Jeff Bailey Gallery is pleased to present Posed: Physique Photography from the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s, featuring works by Bruce Bellas (Bruce of L.A.), Bob Mizer (Athletic Model Guild) and Don Whitman (Western Photography Guild). The exhibition will feature more than seventy vintage works, along with ephemera from the era.
Bellas, Mizer and Whitman were pioneers in photographing the male nude, and instrumental in establishing the field of physique photography. Working in tandem with physical culture and muscle magazines of the era, they each built a substantial mail order enterprise, largely catering to a gay audience. They, along with other photographers in different parts of the country, created the world of “beefcake”. Their broad influence can be seen in the works of artists such as David Hockney, Andy Warhol, Robert Mapplethorpe, Herb Ritts, Bruce Weber and numerous others.
Bellas, Mizer and Whitman developed unique styles, taking photographs both in the studio and outdoors. There is a quintessentially American look to their work from this time period. Well groomed young men appear to be athletes, army or navy recruits, aspiring actors or models, and in real life they often were. Many were professional bodybuilders, and most were straight. Some were hustlers, but most just wanted some extra cash.
Models were posed in a variety of ways, evoking classical sculpture. Props would be used to suggest certain types, such as cowboy, bandit, or athlete. Dramatic lighting gave a Hollywood aura to many of the studio works, and the vast open skies and rugged terrain of the American West provided a dramatic backdrop for photographs of single models or pairs, often depicted wrestling.
It was illegal in America to depict full frontal nudity until 1962, and illegal to send nude images through mail until the end of the decade. As a result, the models were photographed wearing posing straps, or G-strings. This allowed for the photographs to be considered as athletically or artistically inspired material, and therefore not subject to censorship.
Bruce Bellas (Bruce of L.A.), b. 1909, d. 1974, was a former high school chemistry teacher from Omaha. He settled in Los Angeles and became known for a glamorous neoclassical style, often marked by wit. His work was largely marketed through his magazine Male Figure.
Bob Mizer (Athletic Model Guild), b. 1922, d. 1992, started AMG in 1945 in Los Angeles. His magazine, Physique Pictorial, featured thousands of models over many years, often with fantastical lighting schemes, backdrops and costumes.
Don Whitman (Western Photography Guild), b. 1917, d. 1998. A former navy lieutenant, he began his business in Denver, Colorado in 1947 and founded the Mr. Colorado bodybuilding competition. The beautiful terrain of the Rocky Mountains served as a stage set for the majority of his photographs.