Golden Boys: The Beefcake Era at the O'Connor Gallery (97 Maitland), through July 16. 416-921-7149. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
The O'Connor Gallery celebrates the 25th year of Toronto's Pride by recalling an era when Gay Pride was wholly unthinkable.
Once upon a dark time, when being outed could cost you your job or get you warehoused in a mental institution, gay men sought out images of young athletic hotties in publications disguised as health guides, artists' references or bodybuilding programs.
These classic, often exquisitely produced photos are downright chaste by today's standards, but they were produced and distributed under constant threat and harassment by the law.
Guest curators Brandon Matheson and Dave Smith have put together 40 images from the internationally renowned photographers and studios who established and led the physique pictorial industry, with a clear eye toward its historical implications for the emergence of queer culture.
The show celebrates the underground years when gay photographers invited a parade of aspiring actors, bodybuilders, hustlers and hayseeds to pose in their discreet studios. The images range from severe classicism to loopy and charming fantasy, often out-camping the Village People 30 years ahead of their time.
It's obvious that a lot of the queer aesthetic and identity we take for granted was forged during this time.
Among the works are pieces by key photographer Bob Mizer , founder of Physique Pictorial magazine. Charged with distributing obscene material through the mail in 1968, he bravely challenged the decision at the U.S. Supreme Court level, managing to overturn the ruling that declared full frontal nudity obscene.
This landmark decision paved the way for the legitimacy of nude photography as well as erotica and porn. Stop by and pay homage to the early, covert days of pictorial homoerotica.
And the next time you reach for a Honcho or a Hustler, just remember you have Mizer to thank.