Master of Light and Shadow
I remember very clearly the first time I saw a photograph by Roy Blakey. It was the fall of 1979, and I had just entered The University of Tennessee as a freshman. While working on a paper for a class, looking for back issues of a magazine in the universitys Hoskins Library, I found a series of bound volumes of After Dark. Id never seen or heard of the magazine, but as soon as I opened the first volume from the early 1970s, I was captivated. In one issue, a photograph showed a beautifully lit frontal nude of a gorgeous man with tousled blonde hair, kneeling, arms up. He was looking directly into the camera, unashamed. It was an advertisement for Roy s book of male nudes, HE.
Published in 1972, HE was a groundbreaking book. Male nudes had by then appeared in other photography books including those by Kenn Duncan, George Hester, Skrebneski and David Vance but always published alongside female nudes. Blakeys book, devoted solely to male nudes, stood in stark relief.
This was a bold step for a man whod grown up in tiny Enid, Oklahoma. At an early age while watching "Sun Valley Serenade," starring the legendary ice champion Sonja Henie and her company of skaters Roy was profoundly struck with the wonder of ice skating. He began collecting newspaper clippings and magazine articles about ice shows and wrote to famous skaters for autographed photos. Determined to skate, but without an ice rink nearby, Roy became a champion roller skater. After graduating from Enid High School in 1948, he enrolled as a commercial arts major at the University of Tulsa near a rink where he could finally train on ice.
Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952, Roy was stationed in Kaiserslautern, Germany, as a mail clerk for an anti-aircraft unit. He achieved the rank of corporal, and bought his first good camera in the PX there, snapping pictures during his three-day passes. In 1954, after two years of mandatory military service, Roys dream finally came true when he joined the ice skating show at the Casa Carioca nightclub in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.
He returned to the United States in 1956 and joined the ice revue of the elegant Boulevard Room at Chicagos Conrad Hilton Hotel. He also took his first courses in photography and housed a makeshift darkroom in his hotel bathroom. In 1961, he joined the company of Holiday on Ice and performed in nearly 40 countries on extended tours through Europe, Russia, the Far East and Latin America always with his camera and darkroom in tow.
Retiring from the frozen stage in 1967, Roy stopped in New York for a three-day visit that stretched into 25 glorious years. He and his makeshift darkroom took up residence in a loft above Billys Topless on Sixth Avenue, where a host of entertainment stars and hopefuls ascended the stairs to Roys studio to have their photographs taken. All the while, Roy was creating the masterfully lighted male nudes that comprise this collection.
One early forum for Roys nudes was the short-lived magazine Dilettante, which described his "distinctly different camera perspective" as evidence that "photography as an art form and the male nude are not strange bedfellows." Befitting a magazine called Dilettante, the writer continued: "He is at once the Praxiteles and the Rembrandt of photographers; his camera freezes forever a fleeting moment of male beauty into a stylized, sculptural, universal artistic pattern, and his dramatic use of light and shadow reminds one of the Dutch master, so striking is its dramatic intensity."
Michaels Thing was no less reserved in its assessment of Roys landmark book: "HE is easily comparable to any book of photographs printed by anybody at any time, and I believe it is the best and by that I mean the most artistically successful example of modern nude photography in book form. As an example of male nude photography it has no artistic peer. Nothing superior has ever been produced."
Gene Thornton, photography reviewer for The New York Times, wrote in March 1973 about Roys exhibition at the legendary Continental Baths: "There is nothing coy or inviting in their looks and poses. Though they are totally nude, some of them frontally so, their expressions and poses are more or less out of modern dance. And though there is always something sexy about modern dance there has to be, with all those trim young bodies every effort is made to concentrate the attention on Higher Things. The same is true of Roy Blakeys pictures. They are Artistic. So far as is possible, they transform the young male body into an esthetic rather than a sexual object."
It took some digging, but not only did I eventually find a much-sought-after copy of HE; ultimately, I found Roy Blakey, as well. One night while checking my E-mail, I searched the AOL member directory and came up with a hit in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I drafted a brief note, stating that if the recipient was the famous photographer of male nudes, I was a fan of his work, and that I believed it deserved to be exhibited and published again. A reply came back to me the next day, and our friendship began.
Over the next several years, I made a number of trips to Minneapolis to work with Roy, unearthing the gems you see here. During that time, not only have we worked shoulder-to-shoulder weve become dear friends. He has been exceedingly kind in repeatedly crediting me for what he calls his "resurrection," but the fact is that none of this would have been possible without Roys unique vision, his passion behind the camera and his skills in the darkroom. He is, after all, not only the creator of these images, but also the magician who has brought them to life on paper.
I consider myself blessed to be the magicians assistant.
Reed Massengill New York City
Roy Blakey currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works as a commercial photographer and shares a studio space with his niece, photographer Keri Pickett. His first book of photographs, HE, was a landmark collection of male nudes which he self-published in 1972.
He is a former professional figure skater and the founder and curator of The IceStage Archive, the preeminent private collection of rare and important ephemera and memorabilia documenting the colorful worldwide history of theatrical skating. He is also an avid collector of Asian art and antiquities with a particular love of the cultures of Thailand and Japan.
He is eager to extend his heartfelt thanks to all who have given so generously of their time, talent, imagination, guidance, and encouragement to make his long-held dream of this book a reality.
Reed Massengill is the widely published photographer of three monographs of male nudes Massengill (St. Martins Press, 1996), Massengill Men (Bruno Gmünder Verlag, 1997), and Brian: A Nine-Year Photographic Diary (FotoFactory Press, 2000). His images also have been included in a number of important photographic anthologies, including Exposed (Thunder's Mouth Press, 2000) and Male Nude Now (Universe, 2001).
As a writer, he is the author of the award-winning Becoming American Express, commissioned by the global financial services company to coincide with its 150th anniversary in 2000. His first book the critically acclaimed Portrait of a Racist (St. Martins Press, 1994) was a biography of white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith, convicted in 1994 of the 1963 assassination of Mississippi civil rights leader Medgar Evers. Portrait was nominated by its publisher for the Pulitzer Prize for biography in 1994.