Iconography of Sword and Sandal Epics from DeMille to Fellini
July 14th - September 23rd, 2006
and the Cult of Hercules
Reg Park / Ed Fury / Mark Forest
“I pledge allegiance to my native land. I seek
a sound body in a sound mind that
I may be a complete man. I am a Grecian”
The above quote was one of the less than subtle ways the publishers
of magazines like The Young Physique
marketed their product to gay men as the motivation for reading
physique and muscle magazines that were created just for them.
In the 40’s and 50’s gay pornography and was highly
illegal existed almost totally underground
Yet the “body beautiful” section in most body building
magazines and ads for bodybuilders like Charles Atlas
were accepted at face value as examples of training young men
for healthy sound bodies. What young man has not pondered the
cartoon of the skinny boy having sand kicked in his face as a
girl looked only to return later with his body empowered by Atlas
to settle the score?
Both were staples in advertising from the early 1930’s,
in fact the term Beefcake really began
as early as the 20’s with Valentino and Ramon
Navarro poising bare-chested for the titillation of both
their female and closeted male admirers. This trend continued
with Johnny Weissmuller and Buster Crabbe as
Tarzan and Flash Gordon right through the 1940’s with Tyrone
Power and John Payne who passed the tradition to
Jeff Chandler and Rock Hudson in the 1950’s.
Beefcake was the companion term for
the Cheesecake poses starlets did for
publicity and became a cottage industry during WWII.
Body Beautiful-July 1955
4"x5.5" 68 B&W
most influential magazine of its time was Bob Mizer’s
Athletic Model Guild which began in the 1940’s
celebrating the male form at its most homoerotic. However
it is important to note that homoerotism has existed since
the very beginning of photography. The guild photographed
over 10.000 men in its day including future sword and sandal
stars like Ed Fury. Almost all our sword and sandal
stars began with photo sessions that brought them to the
attention of both the public and the studios.
Babylon is a celebration not only of those
films that came out of this erotic obsession with male beauty,
but also a showcase of the stunning photography that these
men inspired during the La Dolce Vita environment
of Italian filmmaking where bodybuilders became Gods. There
we could admire them on the screen and intone that expression
"I am a Grecian.” --David
Guild Studio Quarterly Number 5
Ever since the ancient Greeks depicted athletic figures on vases
and bas reliefs and chiseled them out of marble, athletes have
been favorite picture material. Long before photography, Praxiteles'
Hermes and Michelangelo's David were world renowned. Rodin's
famous sculpture, "The Thinker," has been a source
of inspiration to bodybuilders and photographers alike for many
Steve Reeves by Spartan of Hollywood
are many types of athletes and bodybuilders, and each lends
itself admirably to some type of picture composition. Before
films and lenses attained their present day high speed and precision,
the early pictorialist photographer made his best pictures outdoors
in soft focus with models who emulated the postures found in
well known works of art as mentioned above.
The finest photographs of this type were probably those of the
late Dr. Arnold Genthe and Edward Weston. A study of the photos
of this period (1914-1920), which include dancers as well as
athletes, would give worthwhile ideas to present day workers
for some nonprescribed subject matter which they might try treating
in an up to date manner. Suitable for outdoor photographs are
the many types from the Mediterranean area and those of Slovak
or American Indian descent. These athletes invariably have animation,
grace and the sturdy bodies which are necessary to make a good
picture subject. The most difficult part of this type of photography
would be to find a suitable spot where you would have open glades
with only trees and sky for background. In theory sunlight is
your best light source, but it is difficult to control.
With the advent of the equipment which made studio photography
possible, recording the outstanding examples of physique perfection
became a relatively simple matter. Today artistic studio photographs
of the male physique can be made by lensmen who are thoroughly
acquainted with their subject matter. My taste is to photograph
the male body in a studio where spotlights, props and complete
control over the sources of light are at my command. Most good
physique photos have been conceived in a studio to present a
finely executed picture to the beholder. Physique photography
is an art form all its own. It is a very special field where
posing, lights, shadows and highlights are of the utmost importance.
Great care must be taken to reveal the particular muscular development
of each individual physique to artistic advantage.
32 B&W pgs.
often been asked, "What is the secret of good physique
photography?" The answer to that question is: There
is none. It is a matter of posing and lighting and nothing
more. Pose and light your subject carefully. Bear in mind
that shadows appear darker on the exposed film than they
do to the naked eye. Move the lights about in many different
angles and levels. When the lighting looks good on the
subject, it will look good on the film too and ultimately
in the finished print.
Physique photography as such, has become somewhat formalized
in many areas. It has expressed in a series of set lighting
and posing techniques: the traditional high, overhead
key light, for example, and the usual displaying of "lats,"
biceps or "what have you" where the model appears
to be at muscle straining point in the posing. However,
the inventive lensman can, through a combination of inspired
lighting and posing, create a study in which the face,
torso, arms, legs and hands have definite pictorial significance.
My object as a photographer is to treat the beautifully
formed male physique as superb pictorial material and
to perpetuate via my camera the magnificent form which
God has created in his own image.
with Steve Reeves