John Palatinus is perhaps one of the last living male physique
photographers of the 1950s. He was one of a handful of photographers
who documented the male body through photography of semi-naked,
body-proud weightlifters of the time. His first shoot was done in
1951 in his own living room in Indiana. Palatinus crafted his own
photographic style which was recognisable by his use of light and
minimal background. The pictures echoed Palatinus' influences, who
included Horst P Horst and George Platt Lynes, while documenting
a sub-culture of body perfection and hyper-masculinity that emerged
in the post-war era.
His photographs were published in numerous bodybuilding magazines
of the era, most notably Tomorrow's Man, a pocket-sized publication
featuring males with posing straps or other coverings for their
In 1954 Palatinus moved to New York, and set up on West 13th Street
in Greenwich Village, taking male physique photographs and distributing
them to eager collectors. He continued to be featured in "TM"
and did a thriving mail-order business, selling his photographs
nationwide. In 1958, Palatinus started shooting and selling full-frontal
nude photos through the mail. This proved to be an unfortunate move.
His studio was raided by the US Postal Inspectors in cooperation
with the New York Police Department and all of his photographs,
original negatives, cameras and equipment were confiscated, never
to be returned. Palatinus was very effectively put out of business.
After a trial, he was convicted not of distribution of so-called
pornography, but of conspiracy, a misdemeanor charge, and spent
no time in jail. "When I was in court in 1959," Palatinus
recalls, "The judge said: 'by today's standards this work is
considered pornography, but who knows? In 50 years' time it may
be considered art' and that really is true."
Palatinus has lived long enough to see his work become appreciated
by new circles. The nineties saw a huge resurgence in the collection
of Vintage Male Physique photography, spurred on by a voracious
online community. Palatinus now lives in Palm Springs, California
and exhibits his work thoughout the world.
drkrm is an exhibition space dedicated to the display of popular
cultural images, fine art photography, documentary and photo journalism,
cutting edge and alternative photographic processes. drkrm is located
in the historic Chung King Road of contemporary art galleries in
Downtown L.A.'s Chinatown. Regular gallery hours are Wednesday –
Saturday 12-6 pm, Sunday 12-4pm and by appointment.
All gallery events are free and open to the public.