Beefcake, a new exhibit in celebration of Pride month, has opened in the museum exhibit space of the Learning Hub, where it will remain on display for the rest of the summer. Curated by Daniel Laurin, a PhD Candidate at the Cinema Studies Institute, Beefcake showcases physique photography from the Waugh Collection and highlights gay activism.
Though the images may seem quaint or even camp now, physique photography occupies an outsize role in North American history. Many scholars agree that the Stonewall Riots and the gay liberation movement would not have been possible without the knowledge of a national gay community established by the distribution of these photographs within physique magazines. Physique photography was an outgrowth of the physical culture movement in the early 1900s that also saw the growth in popularity of bodybuilding and the rise of sports cultures. While initially these photographs appeared alongside exercise routines and reports on bodybuilding competitions, as the knowledge of a queer market grew, the magazines began to feature more photography and fewer articles, giving rise to physique magazines in the 1950s. Such magazines were primarily a non-profit-producing means of advertising for the mail-order sale of the photographs: magazines would offer photographers free advertising space in return for the use of their images. Their widespread circulation established the first instance of the term “gay power,” in relation to the supposed economic power of the gay community, strengthening the claim that gay identity was forged within capitalist markets.
These original images from the Waugh Collection at the Bonham Centre’s Sexual Representation Collection have been selected because they are representative of recurring themes in the photographs and magazines: bodybuilding, fantasies of domesticity, dress-up, and the erotic gaze: models looking at images, at one another, at themselves, or out towards the viewer. These themes also dovetail with other beefcake preoccupations such as military servicemen, Classicism, cowboys, and homosocial or homosexual affection. Because any homosexual connotation would have resulted in obscenity charges, photographers had to devise non-romantic excuses for physical contact, some of which are displayed here. Many of the photos in this collection would (and have) appeared in magazines, but others were decidedly illicit, often kept in a photographer’s private collection or sold clandestinely.
While physique photography publishers fought and won court battles allowing for homoeroticism and male nudity, paving the way for more freedom of queer expression, these photographs also reflect cultural attitudes about the entanglements of race and sexuality at the time. Models of colour are featured far less frequently and prominently, and publishers complained that photographs of Black models didn’t sell. Representations differed as well: nonwhite models were more often photographed with props rather than au naturel, and were featured as bodybuilders but not “boys next door.” At the same time, two of the best known and most popular models were Indigenous, and while they were photographed in “Indian” costume, they appeared in other costumes or entirely in the nude. Physique photography thus offers insight into the midcentury gay erotic imaginary, sexualized racism, and the formation of a new national (and international) gay male community.
Dates & Duration: June 15 to September 8 (extended from original end date), 9:00 am – 6:00 pm (Monday-Friday)
Walkthrough with curator and collector on Thursday, August 24 at 4pm.
Location: 5th Floor, Museum Exhibit Space, Learning Hub, Claude T. Bissell Building, 140 St. George St.
The entrance at Sussex Avenue has an accessible ramp.
Special Thanks to Patrick Keilty, A. Hawk, Muneer Armanazi, and Juan Carlos Meso-González
Poster Design by Kevin Lajeunesse
For more information or questions, please reach out to Daniel at email@example.com