Mel Roberts documentary-style photo book California Boys: Photographs From the 1960s and 1970s -- with its period-piece assortment of little-boy art whores on parade, captured in all their radiant youth -- is an absolute gay treasure. Roberts, who started off as a filmmaker (he worked on the blacklisted film Salt of the Earth in 1952), didnt start taking pictures professionally until 1959, at the end of the classic physique-model period. He isnt as well known as Bob Mitzers Athletic Model Guild or Bruce of Los Angeles, but his style of latently homo physique photography is more pastoral, with a cinematic and highfalutin high-fashionconceptual veneer. The rigidly posed models are art-directed to death in unnatural settings. Kidney-shaped pools, scenic vistas and midcentury homes function as riotous fashion accessories. Its a downright hoot!
The nudes in Roberts book arent explicit. In fact, the pictures in which the boys are fully clothed, which I prefer, are more revealing. Poor pitiful little Dick Niesen, posed in majestic Yosemite, peg-leg pants, loafers and white socks, so pink of face and well-scrubbed. Is he a new Roberts trick fresh off a Midwestern turnip truck, or a displaced and soon-to-be-discarded lover? These photos all have a glossy, publicity-still sheen, but theres more attention to detail: too-short shorts riding a narrow rump in just the most flattering of angles, a newspaper announcing the death of Marilyn Monroe perfectly positioned in the sand, or a bevy of bubble-butt high snow boys evoking Tab Hunter or Troy Donahue.
Im sure a lot of stylists will be ripping off this book, or at least using it as source material. I cant wait to see how the daisy-duke-wearing-street-urchin-in-tube-socks or psychedelic-bell-bottoms-with-prominent-bulge look plays as filtered through a tired rock video, TV commercial or print ad (icky David LaChapelle).
In the early 1980s, after a succession of police raids, Roberts finally called it quits. What a shame. I would have loved to see his Leif Garrett--look-alike-hesher-stoner-hustler-in-Eagles-T phase fully flourish.
Get the Arts Newsletter
Get the latest news and offers from the LA art scene sent directly to your email address. Exclusive events and art related sales you won't hear about anywhere else!