Saturday, December 27, 2008

To Harvey

Finally saw MILK last night in a movie theater in the City Across the Bay-- Oakland, CA. While feeling some regret that I didn't see it at the Castro, I realized that it's just another sign of progress: We Are Everywhere. By the end of the film I heard lots of sniffling and saw plenty of teary eyes.

Still smarting from the passage of Prop 8, Milk's story, told and acted so beautifully, gives us strength and inspiration. Yes, it gives us "hope." Harvey may not have been resurrected but there's no doubt his spirit lives on.

And so we offer this vintage black and white photo by Crawford Barton as a tribute to Harvey Milk and his comrades.

It shows a smiling Larry Lara (Barton's lover) standing nude with the city of San Francisco as a backdrop.

It is both a personal and a political statement. And there's no doubt that Harvey, who had a keen sense of drama and an eye for male beauty, would have appreciated it.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Men Showering Together

A great photo, sold yesterday on eBay for a hefty $620. Pretty good price for an anonymous 8" x 10" photo with damage from a paper clip near the top.

The appeal is obvious... a bunch of naked guys showering together.

They all turn their backsides to the camera. Nice butts. Skin glistening. Soap dropping... well one can imagine.

But there's something very strange going on when you look a little more closely. Is it a double exposure? An elaborate Photoshop trick?

The guys in the foreground don't seem to be part of the same image. They look like they've been superimposed or layered on top.

The man on the right who is either taking off or putting on his underwear has a semi-transparent shoulder. The guys on the left... what the hell are they doing, just watching? Doesn't that seem a little, uh, gay?

And what's going on in the room itself? It doesn't look like a barracks, or a gym, or a bath house. Shower heads dangle from the lofty ceiling where a couple loose boards might come crashing down at any second. The whole steamy scene is artfully illuminated. You can almost hear the water dripping.

This photo raises a lot of questions and provides few, if any answers. Maybe that's why it was such a hot item. Or maybe just any old photo of a bunch of naked guys showering together sells for 600 bucks these days. I dunno, but will keep my eyes open.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Gay Interest

If you've spent anytime looking for homobilia on eBay the most common label you'll see is "gay interest." It's applied to just about any photo of a man. Two men in the same photo: "gay interest" no matter how disconnected they are.

If one man lays a hand on another's arm or shoulder, well you can be pretty sure that gay collectors will go ape-shit for it.

Or so eBay sellers hope. If there is such a thing as gaydar it can be directed at photos as well as people. Very few photos of men together are actually of "gay interest."

So what does this photo reveal? Two well dressed, cigar smoking men pose for a formal portrait. There is but one chair. The man on the left (call him Peter) sits on the others' knee. The other man (call him Albert) puts his right arm around Peter and holds him closely.

Gay interest? Absolutely. These guys are comfortable with each other. There's a matter-of-fact quality about their physicality, an intimacy you rarely see between two straight men. But that doesn't make them gay.

We can actually identify these men. Peter Aardahl on the left, Albert Aardahl on the right. Brothers. Farmers in North Dakota. Their photo was taken between 1912 and 1920. Before straight men learned to worry about being mistaken for gays. Now that's gay-interest.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Vern Front and Back

Meet Vern. He posed for these two photos sometime between 1920 and 1924. Remove the tapestry backdrop and the front view shows a guy you might have seen the other day at Gold's Gym. He's got a big toothy grin and a little spark in his eye.

Vern stands before the camera with ease and confidence. Wearing what appears to be white boxers with a little drawstring, he's obviously proud of his body. These pictures were taken to document his accomplishments in physical culture.

By today's overblown, self-conscious, airbrushed standards he seems pretty "normal." Maybe that's what's so appealing about him.

These two real photo postcards were saved for over 80 years before one of Vern's descendants decided it was time to auction them off.

Don't know how he would have felt about that but we'll try to make sure he finds a good home.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Targeting the Urban Gay has an interesting user interface that lets you choose "Gifts for Him" and then shop by "Personality."

Is he a "Guy's Guy," an "Outdoor Explorer," a "Devoted Dad," or is he perhaps an "Urban Guy?"

So what gifts does the Urban Guy want from Target this holiday season?

Let's see. There's the Bose headphones (the cheap ones are crap says my boyfriend), a 15 pc. cutlery set, an MP3 player (does anybody remember MP2?), a super tasteful comforter set (charcoal), a black and white poster of "Manhattan at Night," a black side table, and another comforter set ("bleeding stripe").

Apparently Urban Guys spend a whole lot of time listening to music while they play with knives in bed under the New York skyline. Did I mention they are really into bedding?

The only thing that's missing from this assortment is the Titanmen Vibe MasterTool #4. It gives new meaning to "Black Friday" but unfortunately it isn't available at Target.

Maybe next year they'll add it, along with "Top," "Bottom" and "Versatile" in their list of personality types.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

If you're feeling a little off-kilter or a bit off-key today

Take heart. Here's Joan Crawford in 1929 as "the personification of youth, beauty, joy and happiness." Before she had shoulder pads, before she found her "face," before she became a corporate mogul, before she became a gay icon.

Joan had more than a bit of trouble singing on key. She danced with enthusiasm, not grace. But that didn't prevent her rise to Hollywood royalty. How can you not love her?

Want more Joan?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Sculpture Studio

This undated (1930s?) press photo has the timeless appeal of two nude men. Very hot nude men. Soapy nude men. But that's not what makes it so interesting (well, not entirely).

What publication was going to publish this strange picture and what's really going on?

There are in fact three models. A woman, light reflecting off one bare breast, stands between and behind the men. She's waiting her turn to wash off whatever it is they have apparently all be painted with. Her gaze is down and away. She's reduced to part of the background.

On the left we have one dark haired model who can't quite seem to stop rubbing his muscular belly with a soapy rag. He watches as his fellow model lifts one shapely leg to the rim of the washtub.

He too looks down and away from the camera. Maybe a hint of a smile? Does he realize how beautiful he is?

Also in this little tableau we see, standing towards the back of the studio, three more men. One peaks out from behind the curtain on the left, another stands obscured the model, and then there's the sculptor in his crisp white smock, hand on hip.

He watches too, with an expression that seems wistful. So much beauty, so close by-- he could just extend a hand to help with those hard-to-reach places. He fantasizes because he knows (as we do) that it can never happen. OK, OK, OK. But there's a odd quality of stillness, sadness. Everyone seems not so much posed as frozen in time.

Together the two models bring to mind the Kouroi of the ancient world, and thanks to Wikipedia we found the double kouros of Kleobis and Biton, sons of Cydippe, a priestess of Hera. Now that's a sad story.

Turns out Cydippe was running late for a feast in honor of Hera, and her two strong sons pulled her oxcart the entire way. Cydippe was so impressed with their devotion she prayed to Hera to give them the best gift a god could give a mortal.

Hera ordained that the brothers would die in their sleep. After the feast they lay down in the temple, fell asleep, and never woke.

Thank you Hera.

This photo is available at

Another look at gay marriage

Received this photo in the mail today. Our friends Barbara and Fran, posing in front of San Francisco City Hall. They came back to California, all the way from Lancaster PA, to get married.

By the time the photo arrived, Proposition 8 had threatened their marriage, and those of the 18,000 other gay and lesbian newlyweds.

There's something striking about this photo. You'd never know it is a wedding portrait. It is, in fact, a threat to traditional wedding photography!

Here are two women who love each other very much, lived together for years, own a home, run a business, etc. Their wedding portrait couldn't be more mundane, or more subversive.

It isn't fantasy with big hair and too much makeup and expensive clothes no one will ever wear again. It's reality. Their reality. It avoids ALL the stereotypes of wedding photography. With no "role" to play, each is free to be themselves.

It suggests a boldness of thought, an independence of spirit, a "can-do" attitude. It's so fucking "American."

Some day it will be homobilia.

P.S. Really great piece in the NYTimes.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Gay Wedding Portrait

5 November 2008. Obama elected. Same-sex marriage ban wins in CA.

Like many of you I'm fucking pissed off. It just doesn't feel like the dawn of a new era.

To the 18,000 gay and lesbian couples who have wed since June we offer this little bit of perspective.

"Tony, John and Matthew, 1917" it says on the back of the photo.

Looks to me like the best man holding flowers and the newlyweds holding hands. Yes, it looks like, dare I even write the words... Gay Marriage! Brave for 1917.

Sadly, 91 years later, it's still a pretty brave act.

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Elmer Lodge

A 20 year-old blue eyed vagrant.

5-9", 155 lbs., light brown hair.

Busted in Topeka, Kansas on June 25th, 1926.

Arresting officer Brandon (Special). Whatever that means.

In spite of those movie star looks, Elmer had obviously fallen on hard times. I fear that he led a really tough life. But man, if I had to share a cell with somebody in Topeka...

Drum Magazine

Unlike the earlier physique magazines, Drum was published "by male homosexuals for the entertainment and information of other male homosexuals." It offers a boy-next-door aesthetic, (no frontal nudity) news from all over the U.S., articles, book reviews, "Ask Drum," classifieds, and more. It is actually interesting to read!

Baltimore: Commissioner of Correction Vernon L. Peppersack has said that 'some homosexual prisoners are allowed to share cells as man and wife in the Maryland Penitentiary if they don't cause trouble. Washington Post, Sept 18.'

New York City: 'We were going to call it Columbia University Mattachine, but the initials killed it,' quipped a student
. The good humor did not cloud the objective however: a group of Columbia students, with the cooperation of their Chaplain's office, are forming America's first homophile organization on a university campus.'

The "National Homosexuality Test" offers 18 questions including:

Q: Is homosexuality against criminal law?
A: No. Such laws would be clearly unconstitutional. In each state, except Illinois, certain acts are against the law however. It seems that it is o.k. to be gay as long as you don't do anything about it.

Much has changed in the past 40 years, but these magazines are still informative and entertaining. And sometimes when we think of all the obstacles in the road ahead it is good to look back and see where we've come from.

See more issues of Drum at

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Sherbet and Sodomy

The gay novels I collect are mostly all about the covers. The more lurid the better. I've even tried to read a few, but never succeed in getting beyond a page or two. From a literary perspective their merits are lacking. As porn, they tend to leave me, uh, flat.

So it was a surprise to come across Sherbet and Sodomy written by I.V. Ebbing and published in 1971. Smart, sexy, funny, and of course, a period piece from the early days of gay liberation.

Read the first page... see if you aren't intrigued.

My name is Jud. I am eighteen and a half. I was born from the felicitous conjunction of an anthropologist and an ethnologist under the sign of Capricorn. I have been called cute, handsome, pretty, and good-looking; actually, I am beautiful... my nose is classically English, along the line of Reynolds, maybe with a little Caravaggio thrown in around the nostrils. My athletic adolescence on the swimming team at Sterling High has given me a slender muscular body... my eyes are South Pacific blue. I have read Hesiod. I masturbate regularly. I have no concept of money or its value. I try to keep my farts silent. I have juvenile down on my ass. I have read the minor Elizabethan poets and I have looked at my anal sphincter in the mirror. Until last week I considered myself heterosexual...

Find Sherbet and Sodomy at

Two More: Vintage Muscle Men

These pretty much speak for themselves. Or is it that they leave me speechless?

From the album of real photo postcards collected by Albert Edward Pritchard, they were taken by P. W. Luton and date from the 1920s.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

More from Albert's photo album

Back in Carlton Studios. Luton has found a better angle to photograph our friend Albert Edward Pritchard. From the side and slightly behind. This time he's printed the card in a deep rich sepia-tone.

Albert's (he doesn't seem like an "Al." Maybe he went by his middle name-- Edward-- he seems more like an Eddie) Albert's blond hair is combed back, his face in profile against the drapery. Chest out, stomach in, butt cheeks concealed.

Is it my imagination or does he seem to be more at ease? A little more self-confident.

Still, there's that same slightly quizzical expression as he turns to look back at the photographer, that same gentleness about him. Bodybuilder, model, and a collector of physique photos. You add it up.

Sadly there are no other photos of him in the album. And it is unlikely we'll ever find another.

So turning the page to gaze at the next photo, the new mystery.

A series of three pretty racy pictures of an extremely well-defined young strongman.

Not quite so shy as Eddie, this anonymous athlete stands naked (not nude) in front of Luton's camera. The position of his hands conveniently eliminates any need for fig leaf or posing strap.

But stay tuned, there are more revealing photos to come....

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Muscle Daddy

From an album of real photo postcards collected by one Albert Edward Pritchard come an assortment of 43 strongmen, both famous and anonymous. We know little about Mr. Pritchard. His address in New Cross, Southeast of Central London, is little over half a mile from Carlton Studios, where most of the photos were taken by P. W. Luton.

One card is identified as A. Pritchard.

For a muscleman it is a strange, almost non-pose. Palms up, fingers cupped slightly. Perhaps he's flexing his biceps but it seems more like he's approaching-- slowly, timidly, as a supplicant. Which brings us to that face. Sweet. Almost pretty. His slightly furrowed brow seems to ask: "Is this OK?" On his lips the barest hint of a Mona Lisa smile.

If this photo was taken around 1920 and he was maybe 20 years old, Mr. Pritchard is now, according to my calculations, 108 years of age. How strange to see him frozen in time, in his youth, in his prime. To hold these photos as he once held them. To gaze at the images of male beauty that he assembled in his album more than 80 years ago. Makes me wonder.

More photos to come...

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Fathers and Sons

Found these two photos over the weekend and now I have a new category for my collecting: Fathers and Sons. Strange that I didn't start collecting these long ago... maybe not enough years of therapy under my belt.

Anyway, these two pictures seem to suggest two very different kinds of father/son relationships. There's the classic "he-man" Dad teaching son to make a muscle. Little Billy is literally imitating his papa, learning how to be "manly." Now there's no need to go into the obvious homoerotic overtones.

The other kind of relationship (the one I had) is captured in this photo. These two people may be occupying the same planet but they sure aren't relating to each other.

And call me crazy, but there's something about the pose of the little boy to suggest he would grow up to be... well, somebody like me. Love the pleated trousers too.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Cross Dressing the Line: Meet Princess Wolffe

The ceremony of Crossing the Line is an initiation rite commemorating a sailor's first crossing of the equator. The tradition was created as a test for seasoned sailors to ensure their new shipmates were capable of handling long rough voyages.

Sailors who have already crossed the equator are nicknamed (Trusty) Shellbacks, often referred to as Sons of Neptune; those who have not are nicknamed (Slimy) Pollywogs.

This great photo is one of "Neptune's daughters," a cigar-chomping sailor named Wolffe. It's hard to look at this picture and not smile.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Two Unusual Photos from Homobilia

We came across this amazing photo of a four young men entering a burning swimming pool. One man has just jumped in, naked, while three others watch/wait. Personally, I would be at the back of the line.

Why is the pool on fire? Why is the guy jumping in? Why is he naked? Why are the two guys in the background sitting casually by the pool while all this is going on? The pool is on fire!

There are just a few of the things we wonder about when we look at this photo. It is undated, unsigned and 8" x 10". You can find it on the site.

This is another anonymous vintage photo of a male nude who has been blindfolded. And then some. Not sure what to call that: it isn't a mask, it isn't a hood...

Is this image more disturbing than it is sexy? Or the other way around? The one thing we can be sure of is the model has been working up a sweat.

It measures 2 1/2" x 3 1/2" and we're told it was "from LA," probably early 60s.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Tom Bianchi: Memories of Fire Island

Since Tom Bianchi's first gallery showing of male nudes in 1978, he's become one of the most successful photographers in the world. His body of work consists of sculptures, 12 photography books, calendars and three documentary films: The Pool, On the Couch Vol. 1 and On the Couch Vol. 2.

Tom recently rediscovered nearly 6000 Polaroid photos he shot while a lawyer at Columbia Pictures. His Memories of Fire Island snapshots taken between 1975 - 1980 is proving to be one of his most popular bodies of work, with a future book and film in the making.

These polaroid snapshots of the early 70's in Fire Island are as fresh and true today as they were when they were shot nearly 40 years ago. Exposure Gallery in Palm Springs is offering large scale giclee prints of these great images.

Friday, June 06, 2008

Alan B. Stone and the Senses of Place

This historical exhibition at SF Camerawork (through August 23, 2008) examines the social and cultural conditions affecting the life and work of Alan B. Stone, a gay photographer who worked prolifically in Montreal, Canada from the 1950s to the 1970s.

Writer, historian and curator David Deitcher, (Affectionate Men) who also grew up in Montreal, presents Stone's work as a means of exploring some of the ways in which Deitcher himself subjectively experiences, uses, and is affected by photographs.

Stone (1928-1992) considered himself a commercial photographer, not an artist. His photographs of postwar Montreal reflect the period of economic and social repression.
His early photos scouting photos are subtly erotic, reflecting an oblique sexual point of view that carries through much of his work.

Beginning in 1953 under the name Mark One Studio, Stone was marketing male physique photos. "With their dubious claims to athleticism and/or art, such magazines offered a dime-thin veneer of deniability to closeted customers."

Deitcher goes on to observe that: "The photographs made under the Mark One name also document Stone's personal connection (or lack thereof) to a sense of gay community." Living at home with his Mother until her death, he photographed short models in the basement, tall models outdoors.

The Camerwork site has only a couple images so if you're in San Francisco this summer, this exhibition is highly recommended.