Thirty years on, it all seemed like a surreal curiosity — when the billboard of a well-muscled young man in white briefs went up in Times Square in 1982, it stopped traffic there. The perspective which focused on the obvious bulge in the briefs caused much controversy. It nonetheless led to the acceptance of the male form in mainstream American advertising and ushered in an era of “sexually objectifying men” which saw a renaissance in the early 1980s. American Photographer magazine named the photo as one of “10 Pictures That Changed America.”
The model was the Brazilian Olympic pole vaulter Tom Hintnaus. For Calvin Klein advertising campaign, photographer Bruce Weber took him to the Greek island of Santorini and took the photo of Hintnaus leaning back like Adonis. The photo, which also became a gay icon, was quite a departure from previously un-sexy underwear ads, as typified by those featuring Baltimore Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer. This would mark a watershed moment for depiction of men in ads: to this point, they were inevitably portrayed as staid breadwinners or authority figures. Weber showed men can be eye candies too.
Hintnaus was frustrated by his fame, telling The Los Angeles Times, “I worked so hard to be the best pole vaulter in the world and I ended up being more well known for putting on a pair of briefs.”
Weber would go on to craft similar images for Banana Republic and notoriously for Abercrombie & Fitch. His black and white shots, of a naked couple on a swing facing each other, two clothed men in bed, and Marcus Schenkenberg barely holding jeans in front of himself in a shower, were touchstones for a generation that grew up with the consumer culture.
CK never shied from controversy either. A series of campaigns which focused on athletes followed, and so did accusations that so much had been digitally enhanced in those photos. Joel West’s spreadeagled stance in 1995 offended even Linda Wachner, then the head of Calvin Klein’s underwear licensee. The models’ antics outside the studio were often an embarrassment to the company too. But by the time Mr. Klein retired from the company, he had made sure that male sexual objectification is hardly a rarity in advertising, and the job of Calvin Klein underwear model has become the male equivalent of appearing in a Victoria’s Secret fashion show.
I have started a Patreon. In their words, “Patreon is an Internet-based platform that allows content creators to build their own subscription content service.” I had tremendous fun researching and writing Iconic Photos, and the Patreon is a way for this blog to be more sustainable and growth-focused. Readers who subscribe on Patreon might have access to a few blog posts early; chance to request this topic or that topic; or to participate in some polls.
Here is the link to Patreon: https://www.patreon.com/iconicphotos