If the Kennedy Center Honors were awarded to photographers of the male nude, Jim French would be up there in the balcony with the rainbow ribbon next to an assortment of other American cultural heroes. (In fact, who do we email to get that started?)
It seems hard to believe that someday there will be people who don't know what Colt Studios represents. Google gives 25.5 million results when you type in "Colt Model." But we have now had interns who don't know who Judy Garland is — at least when they start here.
Jim French began as an artist and founded Colt in 1967, but came to use the camera more and more as he made his magnificent drawings, often under the name Lüger.
"All the Polaroid images in this volume were taken as research for Lüger/Colt drawings," French says in a new book, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor: Jim French Polaroids. "Soon after the Polaroid camera was introduced to the public I purchased one and found it very helpful in creating my ever increasingly detailed drawings."
Models are expensive, and it's easier to get multiple setups created in moments through the lens to use for reference later. But knowing Jim French, those setups took more than a few moments.
There were also restrictions in trying to get male nude photographs processed. You had to have trustworthy connections, and the results were often poor. You could risk arrest going to a public source. Then there was the time element of waiting for days to get the prints back. The Polaroid camera was a boon to the amateur and professional. Polaroid knew that well when it created a sexy white camera called "the Swinger."
French is a legendary perfectionist. He also has an amazing sense of what is attractive, sexy, and well-composed. He combines an erudite eye and classical aesthetics with the grit and sweat of the muscular moment to achieve a visual ideal of sexual beauty in men that no one had experienced before.
From our archives we have unearthed a couple of Lüger drawings — French says they were most likely pirated — and the reproduction is rough, but you can see the process from Polaroid to final product for two of the images in this portfolio from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor.
For more information on Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor: Jim French Polaroids:
Available September 15
Click through for more of Jim French's Polaroids >>>