapery, and sets that presented the male body as the contemporary equivalent of idealised male beauty of ancient times.

As the 1950s turned into the 1960s other stereotypes became available to the photographers – for example the imagery of the marine, the sailor, the biker, the boy on a tropical island, the wrestler, the boxer, the mechanic. The photographs become more raunchy in their depiction of male nudity. In the 1950s, however, classical aspirations were never far from the photographers minds when composing the images as can be seen in the undated photograph Jim Stevens by Lon of New York in London (above) taken from a book called ‘Art in Physique Photography’.14 This book, illustrated with drawings of classical warrior figures by David Angelo, is subtitled: ‘An Album of the world’s finest photographs of the male physique’.

Here we observe a link between art and the body. This connection was used to confirm the social acceptability of physique photographs of the male body while still leaving them open to other alternative readings. One alternative reading was made by gay men who could buy these socially acceptable physique magazines to gaze with desire upon the naked form of the male body. It is interesting to note that with the advent of the first openly gay pornography magazines after the ruling on obscenity by the Supreme Court in America in the late 1960s (See my research notes on this subject from The One Institute),15 classical figures were still used to justify the desiring gaze of the camera and viewer upon the bodies of men. Another reason used by early gay pornography magazines to justify photographs of men having sex together was that the images were only for educational purposes!

Even in the mid 1970s companies such as Colt Studios, which has built a reputation for photographing hunky, very well built masculine men, used classical themes in their photography of muscular young men. Most of the early Colt magazines have photographs of naked young men that are accompanied by photographs and illustrations based on classical themes as can be seen in the image below. In their early magazines quite a proportion of the bodies were hirsute or had moustaches as was popular with the clone image at the time. Later models of the early 1980s tend towards the buff, tanned, stereotypical muscular mesomorph in even greater numbers. Sometimes sexual acts are portrayed in Colt magazines but mainly they are not. It is the “look” of the body and the face that the viewers desiring gaze is directed towards – not the sexual act itself. As the Colt magazine says,

“Our aim in Olympus is to wed the classic elegance of ancient Greece and Rome to the contemporary look of the ’70s. With some models that takes some doing: they may have one or two exceptional features, but the overall picture doesn’t make it … Erron, our current subject, comes closer to the ideal – in his own way … Erron stands 5’10”. He is 22 years old and is the spirit of the free-wheeling, unhampered single stud … And to many the morning after, he is ‘the man that got away’.”16


Anonymous photographer. 'Erron' 1973


Anonymous photographer
Olympus from Colt Studios Vol. 1. No 2.



Erron does attempt to come closer to the ‘ideal’ but not, I think, in his own way for it is an ‘ideal’ based on a stereotypical masculine image from a past culture. Is he doing his own thing or someone else’s thing, based on an image already prescribed from the past?

As social morals relaxed in the age of ‘free love’, physique photographers such as Bob Mizer from Athletic Model Guild produced more openly homo-erotic images. In his work from the 1970s full erections are not prevalent but semi-erect penises do feature, as do revealing “moon” shots from the rear focusing on the arsehole as a site for male libidinal desires. A less closeted, more open expression of homosexual desire can be seen in the photographs of the male body in the 1970s.17 What can also be seen in the images of gay pornography magazines from the mid 1970s onwards is the continued development of the dominant stereotypical ‘ideal’ body image that is present in contemporary gay male society – that of the smooth, white, tanned, muscular mesomorphic body image.


Diane Arbus (1923-71) 'Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.' 1962


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Muscle Man in his dressing room with trophy, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Gelatin silver print


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967' 1967


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967
Gelatin silver print



Diane Arbus

In the 1960s and 1970s other photographers were also interested in alternative representations of the male body, notably Diane Arbus. Arbus was renowned for ‘in your face’ photographs of the supposed oddities and freaks of society. She photographed body-builders with their trophies, dwarfs, giants, and all sorts of interesting people she found fascinating because of their sexual orientation, hobbies and fetishes. She photographed gay men, lesbians and transsexuals in their homes and hangouts.

I think the image Seated man in a bra and stockings, N.Y.C., 1967 (above), reveals a different side of masculinity, not conforming to the stereotypical depiction of ‘masculinity’ proposed by the form of the muscular body. Yes, the subject is wary of the camera, hand gripping the chair arm, legs crossed in a protective manner. But I think that the important significance of this photograph lies in the fact that the subject allowed himself to be photographed at all, with his face visible, prepared to reveal this portion of his life to the probing of Arbus’ lens. In the closeted and conservative era of the 1960s (remember this is before Gay Liberation), to allow himself to be photographed in this way would have taken an act of courage, because of the fear of discrimination and persecution including the possible loss of job, home, friends, family and even life if this photograph ever came to the attention of employers, landlords and bigots.


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Charles and Jim' 1974

Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Charles and Jim' 1974


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Charles and Jim
Gelatin silver prints

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Charles and Jim, 1974, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, pp. 26-27.


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'White Sheet' 1974 (detail)


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
White Sheet (detail)
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Detail of White Sheet, 1974, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 74.



Robert Mapplethorpe

Robert Mapplethorpe. The name of one of the most controversial photographers of the 20th century. Well known to gay men around the world for his ground breaking depiction of sexuality and the body through his photographs of black men and the sadomasochistic acts within the leather scene in gay community. The exhibiting of his images was only possible after the liberation of sexualities brought about by Stonewall and the start of the fight for Gay Liberation in 1969. Early images, such as three from the sequence of photographs Charles and Jim (1974, above) feature ‘natural’ bodies – hairy, scrawny, thin – in close physical proximity with each other, engaged in gay sex, sucking each others dicks in other photographs from this sequence. There is a tenderness and affection to the whole sequence, as the couple undress, suck, kiss and embrace. Compare the photographs with the photograph by Minor White of Tom Murphy (San Francisco) (1948, above) Gone is the religious agony, loneliness and isolation of a man (the photographer), who fears an open expression of his sexuality, replaced by the gaze and touch of a man comfortable with his sexuality and the object of his desire.

Although Mapplethorpe used the bodies of his friends and himself in the early photographs he was still drawn to images of muscular men that had a definite homoerotic quality to them, as can be seen in the detail of the 1974 work White Sheet. Blatant in its hard muscularity the boys stare at each other, flexing their muscles, one arm around the back of the others neck. This attraction to the perfect muscular body became more obvious in the later work of Mapplethorpe, especially in his depiction of black men and their hard, graphic bodies. Mapplethorpe even used to coat his black models in graphite so that the skin took on a grey lustre, adding to the feeling that the skin was made of marble and was impenetrable. Mapplethorpe’s photographs of black men come from a lineage that can be traced back through Frederick Holland Day (see below) to Herbert List and George Platt Lynes who all photographed black men. In the 1979 image of Bob Love (below), Mapplethorpe worships the body and the penis of Bob Love, placing him on a pedestal reminiscent of those used in the physique magazines of an earlier era.


F. Holland Day. 'Ebony and Ivory' 1899


F. Holland Day (American, 1864-1933)
Ebony and Ivory


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Bob Love' 1979


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Bob Love
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Bob Love, 1979, in Holborn, Mark and Levas, Dimitri. Mapplethorpe Altars. London: Jonathan Cape, 1995, p. 71.



Around the same time that Mapplethorpe was photographing the first of his black nudes he was also portraying acts of sexual pleasure in his photographs of the gay S/M scene. In these photographs the bodies are usually shielded from scrutiny by leather and rubber but are more revealing of the intentions and personalities of the people depicted in them, perhaps because Mapplethorpe was taking part in these activities himself as well as just depicting them. There is a sense of connection with the people and the situations that occur before his lens in the S/M photographs. In the photograph of Bob, however, Bob stares out at the viewer in a passive way, revealing nothing of his own personality, directed by the photographer, portrayed like a trophy. I believe this isolation, this objectivity becomes one of the undeniable criticisms of most of Mapplethorpe’s later photographs of the body – they reveal nothing but the clarity of perfect formalised beauty and aesthetic design, sometimes fragmented into surfaces. Mapplethorpe liked to view the body as though cut up into pieces, into different libidinal zones, much as in the reclaimed artefacts of classical sculpture. The viewer is seduced by the sensuous nature of the bodies surfaces, the body objectified for the viewers pleasure. The photographs reveal very little of the inner self of the person being photographed. This surface quality can also be seen in earlier work such as the 1976 photograph of bodybuilder Arnold Schwarzenegger (1976, below).


Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, c. 1480 - 1556/1557) 'Young Man Before a White Curtain' c. 1506/1508


Lorenzo Lotto (Italian, c. 1480 – 1556/1557)
Young Man Before a White Curtain
c. 1506/1508
Oil on canvas

Lotto, Lorenzo. Young Man Before a White Curtain, Oil on Canvas. c. 1506/1508, in Schneider, Norbert. The Art of the Portrait. Koln: Benedikt Taschen, 1994, p. 66.


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989) 'Arnold Schwarzenegger' 1976


Robert Mapplethorpe (American, 1946-1989)
Arnold Schwarzenegger
Gelatin silver print

Mapplethorpe, Robert. Arnold Schwarzenegger, 1976, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 139.


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971) 'A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C.' 1968


Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968
Gelatin silver print

Arbus, Diane. A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968, 1968, in An Aperture Monograph. Diane Arbus. New York: Millerton, 1972.



In the photograph Schwarzenegger is placed on bare floorboards with a heavy curtain pulled back to reveal a white wall. We can see connections to an oil painting by the Italian Lorenzo Lotto. According to Norbert Schneider in his book The Art of the Portrait the curtain motif is adapted from devotional painting and was used as a symbolic, majestical backdrop for saints.18 The curtain may be seen as a ‘velum’ to veil whatever was behind it, or by an act of ‘re-velatio’, or pulling aside of the curtain, reveal what is behind. In both the painting and the photograph very little is revealed about the person’s inner self, despite the fact that in Mapplethorpe’s photograph the curtain has been tied back. Schwarzenegger stands before a barren white wall, on bare floorboards. The photograph reveals nothing about his inner self or his state of mind; it is a barren landscape. Nothing is revealed about his personality or identity save that he is a bodybuilder with a body made up of large muscles that has been posed for the camera; his facial expression and look are blank much like the wall behind him. The body becomes a marketable product, the polished surface fetishised in its perfection.

Compare this photograph with the A naked man being a woman, N.Y.C. 1968, by Diane Arbus taken six years earlier (above). Again a figure stands before parted curtains in a room. Here we see an androgynous figure of a man being a woman surrounded by the physical evidence of his/her existence. The body is not muscular but of a ‘natural’ type, one leg slightly bent in quite a feminine gesture, a hand on the hip. Behind the figure is a bed, covered in a blanket. On the chair in front of the curtains and on the bed behind lies discarded clothing and the detritus of human existence. We can also see a suitcase behind the chair leg, an open beer or soft drink can on the floor and what looks like an electrical heater behind the figures legs. We are made aware we are looking at the persons place of living, of sleeping, of the bed where the person sleeps and possibly has sex. Framed by the open curtains the painted face with the plucked eyebrows stares back at us with a much more engaging openness, the body placed within the context of its lived surroundings, unlike the photograph of Schwarzenegger. Much is revealed about the psychological state of the owner and how he lives and what he likes to do. The black and white shading behind the curtains reveals the yin/yang dichotomy, the opposite and the same of his personality far better than the blank white wall that stands behind Mapplethorpe’s portrait of Arnold Schwarzenegger.


Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940) 'Superman Fantasy' 1977


Arthur Tress (American, b. 1940)
Superman Fantasy
Gelatin silver print

Arthur Tress. Superman Fantasy, 1977, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 143.


Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955) 'Image No. 9 from an Untitled Sequence 1977' 1977


Bill Henson (Australian, b. 1955)
Image No.9 from an Untitled Sequence 1977
Gelatin silver print

Henson, Bill. Image No.9 from an Untitled sequence 1977, 1977, in Henson, Bill. Bill Henson: Photographs 1974-1984. (exhibition catalogue). Melbourne: Deutscher Fine Art, 1989.



Arthur Tress, Bill Henson and Bruce Weber

Arthur Tress was not a photographer that pandered to the emerging “lifestyle” cult of gay masculinity that was beginning to formulate towards the end of the 1970’s and the early 1980’s. Borrowing elements from both a ‘camp’ aesthetic and Surrealism, his images from this time parodied the inner identity of gay men, prodding and poking beneath the surface of both the gay male psyche and their fantasies. In the 1977 image Superman Fantasy (above), Tress conveys the desire of some gay men for the ‘ideal’ of the superhero, powerful, with muscular body and large penis. But the desiree has a ‘natural’ body and it is his penis that projects between the Superman’s thighs. Superman is only a fantasy, a cut out figure with no relief, and Tress pokes fun at gay men who desire heroic masculine body images to reinforce their own sense masculinity.

At the same time in Australia there emerged the work of the photographer Bill Henson. Again, he did not use stereotypical masculine body images. In an early 1977 sequence of his work (above), we see a young man who looks emaciated (almost like a living skeleton) at rest, a moment of stasis while apparently in the act of masturbating. Here Henson links the sexual act (although never seen in the photographs) with death. Visually Henson represents Georges Bataille’s idea that the ecstasy of an orgasm is like the oblivion of death. The body in sex uses power as part of its attraction and the ultimate expression of power is death; this sequence of photographs links the two ideas together visually. With the explicit medical link between sex and death because of the HIV/AIDS virus these photographs have a powerful resonance within a contemporary social context, the emaciated body now associated in people’s minds with a person dying from AIDS.

Other photographers, notably Bruce Weber, confirmed the constructed ‘ideal’ of the commodified masculine body. Body became product, became part of an overall purchased “lifestyle,” chic, beautiful and available if you have enough money. Working mainly as a fashion photographer with an aspiration to high art, Weber paraded a plethora of stunning white, buff, muscular males before his lens. Advertising companies, such as Calvin Klein swooped on this image of perfect male flesh and played with the ambiguous homo-erotic possibilities inherent within the images. Gay men fell for what they saw as the epitome of ‘masculinity’, a reflection of their own “straight-acting” masculinity. These photographs, with a genetic lineage dating from Sansone and the photographs of sportsmen by German photographer Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930’s, are almost utopian in their aesthetic idealisation of the body.

In his personal work, examples of which can be seen below, Bruce Weber maintains his interest in the perfection of the male form. These men are just All American Jocks, supposedly your everyday boy next door, possessing no sexuality other than a placid, flaccid non-threatening penis, no messy secretions or interactions being attached to the bodies at all. There is no hint of disease or dis-ease among these images or models, even though AIDS was emerging at this time as a major killer of gay men. Perhaps even the possibility of homo/sexuality/identity is denied in the perfection of their form placed, like the Mapplethorpe photograph of Schwarzenegger, against a non-descriptive background, a context-less body in a context-less photograph.


Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946) 'Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer' 1983


Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946)
Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer
Gelatin silver print

Weber, Bruce. Dan Harvey, New York Jets Trainer, 1983, 1983, in Cheim, John. Bruce Weber. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988.


Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946) 'Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara California' 1987


Bruce Weber (American, b. 1946)
Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara California
Gelatin silver print

Weber, Bruce. Paul Wadina, Santa Barbara, California, 1987, 1987, in Cheim, John. Bruce Weber. New York: Alfred Knopf, 1988.


Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Fred with Tires' 1984


Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Fred with Tires
Gelatin silver print
24 × 20 in (61 × 50.8cm)

Ritts, Herb. Fred with Tires, 1984, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 195.



Herb Ritts, Queer Press, Queer body

Fred with Tires (1984, above) became possibly the archetypal photograph of the male body in the 1980’s and made the world-wide reputation of its commercial photographer, Herb Ritts. Gay men flocked to buy it, including myself. I was drawn by the powerful, perfectly sculpted body, the butchness of his job, the dirty trousers, the boots and the body placed within the social context. At the time I realised that the image of this man was a constructed fantasy, ie., not the ‘real’ thing, and this feeling of having been deceived has grown ever since. His hair is teased up and beautifully styled, the grease is applied to his body just so, his body twisted to just the right degree to accentuate the muscles of the stomach and around the pelvis. You can just imagine the stylist standing off camera ready to readjust the hair if necessary, the assistants with their reflectors playing more light onto the body. This/he is the seduction of a marketable homoeroticsm, the selling of an image as sex, almost camp in its overt appeal to gay archetypal stereotypes. Herb Ritts, whether in his commercial work or in his personal images such as those of the gay bodybuilders Bob Paris and Rod Jackson, has helped increase the acceptance of the openly homo-erotic photograph in a wider sphere but this has been possible only with an increased acceptance of homosexual visibility within the general population. Openly gay bodies such as that of Australian rugby league star Ian Roberts or American diver Greg Luganis can become heroes and role models to young gay men coming out of the closet for the first time, visible evidence that gay men are everywhere in every walk of life. This is great because young gay men do need gay role models to look up to but the bodies they possess only conform to the one type, that of the muscular mesomorph and this reinforces the ideal of a traditional virile masculinity. Yes, the guy in the shower next to you might be a poofter, might be queer for heavens sake, but my God, what a body he’s got!

Herb Ritts photographs are still based on the traditional physique magazine style of the 1950’s as can be seen from the examples below. He also borrows heavily from the work of George Platt Lynes and the idealised perfection of Mapplethorpe. The bodies he uses construct themselves (through going to the gym) as the ‘ideal’ of what men should look like. Seduced by the perfection of his bodies gay men have rushed to the gym since the early 1980’s in an attempt to emulate the ideal that Ritts proposes, to belong to the ‘in’ crowd, to have “the look”. (This idealisation continues to this day in 2022).

From different cultures around the world other artists who are gay have also succumbed to the heroic musculature that is the modern day epitome of the representation of gay masculinity. Although he denies any linkage to the work of ‘Tom of Finland’, Sadao Hasegawa portrays the body as a demigod using traditional Japanese and Western iconography to emphasise his themes of homosexual bondage and ritual (see below). The body in his Shunga (Japanese erotic) paintings and drawings, as in most art and images of the muscular male, becomes a phallus, the armoured body being a metaphor for the hidden power of the penis, signifying the power of mesomorphic men over women and ‘other’ not so well endowed men.


Bob Delmonteque (American) 'Glenn Bishop' 1950s


Bob Delmonteque (American)
Glenn Bishop
Gelatin silver print

Delmonteque, Bob. Glenn Bishop, 1950s, in Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography. Vol. 1. Man’s World Publishing Company. Chesham: The Carlton Press, Nd, p. 8.


Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002) 'Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles' 1987


Herb Ritts (American, 1952-2002)
Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles
Gelatin silver print

Ritts, Herb. Male Nude with Bubble, Los Angeles, 1987, in Ellenzweig, Allen. The Homoerotic Photograph. New York: Columbia University Press, 1992, p. 194.


Sadao Hasegawa (Japanese, 1945-1999) 'Untitled' 1990


Sadao Hasegawa (Japanese, 1945-1999)

Hasegawa, Sadao. Untitled, 1990, in Blue Magazine. Sydney: Studio Magazines, April 1997, p. 50.



But there are still other artists who are gay who challenge the orthodoxy of such stereotypical images, using as their springboard the ‘sensibility’ of queer theory, a theory that critiques perspectives of social and cultural ‘normality’. With the explosion of the HIV/AIDS pandemic in the mid 1980’s, numerous artists started to address issues of the body: isolation, disease, death, beauty, gay sex, friendship between men, the inscription of the bodies surface, and the place of gay men in the world in a critical and valuable way. Ted Gott, commenting on Lex Middleton’s 1992 image Gay Beauty Myth (below) in the book Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS observes that the image,

“… reconsiders Bruce Weber’s luscious photography of the naked male body for Calvin Klein’s celebrated underwear advertising campaigns of the early 1980s. The proliferation of Weber / Klein glistening pectorals and smouldering body tone across the billboards of the United States was reaching its crescendo at the same time as the gay male ‘body’ came under threat from a ‘new’ disease not yet identified as HIV/AIDS. In opposing the rippling musculature and perfect visage of an athlete with the fragmented image of a Calvin Klein Y-fronted ‘ordinary’ man, Middleton questions the ‘gay beauty myth’, both as it touches gay men who do not fit the ‘look’ that advertising has decreed applicable to their sexuality, and from the projected perspective of HIV positive gay men who face the reality of the daily decay of their bodies.”19

Other artists, such as David McDiarmid in his celebrated series of safe sex posters for the AIDS Council of New South Wales (below)) critique the body as site for libidinal and deviant pleasures for both positive and negative gay men as long as this is always undertaken safely. In the example from the series “Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time,” 1992, we see a brightly coloured body, both positive and negative, filled with parties, drugs and alcohol, spreading the arse cheeks to make the arsehole the site of gay male desire. Note however, that the body still has huge arms, strong legs, and a massive back redolent of the desire of gay men for the muscular mesomorphic body image.


Lex Middleton. 'Gay Beauty Myth' 1992


Lex Middleton (Australian)
Gay Beauty Myth
Gelatin silver photographs


David McDiarmid (Australian, 1952-1995) 'Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don't. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time!' 1992


David McDiarmid (Australian, 1952-1995)
Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time!
Colour offset print on paper
67.1 x 44.5cm

AIDS Council of New South Wales / McDiarmid, David (designer). Some of Us Get Out of It, Some of Us Don’t. All of Us Fuck With a Condom, Every Time! 1992, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 154.


Brenton Heath-Kerr (Australian, 1962-1995) 'Homosapien' 1994


Brenton Heath-Kerr (Australian, 1962-1995)
Laminated photomechanical reproductions and cloth

Heath-Kerr, Brenton. “Homosapien,” 1994, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 75.



More revealing (literally) was the work and performance art of Brenton Heath-Kerr. Growing out of his involvement in the dance party scene in Sydney, Australia in 1991, Heath-Kerr’s combination of costume and photography made his creations come to life, and he sought to critique the narcissistic elements of this gay dance culture, such as the Mardi Gras and Sleaze Ball parties. Later work included the figure Homosapiens (1994, above) which observes the workings of the body laid bare by the ravages of HIV/AIDS and comments on the politics of governments who control funding for drugs to treat those who are infected.

Californian photographer Albert J. Winn, in his series My Life until Now (1993, below) does not seek to elicit sympathy for his incurable disease, but positions his having the disease as only a small part of his overall personality and life. Other photographs in the series feature pictures of his lover, his home, old family photographs, and texts reflecting on his childhood, sexuality, and religion. As Albert J. Winn comments,

“The pictures from My Life Until Now are a progression of thinking about identity. Now I am a gay man, a gay man with AIDS, a Jew, a lover, a person who has books on the shelf, etc., not just another naked gay man with another naked gay man, and I tried to load the photograph(s) with information. I feel I am determining my identity by making the choice to show all this stuff.”20

Personally I believe that integrating your sexuality into your overall identity is the last, most important part of ‘coming out’ as a gay man, and this phenomenon is what Albert J. Winn, in his own way, is commenting on.

One of my favourite artists, now dead, who just happened to be gay and critiqued the social landscape was named David Wojnarowicz. Using an eclectic mix of black and white and colour photography (mainly 35mm), drawing, painting, collage, documenting of performances and sculpture, Wojnarowicz created a commentary on his world, the injustices, the sex, the politics, the brutality, the environments, and the people who inhabited them to name just a little of his subject matter. The Untitled 1988-1989 image from the Sex Series (below) is not a collage but a photomontage, two colour slides reverse printed onto black and white paper to make the negative image. Images from the series feature text, babies, all manner of different sexual persuasions, tornadoes, trains, ships, war images, and cells. Wojnarowicz himself states that,

“By mixing variation of sexual expressions there is an attempt to dismantle the structures formed by category; all are affected by laws and policies. The spherical structures embedded in the series are about examination and or surveillance. Looking through a microscope or looking through a telescope or the monitoring that takes place in looking through the lens of a set of binoculars. Its all about oppression and suppression.”

Oppression and suppression are the continuing themes in Wojnarowicz’s 1989 image, Bad Moon Rising (below). Here the wounded body of St. Sebastian, a recurring figure in gay iconography, has been impaled not just by arrows but by a tree, the mythological ‘tree of life’ growing up/down, from/into the ‘earth’ of money, the politics of consumerism and the illness of consumption. Again, in the small vignettes we observe the home, the sex, time, cells and their surveillance.


Albert J Winn (American, 1947-2014) 'Drug Related Skin Rashes' 1993


Albert J Winn (American, 1947-2014)
Drug Related Skin Rashes
Silver gelatin photograph

Winn, Albert J. Drug Related Skin Rashes, from the series My Life Until Now, 1993, in Gott, Ted (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA, 1994, p. 224.


David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled' 1989 From the 'Sex Series (For Marion Scemama)'


David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
From the Sex Series


David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Untitled' 1989 From the 'Sex Series (For Marion Scemama)'


David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
From the Sex Series


David Wojnarowicz (1954-1992) 'Bad Moon Rising' 1989


David Wojnarowicz (American, 1954-1992)
Bad Moon Rising
Black and white photographs, acrylic, string, and collage on Masonite

Wojnarowicz, David. Bad Moon Rising, 1989, in Harris, Melissa. Brushfires in the Social Landscape. New York: Aperture Publications, 1994, p. 39.



And so it goes…

Meanwhile in Australia, the burgeoning cult of body worship was being fuelled by the more traditional homo-erotic photographs from America. This iconography was assimilated by local commercial photographers. They played with the traditions of surf, sand, sun and sea for which Australia is renowned and Dennis Maloney, in particular, concentrated his attention on the surf lifesavers that patrolled the beach during surf carnivals. He photographed the guys with their well built tanned bodies, good looks, swimming costumes pulled up between buttocks, and let the homosexual market for such images do the rest. He also photographed what I would classify as soft-core porn images such as the Untitled 1990 image from the series Sons of Beaches (below), the idyllic man in his reverie, wet bathing costume moulded to the curve of his buttocks, legs spread invitingly in a suggestive homo-erotic sexual position.

This trend of using images of the muscular, smooth male body for both commercial purposes and as the ‘ideal’ of what a gay man should look like continues unabated to this day. Pick up any local gay newspaper or magazine and they are full of adverts for chat lines or escorts that feature this body type. The news photographs from around the clubs also feature nearly naked well built men with their buffed torsos.

Most images on the Internet also feature this particular body type (below), whether they belong to commercial sites or as the images that are chosen, desired and lusted after in the galleries of private home pages. The most alternative photographs of the male body I have found on the Internet occur when they are the personal photographs of their authors, when they picture themselves (below). These images exhibit a massive variety in the shape, size, hirsuteness and colour of gay men, most of whom don’t come anywhere near to the supposed ‘ideal’. And what of the future for the male body? Perhaps you would like to read the Future Press chapter in the CD ROM to get a few ideas.

Dr Marcus Bunyan 2001


Denis Maloney (Australian) 'Untitled' c. 1990


Denis Maloney (Australian)
c. 1990
From the series Sons of Beaches
Colour photograph


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' 1998


Anonymous photographer
Image from a commercial Internet web page


Anonymous photographer. 'Untitled' 1998


Anonymous photographer
Image from a commercial Internet web page




1/ Anonymous (French). “Male Nude Study.” Daguerreotype, c. 1843, in Ewing, William. The Body. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1994, p. 65. Courtesy: Stefan Richter, Reutlingen, Germany.

2/ “One of the things that interests me is the problem of friendship … You can find, from the sixteenth century on, texts explicitly criticize friendship as something dangerous. The army, bureaucracy, administration, universities, schools, et cetera – in the modern senses of these words – cannot function with such intense friendships. I think there can be seen a very strong attempt in all these institutions to diminish, or minimize, the affectional relations … One of my hypotheses … is that homosexuality became a problem – that is, sex between men became a problem – in the eighteenth century. We see the rise of it as a problem with the police, within the justice system, and so on. I think the reason it appears as a problem, as a social issue, at this time is that friendship has disappeared. As long as friendship was something important, was socially accepted, nobody realized men had sex together. You couldn’t say that men didn’t have sex together – it just didn’t matter … Once friendship disappeared as a culturally accepted relation, the issue arose, “What is going on between men?” And that’s when the problem appears … I’m sure I’m right, that the disappearance of friendship as a social relation and the declaration of homosexuality as a social / political / medical problem are the same process.” (My emphasis).
Gallagher, Bob and Wilson, Alexander. “Sex and the Politics of Identity: An Interview with Michel Foucault,” in Thompson, Mark. Gay Spirit: Myth and Meaning. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987, pp. 32-34.

3/ The formation of ‘The Cult of Muscularity’ in the last decade of the 19th century was a reaction to the perceived effeminisation of heterosexual masculinity. The position of the active, heroic hetero-male was under attack from the passivity of industrialisation, from the expansion of women’s rights and their ability to become breadwinners, and through the naming of deviant sexualities that were seen as a threat to the stability of society. By naming deviant sexualities they became visible to the general public for the fist time, creating apprehension in the minds of men gazing upon the bodies of other men lest they be thought of as ‘pansies’… Muscles became the sign of heterosexual power, prowess, and virility. A man had control over his body and his physical world. His appearance affected how he interacted with this world, how he saw himself, and was seen by others, and how closely he matched the male physical ‘ideal’ impacted on his own levels of self-esteem. The gymnasium became a meeting point for exercise, for health, for male bonding, and to show off your undoubted ‘masculinity’. Sporting and war heroes became national icons. Muscle proved the ‘masculinity’ of men, fit for power, fit to dominate women and less powerful men. By the 1950s this masculine identity construction was well established in America and many gay men sought to hid their perceived feminine traits, their (homo)sexuality from public view for fear of persecution.
Bunyan, Marcus. “Bench Press,” in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

4/ “The fear that swept gay men at the height of the McCarthy Era cannot be underestimated. It exploited a prevailing fear in American culture at large of effeminate men and instilled it further, even among gay men. Not only would men, gay and straight, not want to appear effeminate lest someone think they were homosexual, but the profusely masculine pose that straight men adopted in the 1950s had a profound effect on gay men that lasted for generations. Homosexuals are, after all, attracted to men, and if men in a given culture are assuming an even more masculine appearance than previously, thus redefining once again what it means to be a man, homosexuals will perhaps by default become more attracted to that more masculine appearance … The effeminate homosexual continued to become at best someone to avoid, even among a great many gay men themselves.”
Signorile, Michelangelo. Life Outside: The Signorile Report on Gay Men: Sex, Drugs, Muscles, and the Passages of Life. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997, pp. 46-47 quoted in Bunyan, Marcus. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. Melbourne: RMIT University, 2000. Femi-nancy Press chapter, p. 1.

5/ Anonymous. “Otto Arco and Adrian Deraiz.” Nd in Berry, Mark. Physical Improvement. Vol. II. Philadelphia: Milo Publishing Company, 1930, p. 39.

6/ This sculpture tightly adheres to the many criteria of the Nazi aesthetic and therefore contains the visual and thematic aspects of the Nazi aesthetic. The sculpture depicts two men in front, both in an athletic pose. This sculpture depicts the Nazi ideals of masculinity and virility. It does this by depicting an extremely athletic, in-shape fighter. The static image idolized the idealized athletic form as a goal for the rest of the nation. The figure furthers the Nazi state’s anti-Bolshevist stance as it depicts a Nazi ideal of a strong and vigorous German man, in contrast to the degraded figures often portrayed in Bolshevik art, suffering as victims of class oppression.
Anonymous. “The Nazi Aesthetic: A Vehicle of Nazi Values,” on the Grappling with the Nazi Past website May 8, 2019 [Online] Cited 10/09/2022

7/ Leddick, David. Naked Men: Pioneering Male Nudes 1935-1955. New York: Universe Publishing, 1997, p. 21.

8/ Kinsey Institute and Crump, James. George Platt Lynes: Photographs From the Kinsey Institute. Boston: Bullfinch Press, 1993, Plate 78.

9/ Whole series of studio shots of male butt and arsehole in different positions. Quite explicit. Some close-up, others full body shots with legs in the air. Not his best work but interesting for its era. Very sexually anal or anally sexual! As in GPL’s work, very about form as well. In one photograph a guy spreads his cheeks while bending over from the waist, in another photograph he spreads his cheeks while standing slightly bent forward. These are the most explicit of GPL’s images in the Collection that I saw, though perhaps not the most successful or interesting photographically. 8″ x 10″ contact print.
See Plate 78 in Kinsey Institute and Crump, James. George Platt Lynes: Photographs From the Kinsey Institute. Boston: Bulfinch Press, 1993, for an image from this series.

10/ Der Kries. No. 1. Zurich: No Publisher, January, 1952. Homosexual magazine. Typical photographs of the era in this magazine. No frontal nudity even up to the later 1965 editions. Lithe young men, drawings and articles, including one on the Kinsey Report in the 1952 first edition (pp. 6-7). Some of the photographs in Der Kries of young European men are similar to German naturist movement photographs (Cat. No. 52423 – Oct, Nov, Dec 1949. Cat. No. 52452 – May, June 1949 showing 5 nude boys outdoors throwing medicine ball in the air with their arms upraised). Also some photographs are similar to von Gloeden’s Italian peasants (Cat. No. 52424 – July 1952. Cat. No. 52425 – August 1960. Cat. No. 52426 – May, Oct 1956: all 4 photographs). The 1949 photographs are possibly taken from earlier German magazines anyway? Discus, javelin, archer, and shot putter images. Mainly nudes. George Platt Lynes contributed to the magazine under the pseudonym Roberto Rolf.

11/ Image No. 52006. Bruce of Los Angeles. Kinsey Institute acquired 1950. Annotation: Tom Matthews, 24 years old. Older man, dark hair. Big pecs, arms, tanned, hairy arms and chest, looking down and away from camera. Nude, limp cut dick. Sitting on a pedestal which is on a raffia mat. Metal chain wrapped around both wrists which are crossed. Lighting seems to be from 2 sources – high right and mid-left. Unusual in that this physique photograph shows an older, hairy man who is nude.

12/ Bérubé, Allan. Coming Out Under Fire: The History of Gay Men and Women in World War Two. New York: The Free Press, 1990, pp. 272-273.

13/ Dupain, Max. Max Dupain’s Australia. Ringwood, Victoria: Viking/Penguin Books Australia, 1986, p. 157.

14/ Domenique (ed.,). Art in Physique Photography Vol. 1. (illus. by David Angelo, designed and produced by Lon of New York in London). Worcester Park, England: Man’s World Publishing Company Ltd., 195?

15/ Album 1501: A Study of Sexual Activity Between Males. Los Angeles: Greyhuff Publishing, 1970.
Bodies in this magazine are smooth, young toned men, much as in the early photographs of George Platt Lynes. The perform both oral and anal sex on each other in a lounge room lit by strong lights (shadows on walls). Black and white photographs, well shot, magazine is about 5″ wide and 10″ high, well laid out and printed. The magazine is a thin volume and features just the two models in one sex scene of them undressing each other and then having sex. One man wears a Pepsi-Cola T-shirt at first and he also has tattoos one of which says ‘Cheri’. The photographs almost have a private feel to them.
This is the earliest commercial gay pornography magazine that I have seen that features m2m anal and oral sex and comes after the American Supreme Court ruled on obscenity laws in the late 1960s. Note the progression from physique magazines and models in posing pouches in 1966-1968, then to full erection and stories of anal penetration in Action Line in 1969, to full on photographs of gay sex in this magazine in 1970. Bodies are all smooth, quite solid, toned natural physiques, not as ‘built’ as in earlier physique magazines, but still featuring younger smooth men and not older heavier set men. In their introduction the publishers disclaim any agreement with the content of the magazine and are only publishing it for the freedom of everybody to study the material in the privacy of their own homes. In other words m2m sex is a natural phenomenon and the publication is educational. This was a common ploy in early nudist and pornographic publications to justify the content – to claim that the material was for private educational purposes only.
Marcus Bunyan. “Research Notes on Physique Magazines and Early Gay Pornography Magazines of the 1960s from the Collection at the One Institute / International Gay and Lesbian Archives, Los Angeles, California, 28/08/1999,” in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

16/ Anonymous quotation in Colt Studios. Olympus from Colt Studios Vol. 1. No 2. Hollywood, California: Colt Studios, 1973, p. 42.

17/ During my research at The One Institute in Los Angeles I investigated the type of body images that appeared in the transitional phase from physique magazines of the mid-late 1960s into the early gay pornography magazines of 1969-1970 in America which occurred after the Supreme Court ruling on obscenity. I wanted to find whether there had been a crossover, a continuation of the muscular mesomorphic body image that was a favourite of the physique photographers into the early pornography magazines. From the evidence of the images in the magazines I would have to say that there was a limited crossover of the bigger muscular bodies but most bodies that appeared in the early gay porn mags were of the youthful, smooth, muscular ephebe-type body image.
Most of the men featured in the early gay pornography magazines and films have bodies that appear to be quite ‘natural’ in their form. Models are mostly young, smooth, quite solid with toned physiques, not as ‘built’ as in the earlier physique magazines but still well put together. Examining the magazines at the One Institute I found that the bodies of older muscular / hairy men were not well represented. Perhaps this was due to the unavailability of the bigger and older bodybuilders to participate in such activity? In the male bodies of the c. late-1970s Super 8 mm pornography films we can observe the desirable image of the smooth youthful ephebe being presented for our erotic pleasure.
Marcus Bunyan. “Gay Male Pornography,” in the ‘In-Press’ chapter in Marcus Bunyan. Pressing the Flesh: Sex, Body Image and the Gay Male. RMIT University, Melbourne, 2001.

18/ Schneider, Norbert. The Art of the Portrait. Koln: Benedikt Taschen, 1994, p. 67.

19/ Gott, Ted. “Agony Down Under: Australian Artists Addressing AIDS,” in Gott, Ted. (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), 1994, p. 4.

20/ Winn, Albert J. quoted in Grover, Jan. “OI: Opportunistic Identification, Open Identification in PWA Portraiture,” in Gott, Ted. (ed.,). Don’t Leave Me This Way: Art in the Age of AIDS. Melbourne: Thames and Hudson/NGA (National Gallery of Australia, Canberra), 1994, p. 223.



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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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