In Part 2 of our interview with art director Frederick Woodruff of The Bob Mizer Foundation and Physique Pictorial, we dig deeper into the relevance of Bob Mizer’s work; and discuss his cultural legacy, influence on contemporary gay porn and the Foundation’s future plans.
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What do you consider to be the cultural legacy of Bob Mizer and Physique Pictorial?
Bob’s work was a segue to more candid depictions of male-male desire and sexuality in the 80s and 90s. If you study Bob’s early work in the 60s, what I call the Bromance phase, there’s a kind of “arrested attraction” between the guys he assembled for his productions — guys pinching, poking and taunting each other. My favorite scenes are where two guys spontaneously drop to the floor and start wrestling — a literal depiction of pent-up libido that was still hedged ’round by legal prohibitions. This was as close to literal depictions of intimacy and tenderness between men that Bob could present at the time. Anything else would have been considered pornographic and landed him in jail.
Still, Bob kept pressing the envelope. And what eventually bloomed into graphic depictions of male affection and sex — in large productions like Wakefield Poole’s Boys in the Sand or porn from Al Parker’s Surge Studios — those films owe their independence to Mizer’s stubborn push back against the censors and moral scolds. We wouldn’t have our endless scroll of gay porn on tumblr if it weren’t for Mizer’s efforts.
That makes a lot of sense… Do you think there any remaining traces of Mizer and his influence on contemporary gay porn? Or is it completely unrelated to the work of Bob Mizer?
Amateur-inspired porn owes a lot to Mizer in that Bob worked regularly with regular guys. Though mainstream models like Jack LaLanne and Arnold Schwarzenegger were part of the Mizer stable, too. I think Bob preferred working with guys that projected unselfconscious masculinity — if someone were a diva he would note it in the Pictorials.
So he kept a diary on each of his models?
Well, sort of. Perusing old issues of Physique Pictorial is alway a treat because of the way Bob personalized the reader’s experience of the models. Bob would get very specific about describing characteristics. After listing all of their physical stats, he’d write something like: “Here’s Roy Walling. Works as a telephone tester but wants to be a policeman.” Or more dramatic revelations: “Here’s James Collette. We regret his passing. A beautiful boy with everything to live for, he seemed from a very early age bent on self-destruction.” You couldn’t get that sort of detail anywhere else, it was Bob’s signature style as a publisher.
But Bob never focused on graphic or hardcore productions. And, too, modern-day porn is disconnected from the Mizer ethos in literal ways. I don’t understand the attraction of today’s body-bald porn stars — the obsessively manicured physiques, waxed buttholes, plucked eyebrows, and haircuts that you’d only see in Hellenistic etchings of eunuchs. Bob would have balked at the current feminization of the male body. I’m not dissing people who enjoy that sort of metamorphosis — I’m just not excited by it. And it’s not germane to the Mizer legacy.
We can’t really discuss Physique Pictorial without asking about some of the other artists featured in the publication thru the years: Tom of Finland, George Quaintance. How did they come to be involved?
Bob as a connoisseur of male beauty reveled in featuring other artists and photographers in the Pictorial. As a publisher, he shared willing — he knew that new discoveries would appeal to his fans. The subset of that culture was incredibly networked — so other artists and photographers knew how to find Bob and submit their work. Also, Bob was always scouting — curious to see how and what his peers were doing.
How do you feel about the commodification and licensing of Tom of Finland imagery and the commercialization of the Tom’s Man aesthetic? Do you consider the recent mainstreaming of Tom of Finland to be a good thing or a bad thing?
Great art always finds its way into mass consumption and iconography. Tom’s art, aside from the dick-popping imagery, featured draughtsmanship that was classically beautiful, technically stellar. Despite the depressing retrogression of Trumplandia, real art will continue to inspire the collective’s imagination. I love the fact that Tom’s work was recently featured on official stamps from the Finnish post office. Mizer needs his own stamp designed for the USPS.
Has the Bob Mizer Foundation been inspired by the Tom of Finland Foundation’s licensing efforts? Will we be seeing Ed Fury bed sheets or Joe Dallesandro pot holders in the future?
Oh yes. All of that is coming. We’ll keep you updated.
Perfect! I’ll be saving my shekels … Tell us about next steps. Will the relaunch of Physique Pictorial be primarily archival images repurposed for the new issues or will there be some changes in the editorial format?
So many naked men, so little time! With millions of images and videos and films in the Mizer archives, we’ll bring to light the unfamiliar gems. But we want to give hardcore devotees what they love: More never-before-seen photos of their favorite Mizer models.
Modern day male physique photographers will be featured too and upcoming volumes will cull from both vintage and contemporary illustrators. But we are breaking the Pictorial mold in our first two volumes with an beautiful essay by writer John Calendo — the former editor for Blueboy and InTouch — John’s feature is a graphic account of his nights cruising sailors in San Diego, back in the 80s. I know Mizer fans will love it.
In terms of newer work for Physique Pictorial, will the photographers and models be given specific direction in terms of approach and execution?
Dennis and I share the same aim of extending Bob’s ethos — of highlighting his particular genre of masculine beauty. A tricky aim because models are shaped differently today, their expressions are often trained via Instagram selfies. The current obsession with hyper-exaggerated abs is kind of freaky to me, I mean, after you’ve seen thousands of six-packs maintained by starvation it becomes dick-wilting.
I have to agree with you there. So how will the new Physique Pictorial set itself apart from this type of homogenized imagery?
Well, this is what I appreciate about the model Leonard Page who we feature in the new volume of the Pictorial. He’s developed a fine-tuned nexus between working out, aging happily and being a busy modern-day father.
Also: photographic equipment is different now — iPhone cameras anyone? The lighting that vintage physique photographers employed is so inviting. Technically so much of that was a product of its time. So we hope to feature photographers that might use that look and technique as an inspiration for their vision.
Is there a definable Physique Pictorial Man? How would you describe the aesthetic?
Natural manliness — and yes, I know, masculinity has become amorphous — and there are other publications to celebrate that trend. Physique Pictorial will lean backward more than forward — if you get what I mean by that koan.
Tell us about the current Kickstarter campaign for the Physique Pictorial relaunch. What are the immediate goals? And the long term goals?
So many naked men and so little time. Oh wait, I used that already. We’re inviting fans of the Mizer legacy to pledge to secure funding to cover the printing of the first few issues as well as the design and administrative costs. The link includes a fun video that Dennis put together. Your readers will love it.
With apologies to Miquel Brown! Thanks so much for your time, Frederick.
Thank you, your questions were so smart — and a big thank you to Flagrant for helping keep the Bob Mizer vision alive!
(Editor’s note: To support the Physique Pictorial relaunch Kickstarter campaign, click here.)