It should come as no surprise that the fashion industry has once again mined the visual language of physique photography’s past to sell over-priced goods in an over-sexed consumer market. Likewise, there’s nothing especially shocking about Vivienne Westwood exploiting homoerotic imagery to sell clothing. (Remember that Tom of Finland shirt?).
So what is it that makes these ads for Westwood’s new line of men’s underwear and accessories so unusual? It’s the combination of these images with the almost invisible message, “Leonard Peltier is Innocent” (lower left-hand corner of the images).
Perhaps we’re missing something, but these images, while an interesting comment on gay photography’s past, don’t seem to conjure any feelings about the controversial American Indian activist, currently serving consecutive life sentences for the murder of two Federal Bureau of Investigation agents, who were killed during a 1975 shootout on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Instead what we see are near mirror images from the annals of gay photography. The first of these, a man sprawled on a tiger skin rug, couldn’t be anymore the spitting image of Walter Kundzicz’s shot of Jim Stryker (inset), which once appeared on the cover of The Young Physique. The second and third, while not exactly the same, are close enough to the early wrestling shots of our man, Bob Mizer (also inset).
So no, we don’t see how Leonard Peltier fits in, but then again, it’s not really for us to get. If these images sell undies, then more power to you Ms. Westwood.