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The Ideal Photographed.

Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes

by Reed Massengill

Universe Publishing

160 pages, $45.

WELL KNOWN for his own male nude photography and nonfiction writing, Reed Massengill has also edited several monographs on classic male physique photography, including Roy Blakey's '70s Male Nudes (2002), Champion (2003), The Male Ideal: Lon of New York and the Masculine Physique (2003), and Self-Exposure: The Male Nude Self-Portrait (2005). His latest volume, Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes (2009), is an homage to such photographers, mostly from the past, whose work has been rescued, in the author's words, by "life partners and family members occasionally, but more often the rescuers have been passionate collectors at least a generation removed from the creators of the work."


A very few of the represented artists will be familiar to aficionados, such as Al Urban, Don Whitman (of Western Photography Guild), and George Platt Lynes. But others--such as the California-based Frederick Kovert; Canada native Earle Forbes; novelist, lyricist, and photographer George Haimsohn (also known as Plato); Great Britain's John Shreeve Barrington; Penn-sylvanian hobbyist Antonio Arabia; Vulcan Studio; and hobbyist Robert Galster, whose work is published here for the first time--are more obscure.

Victor Skrebneski, a Chicago-based fashion, advertising, and figure photographer, provides a foreword that sets the mood for a sensual exploration of the images that follow:
 In Uncovered, the male nude photographs relate to ecumenical
 traditions of art. Some of the artists included here are remembering
 the Sistine Chapel ceiling in Rome, with Michelangelo's figure of God
 creating Adam. Or perhaps an earlier, archaic period prior to full
 development in Greece--when artists strived to capture the human male
 figure in motion, with natural anatomical structure and proper
 proportions. The mysterious, procreative power of the male body is of
 such majesty that it has symbolized creativity since the dawn of

Massengill's passion for his subject is evident not only in the book's accompanying essay, but also in the exquisite care he has taken in researching each artist. The book's design, laid out with a chapter for each photographer, honors each with many full-bleed, crisp reproductions on heavy coated paper. Where appropriate, sepia toning is employed for historical accuracy, making this a truly beautiful volume for any collector.

In his essay, Massengill does a superb job of delineating how photographs of male nudes have been treated by the mainstream culture. Because there were at one time laws forbidding the mailing of male nudes, or even the owning of them, photographers rarely signed or stamped their work to keep it anonymous. Collections grew mostly in the hands of friends and aficionados who valued the work as art, or as visual inducements for erotic fantasy. Massengill points out that works by George Platt Lynes are relatively well known, and that his inclusion in this volume may seem misplaced. But Lynes himself destroyed many of his own prints and negatives before his death in 1955 for fear of damaging what was left of his reputation as a fashion and dance photographer.

That many examples of his work, especially the male nudes, were saved by friends such as artist Paul Cadmus and sexologist Alfred Kinsey enabled the renaissance of interest in Lynes' work in the late 1970's and early 80's. It is a treat, then, to view several formerly unpublished Lynes images from three private collectors who have allowed their publication in this volume.

The closing section of this essay is an appeal by the author for the preservation of our gay cultural heritage by institutions and libraries who heretofore may have discounted such work as inconsequential or even obscene. Massengill renews his plea for the preservation of this work by collectors, friends, and family members for the sake of future generations. "Doing so helps ensure that an artist's lifework be kept together, rather than scattered into hundreds of separate lots, parsed out across hundreds of collectors, one print--or one negative--at a time."

What makes Uncovered special is its variety of images. There are many examples of beefcake and the muscular bodies from the era of the physique magazines. But also included are sumptuously beautiful studies of average, though exquisitely posed and lit bodies, in and out of doors, that possess a full range of sensual expression and emotion. This is a book not only for the serious collector but for all who appreciate fine male nude photography.

David B. Boyce, a freelance arts writer, works as curatorial consultant at the New Bedford Art Museum.
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Title Annotation:Uncovered: Rare Vintage Male Nudes
Author:Boyce, David B.
Publication:The Gay & Lesbian Review Worldwide
Article Type:Book review
Date:Nov 1, 2009
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