Throughout the span of a near 50-year career, American photographer and filmmaker Robert Henry Mizer (b.1922– d. 1992), universally known as Bob, relentlessly pursued his unwavering vision of expanding the genre of male physique photography. The Long Beach Museum of Art (LBMA) presents, Bob Mizer: Vintage Physique, featuring a selection of rarely seen photographs by Mizer from the years 1949 to 1962. The exhibition showcases the artist’s passion and drive, which propelled him to push boundaries in both subject matter and medium.
Famed for his groundbreaking publication, Physique Pictorial, Mizer created unique portrayals of male figures and bodybuilders that not only reflected, but also challenged societal notions of masculinity during post-war America. By the late 1930’s, near the time of his graduating from high school, Mizer began photographing with “more sophisticated camera equipment” 1 and by 1944 was apprenticing for the physique photographer Fred Kovert in Hollywood, California. A year later, Mizer established the Athletic Model Guild (AMG) studio, which enabled the growth and success of both commercial and creative autonomy for the artist.
Mizer’s early work initially featured bodybuilders he would befriend at the original Muscle Beach in Santa Monica, offering free prints in exchange for modeling. Muscle Beach, a project that began as part of the Works Progress Administration (WPA) in 1934, was installed with exercise equipment that served groups of athletes including gymnasts, wrestlers, acrobats, and bodybuilders. Their fitness routines performed in public attracted many spectators, including Mizer, who with his professional demeanor and personal code of behavior for acceptance was immediately welcomed into “beach society.”
AMG launched its first issue of Physique Pictorial in 1951. Under meticulous eyes, Mizer carefully bridled and handled every aspect of the publication, from creating the visual layout to the selection and composition of texts and images of male-oriented artworks by others, including his own. It became a crucial platform for launching the careers of artists such as Tom of Finland and Harry Bush whose works have been featured in the journal, but more significantly, was used as a personal forum for Mizer to express his own opinions on matters pertaining to the prevalent social-political issues of his time, i.e. police harassment, censorship, the Vietnam War, among many other topics. Mizer shot nearly every day, leaving behind a dense portfolio of work that reveals not only his photographic skills and ability to capture the bodybuilders’ strengths and personalities. His archive houses nearly a million
photographs and thousands of films of male subjects ranging from Hollywood actors, bodybuilders to porn stars, including cultural icons like Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joe Dallesandro.
“Bob Mizer: Vintage Physique” will be on view from May 17 – September 8, 2019 in the Lane Oceanview Galleries. “Patrick Angus: Voyeur” will concurrently be on view in the Hartman Pavilion Galleries.
The Museum’s Hartman Pavilion, Galleries and the Museum Store are open Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. and Friday – Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors age 62 and older, free for Members and children under 12. Admission is free for everyone on Thursday evening from 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. and half price admission all day Friday. Claire’s at the Museum restaurant is open Thursday 11 a.m. to 8 p.m., Friday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. For more information, please call (562) 439-2119 or visit www.lbma.org.
Image: Bob Mizer, Untitled (Muscle Beach #30), Santa Monica, California, ca. 1949, chromogenic print, edition 1/5, paper: 8 1⁄2 x 11 5/8 inches. Courtesy of the Bob Mizer Foundation, M+B Gallery and New Discretions