Soft Cover, German, Staple Binding, 50 Pages, 2010, 2nd cannon
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The male gaze going where it wasn’t supposed to during the charged subterranean years after World War II and before the mid-1960s. That is, not at women. Compiled from a personal trove by critic and curator Vince Aletti, this collection of photographs showcases multiple archetypes from sailors and leather-jacketed rough trade to fresh-faced lettermen and nascent movie stars.
Poetic pairings as aphrodisiac, unspooling like a visually syncopated scrapbook of young male pulchritude. Dudes who were cool and looked cool without trying too hard. Blue-collar, white ethnic, from another time and place, and with an air of un-self-consciousness woefully missing in this day and age. The taboo and suppression of the era mixed with the thinly veiled and sometimes completely unmasked homoerotic nature of these striking portraits evinces a different world that burbled beneath mainstream society prior to today’s anodyne homogenization on one hand and muscle queen grotesquerie on the other. At play is a refreshing almost wholesome lubricity that pays tribute to decidedly not cheesy handsomeness in all its iterations. Pomade and brilliantine abound, as do moles, salient collarbones, strong necks, smooth chests, hairy chests, shiny backs, nice biceps, heavy brows, wide lips, Roman noses, and dark eyes. The opposite of perfect, and that’s a big part of their appeal and what makes them perfect. Eyebrows cocked, bemused, defiant, wistful, coy, smoldering, vulnerable, though just as often happy, smiling and unguarded. Hand to chin, staring into space, in profile. Bowling shirts, checked jackets, cardigans, wide collars, hats tilted back insouciantly, and bulges below the belt. Some are living incarnations of the bawdy characters in Paul Cadmus’ “The Fleet’s In,” dangling cigarettes and looking tough, while a few seem to have come straight out of a college yearbook, like the fellow holding a copy of the classy early 1960s soft-core hardcover magazine Eros. Kustom Kar Kommandos, Caravaggio, Tom of Finland, and the less baroque side of George Platt Lynes all come to mind, but more universally this is a celebration of eternal male attractiveness. It ends with a banger on the last page with a shirtless dark-skinned stud sporting a sun hat, and includes an appearance by a Warren Beatty lookalike and a cover shot of Sal Meneo in all his Rebel Without a Cause glory.