Beekcake Babylon: The Iconography of Sword and Sandal Epics @ Drkrm. July 14th – September 23rd, 2006 “It's not easy being a God” Steve Reeves (1926-2000) Photographs and movie memorabilia, David Del Valle Archives, Steve Reeves movies, Hercules, sword sandal, peplum, bodybuilders, classic physique

The Iconography of Sword and Sandal Epics from DeMille to Fellini

July 14th - September 23rd, 2006

Physique Photography 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.

AMG Body Beautiful-July 1955
4"x5.5" 68
B&W pgs
The 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.

Beefcake 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 Del Valle

Grecian 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 years.

Steve Reeves by Spartan of Hollywood

There 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.

September 1959
5.25"x8.25" 32 B&W pgs.

I have 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.

Interview with Steve Reeves