Another new London exhibition worth your attention. A Hard Man is Good to Find! at The Photographers’ Gallery is a brilliant little history lesson of queer photography of the male physique, surveying the years when making or distributing imagery of male nudity was illegal in the UK.
Centred on key areas of London – Highgate, Chelsea, Brixton, Pimlico, Portobello, Euston, Soho – it explores some of the ways that photographers would go about scouting modelling subjects. For example, a concentration of fit young males around the army barracks of Pimlico would result in images of partially uniformed men, including some fabulous styling.
I didn’t realise that due to these obscenity laws, men’s only legal way to view other scantily clad male bodies was via images of fitness and sport. Which may be the reason for the beefed-up physical ideal that prevails today. The images shown here are of varied physiques including traditional muscle men (via a fascinating origin story of the posing pouch) and less buff scruffy punks.
My favourite exhibit is a display of blown-up pages from a crudely assembled collage album put together by the artist Keith Vaughan. Photographs of sunbathing young dudes at Highgate Men’s Pond in 1933 alongside graphic typography feel like they could have come from the pages of Italian Vogue (accompanied by a modesty sticker or two).
One criticism, which has been touched on in a few reviews, is the questionable ethics of predatory behaviour and exploitation by photographers who sometimes concealed the real reason they were scouting (i.e., for gay consumption), in one case claiming they were casting for a Vogue shoot. But overall, the curation of little-known stories, great photography and no small amount of fashion styling inspo make this a cultural must-see.
A Hard Man is Good to Find! is at The Photographers’ Gallery until 11th June 2023. See more here.
WORDS: Disneyrollergirl / Navaz Batliwalla
IMAGES: Keith Vaughan Highgate Men’s Pond Album 1933/Disneyrollergirl; Montague Glover/ Disneyrollergirl; Keith Vaughan Highgate Men’s Pond Album 1933/Disneyrollergirl x 2
NOTE: Most images are digitally enhanced. Some posts use affiliate links and PR samples. Please read my privacy and cookies policy here
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