I love a man with muscle. More in real life and in the flesh, however, than in the typical photographs of muscular men I've seen. For various reasons, I do not like most posed pictures of competition bodybuilders. The poses highlight the definition of muscles (for obvious reasons--it is a competition, after all, so the clarity of the cut is important), but they do little to capture the man's hard and earthy beauty, which resides only partly in his strength--and partly in his aura and character.
In the photos in most fitness magazines, the models' muscles are exaggerated and all but detached from the rest of the body. Overall context is lost, making it difficult to view the men as persons or (for me, anyway) sex symbols. The constant straining is just a bit too much. Too much effort is given to making the men appear statuesque--more often, they look like expressionistic heaps of twisted iron, spray painted orange or dun.
In the 1940s and '50s, photographers did a better job of capturing the appeal of beefcake, I feel. The black-and-white photographs and paintings that appeared in Physique Pictorial for almost 40 years still hold me in their spell. Muscle & Fitness, not so much, though clearly some of the old-school models look doughy next to the sleek and shiny beef of the 21st century. I much prefer the posed pictures that depict bodybuilders doing something that corresponds to an activity in the ordinary world--especially when the something is wrestling. In the context of a victor straddling his conquest, a double bicep pose gains an eroticism it lacks abstracted on stage in the glare of a spotlight. As I have noted elsewhere, when two men wrestle, something special happens inside me. The men do not have to be powerhouses. Well-matched skinny twinks or burly bears, all pretty much the same to me, what matters most is the action, the bodies rubbing together, and the drama of competition.
But then, it's complicated, too. I have qualms about the "wrestling pose," a static tableau vivant that communicates no sense of energy or intensity or weight. I want to see or to imagine the men in action. Even a still picture must capture the liveliness and frenzy of combat and contact, even if the shot is blurred or underexposed.
Along that line, I recently realized that I like still pictures of wrestling action as much as (and sometimes more than) videos of the bodies in actual motion, especially when the photographer is somebody like Blake Arledge or Tony Knox, so gifted at catching a wrestler's movements at just the right moment. The still shot can freeze a moment of drama so that I can properly indulge myself in it. Fleeting contact of skin on skin can be made to last forever, filling it with erotic weight that was nonexistent in motion. The body contact the eye could not perceive can be a pornographic epic in a still picture. The camera captures an erotic reality implied but unnoticed in the quickly passing event.
For the past year I have enjoyed taking screen caps of videos of fights. It's a way (a very small way) of inserting myself into the action. The results possess none of the quality of Arledge's and Knox's work. But they gain something in the effort it takes to take and crop the picture, giving me time to examine every little splash of light and shadow and fill in the blurs with details only my feverish brain could add. The shots above are taken from a YouTube video of last Saturday's Devil Mountain Wrestling match between "Double D" Dave Dutra, 202#, and UK wrestler "The Male Model" Kay Jutler, 180#.