Once upon a time long ago before there was the internet gay porn or what was considered obscene was extremely illegal and expensive. 8mm and 16mm celluloid loops called “blue movies” were available but the majority of them were marketed to to a straight male audience. But then “physique” magazines began to spring up after World War II to every gay man’s (and closeted ones) delight.
Bob Mizer (1922-1992) was the mild-mannered publisher and photographer for Physique Pictorial, one of many such magazines that published “beefcake” photographs under the guise of bodybuilding and health. His photography studio, the Athletic Model Guild (AMG), specialized in men (gay and straight) doing bodybuilding poses or wrestling in pairs. With assistance from his mother, Delia (who created the posing straps), and his brother, Joe, he photographed thousands of men, building a collection that includes nearly one million different images and thousands of films and videotapes.
Thanks to the Guild, Mizer was not only a subversive force in the art world, but also one of the first to push for an openly gay community
But that thin guise — almost as thin as the posing pouch that his models wore — wasn’t enough to keep him from being convicted in 1947 of unlawful distribution of obscene materials and serving a nine month sentence at a work camp in Saugus, California.
That setback barely put a dent into Mizer’s career. In addition the Physique Pictorial, Mizer added Young Adonis in 1963 and Grecian Guild Studio Quarterly in 1966. When obscenity laws were relaxed in 1968 allowing full male frontal nudity, Mizer quickly adapted with the times. Through it all, AMG was very much a family affair, with Mizer’s mother (her skills as a seamstress was put to use in creating a line of skimpy briefs and posing pouches) and brother (an accountant) playing important roles in the business. Mizer would photograph thousands of men and take nearly a million different images, influencing artists like Robert Mapplethorpe and David Hockney along the way. He also produced over 3000 film titles from the 1950s to the 1980’s, which mostly consisted of film (and later, videotape) of his photo sessions.
Bob Mizer died in 1992, and AMG went dormant for a while. But under new ownership, Mizer’s archives are being cataloged and digitally remastered. Mizer never thought of himself as an artists, but his work has garnered a significant re-appraisal. The Los Angeles Times wrote in 2004 that “Mizer’s pictures are historically important because they capture a time, place and attitude so vividly that it still seems to be with us. His photographs are inspiring because they were not made to fill a market niche that already existed. Instead, they created the niche and then filled it with aplomb.”