Trebuchet magazine called John Palatinus “perhaps one of the last living male physique photographers of the 1950s,” and with his passing the community loses an artist and a connection to an important, pre-Stonewall era of gay life.
A fantastic writeup on the life of the iconic photographer for The Desert Sun says that Palatinus was born in 1929 and raised in Indiana. Before his photography career, he served in the US Corps of Army Engineers during the Korean War. He started photographing male bodybuilders in 1954, often friends who wished to document their athletic progress: “Early on, he said he realized the images had a ‘certain amount of art in there.’”
Due to his successful work for physique magazine Tomorrow’s Man, he was investigated by the US Postal Service and police for sending explicit photos through the mail, which was a criminal offence. While he was arrested and went to trial in 1961, he was allowed to go free as he’d spent a night in jail when he was first arrested. Much of his work was lost when police raided his studio and seized negatives and other property.
Palatinus largely left male physique work behind after his arrest and trial, though he later found out there was a resurgence of interest in his work. After he moved to Palm Springs in 2002, he learned about the blog of a male physique photo collector that featured Palatinus’s work. He reached out to the collector and began showing his work in 2009, to exceptional popularity.
“When I was in court in 1959, the judge said: ‘by today’s standards it is considered pornography but who knows? In 50 years’ time it may be considered art’ and that really is true,” he told Trebuchet.
Palatinus died Sept 22; he was 85.