Ten years ago, I received a review copy of a new book published by Janssen Verlag called American Photography Of The Male Nude: 1940—1970: Lon of New York. It was the second in the series of three, sandwiched between Bruce of L.A. and Dave Martin, both photographers with whom I was very familiar. (There have since been four more published—Douglas of Detroit, Pat Milo Al Urban and Bob Mizer.) I'd never heard of Alonzo Hanagan, but the book was beautiful, full of classic male nudes in a variety of shades. I’d always wondered about that period of photography—and of gay history—considering that so many of the muscle-bound posers were ostensibly straight (or what passed for it back before gay rights drew a necessary line in the sand). If it was terrifying to be gay back in the day, what drew so many men who probably did not i.d. as gay first and foremost to pose nearly or totally nude for gay mens’ lenses and eyeballs?
When I realized Lon was still alive and residing in New York (in Mae West's old digs...get her!), I requested an interview, never dreaming he’d say yes. He said yes and I dutifully showed up at his brownstone, where I found him to be somewhat the worse for wear but still kicking—and with the memory of an elephant. Lon was in boxers and a robe and not terribly mobile. I was scared to death taping him because in those days I had an analog tape recorder that worked on sound, so as a small voice drifted out of the large man I was desperately hoping I would not lose his words.
Lon’s caretaker/peer/friend told me he was going back to photography, and in fact he did show at Wessel + O’Connor. I can’t imagine his 1990s works could truly be attributed to him—he just didn’t exhibit a coherent, creative spark when I spoke with him—but he was certainly indomitable.
I published the interview in an issue of Torso, and I understand Lon was very pleased with how I’d framed his story. Chatting with him felt like a rare opportunity to get some insight into a lost time about which I’d had a lot of faulty assumptions—for one thing, he was not at all enthusiastic about “gay libbers.” Hmmm. I guess the gay-rights advocates alienated all the trade. But he was nonetheless heroic as an artist and as a gay man in that he openly practiced his art and his commerce, dealing with prison and harassment.
Since then, I’ve acquired some of Lon’s work, and I cherish the few pieces I have—after all, Lon himself had very, very few prints and negatives of his own work, some of which he’d kept in one storage trunk for decades. The bulk of his work was destroyed as pornography and no longer exists, and Lon himself died in December of 1999, so any time I see any of his creations still floating around I’m relieved.
Here is my original piece with no editing and its original title. I’d forgotten how much fun it was to write this.