As part of our celebration of LGBT History month, let’s take a look at the life and career of Tom of Finland.
Tom of Finland has come to define an entire genre of erotic art, but he was an actual person – an artist, from Finland. His real name was Touko Vallo Laaksonen - he was born in 1920 and died in 1991.
Laaksonen’s homoerotic drawings apparently began when he was around the age of 19 – he had moved to Helsinki in 1939 to study advertising. World War Two obviously had a major impact on Laaksonen’s home country of Finland, and it’s easy to see that Laaksonen’s uniform fetish was fuelled by the militarisation of the country during that period.
It wasn’t until the Spring issue of the Physique Pictorial magazine in 1957 that Laaksonen’s drawings were brought to the world’s attention – at least the attention of queer men around the world.
Physique Pictorial was a quarterly magazine produced by Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild – often referred to as AMG. AMG was founded by Mizer in 1945, and focused on producing images – both moving and still – of young men in solo bodybuilding poses, or wrestling pairs. The images created and distributed by Mizer have played a huge role in shaping our view of desirable masculinity and aspirational body types for men, regardless of sexuality.
It was Bob Mizer who first coined the pseudonym Tom of Finland.
Bikers, construction workers, lumberjacks, and uniforms, were all recurring, hyper-masculine themes that dominated Laaksonen’s work, and demand for his work continued to grow as his drawings fuelled the fantasies of AMG’s readers.
By the late 1960s, the US had begun to relax their strict censorship laws, and Laaksonen’s more explicit work began to be more widely distributed - hyper-masculine guys with exaggerated physiques and exaggerated cocks, having uninhibited and no-holds-barred sex with other hyper-masculine guys.
Laaksonen’s drawings celebrate cruising, sex, and masculinity, and somehow really capture the moment of electric excitement that men feel when they both realise that they want the same thing.