After you've spent time working on a book extolling the virtues of men's underwear and displaying the wares in page after page of super-hot models, what's next? Why bathing suits, of course.
The terms "bathing suits" or "swim suits" probably don't accurately reflect the uses to which the carved men in the photos of his latest tome, "Trunk Show," put these tiny bits of stretch fabric. I happened to have just come from looking at metallic men's swimsuits on Amazon.com, and I have to admit, I was shocked -- shocked! -- to find that many of the commenters there were angry that the color wore off when they were worn in the water.
I mean, come on: Do you really buy a hot-silver body-hugging bikini-type suit to compete in the Olympics? True story: On Fire Island, I and many of my friends kept "show" swim suits and "use" swim suits.
The accompanying press release put it correctly when it described the images in this slender book as "swimwear as fetish."
It began with Speedos
In his introduction, Salzenstein opines, "For years, the ’swimmer’s body’ has been held up as the pinnacle of male physical perfection." Well, it’s hard to argue with the Timoteo model shown here.
Most people, however, would, I believe, classify gymnasts as perfect specimens. In the prehistoric Web days of AOL chat rooms, "swimmer’s build" became known as meaning "too skinny," just as "rugby build" went the other way.
That said, swimmers may well have the healthiest bodies. Study after study has shown that having very lean muscle mass is the key to health and longevity.
In the introduction, Salzenstein correctly points to Speedo as introducing the bikini for men. Originally a company that catered to competitive swimmers, Speedo became the brand sought after by gay men. Compared to board shorts or the traditional baggy cloth suit, Speedos were body hugging and emphasized a man’s best assets.
The book is organized according to manufacturer, with the most popular names among gay men not surprisingly receiving most of the attention. It’s not that many of these brands don’t sell to straight men as well, but certainly a much larger proportion of us patronize these high-end manufacturers.
Salzenstein in most cases has utilized the corporate artwork that accompanies advertising and catalogs. In the case of fashion swimwear, there’s nothing wrong with this. The reality is that -- despite Salzenstein’s attempts in the text that introduces each swimwear maker -- there really isn’t that much difference between them. I mean, how much can you vary a yard of cloth cut the same way every time?
So instead, as in the case of other discretionary purchases (cigarettes, for example), sex is used to move products. No love handles, beer guts or muffin tops here; for that matter, not a whole lot of swimmers’ builds, either.
Some of the advertising is quite creative in its use of photography and situations, as this illustration from ES shows. These two men, whose poses could have been plucked out of a Paul Cadmus painting, aren’t likely to be heading into a discussion of the latest diving scores. Diving, maybe.
ES, in fact, in its campaign has gone one better by taking the models as far away from a swimming pool as possible. The photographs show men on a ski lift, or skiing down a hill. Upsetting the consumer’s expectation of what a swimsuit ad should be doing might be ES’ way of saying, "Hey, they’re not just for swimming."
Like a big tease who holds out until the end of the night, Salzenstein only gives the reader what he really wants at the end of the book. He begins the section with the frank admission, "Given the sex factor of the images in this book," and then gives us some very, very sex images, courtesy of several very good contemporary photographers.
I’m not sure whether the photo shown here (albeit cropped) is playfully innocent or devilishly sexy. Was it meant as an homage to the Coppertone girl, the one who has the dog pulling down the back of her suit? Or is that a come-hither look, inviting us to finish the job he’s started?
This gorgeous photo looks almost as though it was processed to give it a mezzotint quality reminiscent of Civil War photographs. There’s nothing old fashioned, however, in photographer Allan Spiers’ use of this model’s body.
What makes this photograph so interesting is that it cuts to the heart (or head) of what makes Speedo-style suits (or underwear briefs, for that matter) so sexy. It’s not what they show but rather what they reveal. By outlining the genitals and derriere without exposing it, they tantalize, tempt and torture us. But they also heighten the sensuality of what’s inside.