March 29, 1946– Bruce Weber has been married to a woman, his manager and collaborator Nan Bush, for more than four decades, but interestingly, the primary subject of his camera’s gaze has been men’s bodies, eroticizing them, and sexualizing male camaraderie. To me, Weber sure seems be a classic big bear daddy gay. One of his 17 published books is Bear Pond (1990), which captures sweet-looking, wholesome, naked white young men rolling around together in the Adirondacks. Another similar collection of romps has text provided by William S. Burroughs.
You probably know Weber best from those ubiquitous softcore ad campaigns for Abercrombie & Fitch or Calvin Klein Jeans which, for better or worse, redefined gay culture, youth culture, and American culture. I first took note of his work in the early 1980s when Brazilian pole-vaulting Olympian Tom Hintnaus wore just a pair of tighty-whities while reclining against a white rock. I have no idea who the client was, but the iconic ad and its billboard in Times Square was named one of “ten photos that changed America” by American Photographer Magazine.
Weber began his career studying Theatre before choosing to major in Film at NYU. His mentor was the great photographer Diane Arbus.
Beginning on the 1970s, Weber’s earliest fashion photographs appeared in the SoHo Weekly News featuring spreads of men wearing only their underwear. The pictures caused a sensation and brought a lot of controversy. Weber was told by some people in the biz that he would never find work as a fashion photographer again. His reputation stuck, and Webber has stated:
“I don’t really work editorially in a large number of magazines because a lot of magazines don’t want my kind of photographs. It’s too risky for them.”
His detractors called it wrong. Weber’s photographs have appeared in Vanity Fair, Interview, GQ, and Rolling Stone. His client list includes Cartier, Celine, Chanel, Coty, and Christian Dior. He has shot album covers for Ricky Martin, Dr. John, and Diana Krall.
Weber’s work is in the permanent collections of major museums, including The Victoria And Albert Museum in London, The Miami Museum Of Contemporary Art and The Museum Of Modern Art in Paris. He has directed and produced music videos for Pet Shop Boys, Chris Isaac, and Chet Baker. He has directed four feature films. His first, a boxing documentary Broken Noses (1987), premiered at Cannes, and his second, Let’s Get Lost (1988), about the life and music of Chet Baker, was nominated for an Academy Award.
A decade ago Weber began Weberbilt, a men’s casual clothing company with the motto “eat, swim, sex, sleep” and three years ago an underwear line “for th0se who don’t wear underwear”. In 2012, he shot the entire Vanity Fair Hollywood Portfolio. His recent books are a big fat 500-page fashion opus Blood Sweat And Tears (2012) and All-American XIII Born Ready (2013), part of his ongoing All-American series.
It seems to me to be a little bit off-kilter for a straight guy to devote himself to photographing naked, young, super-fit, white boys. He is brilliant at photographing naked white boys. The camera doesn’t lie; you can tell that he loves them. He worships them. He is boy crazy. Everything else he photographs pales by comparison.
There was that little misunderstanding when Weber tried to photograph the U.S. Olympic Boxing Team for Interview in 1983. There were accusations about athletes being forced to wear skimpy swimsuits, but they were met with Weber’s counter that some people asked to reveal more than their pectorals. In the end, Weber was banned from shooting the rest of the team.
His nostalgic, old fashioned, black and white photography, manages to be boldly erotic and yet somehow innocent. His pictures have played a major role in the resurgence of the male body in advertising and his influence is everywhere. He has changed the way we look at male beauty.
Weber claims that taking a picture of a beautiful boy is like a “handshake or a hug”. I am not sure about that. His photographs and films of beautiful, naked, white boys ooze sensuality, eroticism and the merest suggestion that we are only one shot away from seeing them hard and proud, shooting jizz all over their perfect white bodies. Beneath Webber’s schlumpy, bandana wearing, bearded, old, sweet grandfather persona, there is probably a self-loathing gay man, terrified of truthfully expressing his desires. But, I could be wrong. But this I do know, like me, Weber really, really like twins. And dogs.