|Athletic Model Guild member Dennis Bell. PHOTO BY BOB MIZER/ATHLETIC MODEL GUILD FOUNDATION
By Dennis Bell
In 2010, I founded the charitable and educational non-profit Bob Mizer Foundation, Inc., whose purpose is to promote and preserve progressive and controversial photography. I believe the most disputed works of art are the most important ones to protect and preserve, since they bear witness to the progress of our liberal society, whose political ideal is to protect the personal freedoms of all its citizens.
My intention with this foundation is to spur thought and discussion through the protection and dissemination of photographs previously censored and otherwise marginalized.
You might know Bob Mizer, who died in 1992. He began taking photographs as early as 1942, first experimenting with self-portraits and later moving onto the boardwalks of Venice Beach, California, to capture images at beauty pageants and bodybuilding competitions.
These early works laid the foundation of his career spanning 50 years, first as a professional photographer in 1945 and later as the founder and sole operator of the Athletic Model Guild (AMG).
With his photographs, Mizer was a trailblazer in the commercialization of male imagery, whose sole purpose was to let viewers gaze at male beauty. He created and distributed Physique Pictorial, the first magazine in the world specifically designed to make these images available to anyone interested in them. You can now see his workâ€™s influence on mainstream culture, such as in Bruce Weberâ€™s sometimes-controversial photo campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch. Itâ€™s homoeroticism for the masses.
Before Mizer, men and women wanting to view the male form had access only to bodybuilding magazines, art study books by Tony Sansone and Eugene Sandow, and underground photographs by a handful of artists, such as Paul Cadmus and George Platt-Lynes.
In the 1950â€™s, Mizer featured in Physique Pictorial homoerotic painters like George Quaintance and Etienne, who sometimes produced paintings directly from AMG photographs. David Hockney visited AMG in the 1960â€™s, loved Mizerâ€™s photographs of models in showers, and created a whole series of paintings about them. Tom of Finland was first published in Physique Pictorial. Lesser-known artists were frequently featured in the magazine, like popular physique model, Andrew Kozak, whose primitive-style paintings dating to the late 1940â€™s are still with the Foundation today.
I am a photographer, and Iâ€™m sure my own style has been influenced by the work of the pioneering physique photographers of the mid-1900â€™s.
In 2003, I met Mizerâ€™s heir, who had stored what heâ€™d wanted from Mizerâ€™s estate in storage lockers and in his garage. He said he wanted me to continue the care of AMG, and that heâ€™d nearly decided to split apart the archives, sell off what he could, and throw out the rest.
To finance the cataloguing, filing and storage of more than 1,000,000 negatives, slides, prints and films, I organize fundraising campaigns through Kickstarter, as well as publish books on Mizerâ€™s work and coordinate gallery shows, film screenings and lectures.
I donâ€™t want it to be forgotten that the Athletic Model Guild was more than likely the worldâ€™s largest, longest-running physique studio, and that one man ran it. The studio and its treasures were almost lost forever.
Look for more on the Bob Mizer Foundation in upcoming issues of the Bay Times. You can directly support BobMizerFoundation.org by contributing to its current Kickstarter campaign.