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Thursday, August 26, 2004
Beefcake by F. Valentine Hooven III
So, I have an interest in old physique photography. It appeals to me both as an erotic medium and as an artifact of gay history. Hooven's book serves as a nice introduction to the subject, but it suffers from some weaknesses. First of all, it's published by Taschen, which means that all of the text is tri-lingual. This leads to big blocks of text taking up most of each page, somewhat limiting both the number of pictures that can be fit into the book and the size of the pictures. Secondly, it has a somewhat narrow focus on the work of Bob Mizer and the Atletic Model Guild. From an historical perspective this makes a certain sense, as Mizer's magazine, Physique Pictorial, was probably the best known and most widely circulated of the underground gay/physique mags. Unfortunately, his work tends to be somewhat boring in comparison to other photographers and studios, relying heavily on gimmicks and often featuring models that don't quite fit into the definition of "bodybuilder" and were quite frequently just men Mizer picked up off the street because he wanted to see them naked.
The Male Ideal: Lon of New York and the Masculine Physique by Reed Massengill
Massengill's overview of Lon's career, on the other hand, is an excellent book. It opens with a long text piece, well-illustrated with photos, detailing Lon's life and career and the legal ups and downs he and his studio experienced. The second half of the book is a nice, comprehensive over-view of the best of Lon's work, from his early studio days in the 1930s to his semi-retirement in the 60s. Lon's work is interesting in part because Lon himself somewhat bristled at the suggestion that he was creating "dirty pictures." As far as he saw it, he was creating art, very much molded on the classical models of Greece and Rome. And there is a formal element of clacissim to his work that lends it a kind of timeless look. Apart from the hair-styles, it's difficult to tell at first glance at what period one of Lon's pictures might have been taken. And in fact a lot of contemporary male nude photography looks remarkably similair to Lon's work. Two other aspect's of Lon's work bear notice. Full nudity is quite commen in Lon's work, even well before it was technically legal for someone in the US to take a photograph of a penis. And secondly, in contrast to most of the other major physique photographers and studios, Lon frequently featured African-American and Hispanic models in his work. Which is quite a change from the corn-fed, midwestern-wholesomeness of a lot of photographer's preferred models.
Imadoki by Yu Watase
I was first aware of Watase's work through her epic fantasy-romance Fushigi Yugi, and most of her work, that I've seen, has contained a supernatural or fantastic theme. So it was quite a contrast, and an appealing one at that, to read a work that doesn't contain anything extra-normal. What we have here is the story of a girl, Tampopo, who has newly transfered to a school full of rich snobs, determined to win people over and make friends. Particularly the handsome and moody school Alpha Male, Koki. It's a very light, uncomplicated story in which it never really feels like there's anything too bad that can happen. Which is a nice change of pace. It's a straight-forward romance in which the only thing at risk is someone's feelings, which can pack a lot more of an emotional punch on a reader than "the world will blow up" or somesuch similair dilemma. Watase's art is as open and appealing as ever, and her usually off-kilter humor is on full display. Even the male lead, Koki, has the same generic "good-looking" appearance of all of Watase's other male leads. And Tampopo is definatly a Watase heroine: good natured, kind of clumsy, and not quite as bright as everyone else around her. Luckily, she's not the door-mat some of Watase's heroines tend to be, as she's brash, outgoing, and determined. It's a charming little story and I look forward to more.
Ursula by Fabio Moon and Gabrial Ba
It's hard to review a book like this. Even after going over it several times in the last month, I'm a little bit at a loss to sum it up. How much of it is fantasy, and how much is meant to be "real"? And does it really matter? On an artistic level, it's an absolutely gorgeous book. And the narrative has an ephemeral, dream-like quality that adds much to the aura of the book. Probably the best way to look at it is as an exercise in creating an emotional repsonse in the reader. If so, the book is a resounding success. It puts you in a reflective, contemplative mood.