Arthur Tress "Superman Fantasy" 1977



Arthur Tress.
"Superman Fantasy."



Arthur Tress was not a photographer that pandered to the emerging "lifestyle" cult of gay masculinity that was beginning to formulate towards the end of the 1970s and the early 1980s. Borrowing elements from both a 'camp' aesthetic and Surrealism, his images from this time parodied the inner identity of gay men, prodding and poking beneath the surface of both the gay male psyche and their fantasies. In the above image Tress conveys the desire of some gay men for the 'ideal' of the superhero, powerful, with muscular body and large penis. But the desiree has a 'natural' body and it is his penis that projects between the Superman's thighs. Superman is only a fantasy, a cut out figure with no relief, and Tress pokes fun at gay men who desire heroic masculine body images to reinforce their own sense masculinity.

In Australia, around the same time, there emerged the work of the photographer Bill Henson. Again, Henson did not use stereotypical masculine body images. In an early sequence of his work we see a young man who looks emaciated (almost like a living skeleton) at rest, a moment of stasis while apparently in the act of masturbating. Here Henson links the sexual act (although never seen in the photographs) with death. Visually Henson represents Georges Bataille's idea that the ecstasy of an orgasm is like the oblivion of death. The body in sex uses power as part of its attraction and the ultimate expression of power is death; this sequence of photographs links the two ideas together visually. With the explicit medical link between sex and death because of the HIV/AIDS virus these photographs have a powerful resonance within a contemporary social context, the emaciated body now associated in people's minds with a person dying from AIDS.


Bill Henson.
"Image No.9 from
an Untitled Sequence."
Silver gelatin photograph.

Bill Hesnon "Untitled" 1977



Bruce Weber

Other photographers, notably Bruce Weber, confirmed the constructed 'ideal' of the commodified masculine body notably with his seminal photo essay of the American Olympic team that appeared in Interview Magazine in 1981. These photographs, with a genetic lineage dating from Sansone and the photographs of sportsmen by German photographer Leni Riefenstahl in the 1930s, are almost utopian in their aesthetic idealisation of the male body.

The body in Weber's photographs became his product (in one sense his photographs of them, in another the team members become product by appearing in a fashion/lifestlye magazine, a product for the desires of the viewer), became part of an overall purchased "lifestyle" - chic, beautiful, and available if you have enough money. Working mainly as a fashion photographer but with an aspiration to high art, Weber paraded a plethora of stunning caucasian and black, buff, muscular males before his lens. Advertising companies such as Calvin Klein swooped on this image of perfect male flesh and played with the ambiguous homoerotic and homosocial (that is, friendship between men, supposedly not homosexual) possibilities inherent within the images. Gay men fell for this epito-me of maleness, a reflection of their own "straight-acting" masculinity.


Bruce Weber "Dan Garvey" 1983








Bruce Weber.
"Paul Wadina,
Santa Barbara California."



Bruce Weber.
"Dan Harvey,
New York Jets Trainer."

Bruce Weber "Paul Wadina" 1987



In his personal work, examples of which can be seen above, Bruce Weber maintains his interest in the perfection of the male form. These men are just 'All American Jocks', your everyday American 'boy next door', possessing no sexuality other than a flaccid non-threatening penis; no messy secretions or interactions are attached to the bodies at all. There is no hint of disease or dis-ease among these images or models, even though AIDS was emerging at this time as a major killer of gay men. Even the possibility of homo/sexuality/identity is denied in the perfection of their form placed, like the Mapplethorpe photograph of Schwarzenegger, against a non-descriptive background, a context-less body in a context-less photograph.