The great Eugen Sandow was not the first bodybuilder, but he was the first to bring the sport to the masses. Sandow was the one who made it somehow alright to set a framed picture of a naked man on your parlor piano. After all, he was a Vaudeville star! Collectors Weekly talked to David L. Chapman, who wrote several books on the history of bodybuilding and male physique photography about Eugen Sandow and his legacy.
Collectors Weekly: Do you think the risqué quality drew people to his shows?
Chapman: I think you can be absolutely sure that was the main reason people went to see him. He was a good-looking guy, and he had the total package: He had a great face and skin and muscles. And people had never quite seen anything like it, so they were amazed.
As far as the nudity is concerned, he was never fully naked onstage, but in photographs he certainly was. Sandow established the vocabulary of physique photography that was carried on until the ’50s and ’60s. As long as the hunk was posed like a statue, you could get away with it. If he was posed in a more provocative style, then it was considered pornography. You had to be careful. There was a thin line you had to tread.
Sandow's career gave rise to fitness publications, a phenomenon that catered to both aspiring athletes and bodybuilders and to gay porn aficionados. Read the rest of the interview with Chapman at Collectors Weekly.
(Image: courtesy of David Chapman)