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Bob Mizer's self-published nude male photography journal was launched in 1951 and circulated until 1990. Bob died in 1992, and took the publication of Physique Pictorial right to the wall of his mortal timeline. And what a timeline he created for us.
The first issue of Physique Pictorial, November 1951.
If you enjoy the modern day experience of viewing naked guys -- either online, in film, or in print, you can thank Bob Mizer for preparing the world for the ongoing stream of male beauty that you experience everyday.
Last year The Bob Mizer Foundation in San Francisco decided to take on the daring task of re-launching the Physique Pictorial for a new generation of male physique aficionados. Daring because the print publishing world is no longer recognizable today. The ascent of Internet porn, with its incessant push of imagery through the tiny screens of our mobile devices, has changed everything.
I sat down for a quick interview with The Mizer Foundation's art director Frederick Woodruff to talk about naked male photography within the changing publishing climate. And to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the newly re-launched Physique Pictorial.
The Advocate: You and Dennis Bell, the journal's editor and the head of The Mizer Foundation, made it through your first year of publishing the new Physique Pictorial. Can you share some highs and lows from your adventure?
Woodruff: What moved me most was the emotional feedback we received from longtime fans of Bob Mizer's work. I mean the emails and actual snail mail letters that flooded in. Guys telling us about how, in their younger days as budding queers, Physique Pictorial always represented a sex positive experience for them, a thumbs-up approval for gayness.
Bob created and sustained an entire visual world for gay men to feel comfortable within. The spirit of the Pictorials was always upbeat, fun and gay life affirming. Today a lot of us take this for granted, but all the guys who took out subscriptions for the new Pictorial and wrote to us were a constant reminder of Bob's influence-and that moved Dennis and me tremendously. I'm sort of tearing up just talking about it again.
And what about the difficulties?
The biggest? The technological reshaping of our brains. Online viewing means clicking in and clicking out of something instantly. Within five minutes I can scroll through 3,347 pictures of naked men on tumblr, but nothing remains of my experience. It's sort of weird and makes me feel robotic and dazed -- like I've been chewing on tinfoil.
Whereas holding a three-dimensional object -- like a published art journal -- creates a sensual experience. And that's what Dennis and I wanted to offer when we re-launched the Pictorial. We were like:
"Come back guys! Here are some beautiful naked physiques. Kick back on your couch, pour a glass of wine and relish the art and beauty about what you love about men."
Another problem we experienced was one of perception. A lot of guys would comment to me on Instagram,
"Oh, so you guys are reprinting all of the old Physique Pictorials?"
Folks didn't understand that the re-launched publication was brand new -- and featured rare archival material from Bob Mizer as well as contemporary male physique photographers.
Would you say there's a difference between naked men presented in fine art photography and nudity as depicted in porn?
OMG Christopher, do you have 500 paragraphs of free space for me to blab in? Or how about a Ouija Board that would allow you to bring Robert Mapplethorpe into our discussion?
I published as a pornographer online for over twenty years and I never made a distinction. I'm of the Camille Paglia school, where all porn is art. And yet this perception mutated for me when I started art directing the Pictorial and working with contemporary male physique photographers who do not classify their work as pornographic.
Intent is a huge factor, obviously, but more, though, is that mysterious, ineffable force field that is in place between a photographer and his model -- and how the photographer succeeds in capturing that vibe in the photograph. I put a photograph like that under the art rubric. That's the distinction.
And I'm happy to say that all of the photographers we featured this past year have that magical quality about their portfolios.
Porn, generally speaking, is intended to go straight for the crotch. That's exciting but also hyper fixating; and that usually means there isn't a savoring of the art dimension within an image. What makes porn intoxicating is how taboos are shattered, as in: "Here's an extreme close-up of a guy's butthole being penetrated. What happens as you look at this?"
Again, generally speaking, the libido is agitated via porn, which pulls the instincts into the experience in a primordial way. This creates a different dynamic, one that pushes towards a discharge rather than a settling and savoring.
With the Pictorial we are treading an interesting borderland between the two. When Dennis and I sit down to study a photograph we'll go back and forth between the art/porn distinctions. It's really interesting to see what gets slated for the art category or what I call 'the savoring zone'. Inevitably that image makes it into the Pictorial. But it's rarely so cut and dry or obvious, which confirms how art and porn are co-emergent. The process of working with nuance is fun though, that's for certain. See what I mean about needing 500 more paragraphs to broach this topic?
The Mizer Foundation's art director Frederick Woodruff
Going into your second year with the Pictorial, what is next. What can we expect?
Well a huge shift is happening with The Foundation next year as it settles into its new headquarters, its brick and mortar location, in downtown San Francisco.
And for the Pictorial we'll be doing more of what this year was about: Reframing and presenting hundreds of works from the Mizer archives and highlighting established and emerging nude male physique photographers.
The aim of The Bob Mizer Foundation is simple and clear cut, as it says on our Instagram feed: "A photographic foundation that celebrates the power of controversial photography."
And on that note, I'd like to invite photographers out there to send in the their submissions! Especially women. We want to feature female photographers this year. That's a big aim for me. I'm always pursuing new works for upcoming volumes -- so why not submit yours? (firstname.lastname@example.org)
How do guys who aren't already receiving the Physique Pictorial subscribe?
I want to ask Advocate readers to please come on board the Mizer train -- we need your support to move forward with Bob's mission. Response has been favorable but we need more subscribers to forge into the next year. Publishing a paper and ink journal is like pushing a bean across the floor with your nose nowadays. It's really tough and financially challenging. So guys, please support our efforts. Join us now.
But reserve your subscription now, as we only publish 1000 limited edition runs of each Physique Pictorial. Those volumes are stamped, signed and sealed by The Foundation, which makes them true collector's items.
How do you imagine Bob Mizer would feel about the new Physique Pictorial?
Oh, man, you're like Oprah. Trying to get me to cry in public!
Bob Mizer would be blown away with the way his vision has jumped into modern times. And everyone involved with The Foundation -- all of our board members, volunteers and patrons experience the same pride related to continuing Bob's mission -- it's such a great contribution to queer culture. Join us, please! We need you. Naked men all across the world need you!
And thank you Christopher and everyone on The Advocate team -- you folks have always been so generous with your support. We love you! Bob loves you!
If you are in the New York area, don't miss the launch party for the new issue. You will meet like-minded people.