Physique Pictorial fuels our fantasies
Continuing the legacy of the iconic photographer, the Bob Mizer Foundation is about to release issue 46 of the magazine that Mizer established — Physique Pictorial.
This will be the fifth issue of the reincarnated version of Physique Pictorial, celebrating vintage gay erotica, but also showcasing contemporary photographers with their gaze fixed on the male physique.
Bob Mizer was an American photographer best known for his magazine Physique Pictorial. From his home in Los Angeles, Mizer photographed thousands of men — from Hollywood actors, to bodybuilders, to hustlers and porn stars.
First published in 1951, Physique Pictorial was the first all-nude, all-male magazine in the United States — using athletic, wrestling, and bodybuilding poses to try and circumvent the strict censorship restrictions of the time.
It was Physique Pictorial that first printed the drawings of Touko Laaksone, helping to launch his career and creating for him the pseudonym by which the world now knows his work — Tom of Finland.
Mizer’s celebration of muscular physiques and barely contained sexuality has heavily influenced gay identity and perceptions of masculinity throughout the decades.
Mizer died in 1992, and in 2004 his archives were purchased by Dennis Bell. Bell established the Bob Mizer Foundation and has now relaunched the iconic Physique Pictorial magazine.
I caught up with Edward Rossa from the Bob Mizer Foundation, for a preview of what we can look forward to from Physique Pictorial 46.
What sort of response have you had to the relaunched Physique Pictorial?
Enthusiastic and ready for more. Many of our subscribers feel a deep connection with Mizer’s work and are excited to see Bob’s previously unreleased photographs in print for the first time. We get a lot of requests to include more and more of Bob’s work in each volume, but an aim for The Mizer Foundation is to mix things up — that means publishing modern photographers who work primarily with the nude male physique.
Also, I think the Pictorial is a counterpoint for people who are exhausted from the glut of images that bombard them online — it’s refreshing to have something like a print publication to slow down the eye, and allow it to savour things. Additionally, this is the same format that Bob used to present his work — and the work of other photographers — to the world. So that’s cool and nostalgic and, ironically, very modern. It’s like the ascent of vinyl records over Mp3s nowadays.
Are most subscribers to the publication in the US, or does Physique Pictorial have global appeal?
Subscribers are coming from all corners of the globe. Our stockist keeps growing, especially in Australia and Europe.
Why does the work and the aesthetic of Bob Mizer have such enduring appeal?
So many people have deep personal experiences associated with Bob’s photographs. That’s probably because Bob shot his models in hundreds of different tableaux, so there was something for everyone in that regards. There’s also a kind of romanticism that pervades Bob’s images — a reminder of a time before Stonewall, when identity politics didn’t define people’s sexual experiences in such sharp distinction.
For myself, I feel a camaraderie when I look at these photographs — a comfort in knowing that there were men that came before me that liked to lift weights, show off their muscles to each other, and horse around as well. It’s a sense of belonging to the history of humanity that’s often hard for queer men to find for themselves. I think Mizer’s work does that, at least for me it does.
Would you describe Physique Pictorial as erotica?
Physique Pictorial is about Art. Art can be very erotic, and erotic art can get you off but that’s not its sole function. However, that is one of porn’s central functions. The photographs we publish in the Pictorial are meant to stimulate but also move the viewer intellectually and emotionally. We keep that in mind as we curate the contemporary photographers we include in the quarterly, as in — ‘Does the photographer’s work function on more levels than just the erotic?’
What’s notable about the contemporary photographers featured in Volume 46?
The variety and the spectrum of emotion that each photographer’s work incites in the viewer. The range of work moves from black and white to full colour, from the natural world to careful studio arrangements. With each volume of the Pictorial we try to cover a wide swath of environment and humanity.
What does Volume 46 tell us about male sexuality in today’s world?
This volume, especially with the work of Nick Turner and Juan Ramos, highlights how men continue to use photography to not only express who they are as artists, but discover for themselves new facets of their masculinity. This is why self-portraiture is probably the most intimate form of self-knowledge an artist can engage with.
What do you hope that people feel when reading Volume 46 of Physique Pictorial?
As our art director Frederick Woodruff often mentions — The Physique Pictorial is back to reassert the exact same question Bob toiled with his whole life: ‘What is it about masculinity that is so mysterious, beautiful and beguiling? Maybe I can answer that with my photographs.’ A great ambition.