David L. Chapman is the author of 12 books on male photography and bodybuilding, including American Hunks (2009). But it turns out musclemen aren't purely an American or even Western phenomenon. Chapman shows through his collection of hunks from over 70 countries—from Zulu warriors to Japanese acrobats and Indian bodybuilders—that men like muscles (and for others to admire them) around the globe. We selected some of the images that helped with the discourse on sexuality and homosexuality in the late 19th and early 20th centuries that, as Douglas Brown explains in the book's Foreward, "musclemen and their photographers created images that seem to confound categorization and were created because they were desirable."
The Sokol (gymnastics) movement was started in 1862 to encourage Slavic youths in Austria-Hungary to build their bodies and celebrate their roots. Like many Continental systems, it was not based on competition but rather on cooperation and mass drills took the place of games and contests. In this postcard from 1911, the young boy and girl clearly admire the physique of their discuss-carrying mentor.
Japanese photographer Tamotsu Yato (1925?-73) took thousands of photos between '65-'66 and published them in Young Samurai in '67. Novelist Yukio Mishima (1925-'70) wrote an eloquent introduction to the book in which he states that Yato was a bodybuilder himself who "knows the quintessence of the muscle." Mishimo and Yato were at the center of a new gay culture in Japan in the post-war years that turned away from femininity and softness and embraced hard muscularity and hyper-manliness. Bodybuilding was at the core of this new outlook, and Mishima posed boldly himself.
Born in Dorpat, Estonia, he moved to St. Petersburg to pursue immortality. After a long and hugely successful career, he settled in London, where he died. This "rope-puller" pose is one of his best, since it shows off his muscularity as well as his grace.
Arguably the greatest of all Egyptian lifters of the early 20th century was El Sayed Mohammed Nosseir (1905-'77). His thick, muscular physique allowed him to win the gold in the light heavyweight class and his country's first gold medal at the 1928 Amsterdam Olympic Games. According to Canadian bodybuilding official Ben Weider, Nosseir was second in popularity among Egyptians only to King Farouk—and many would have put him first.
According to The Straits Times, Tay Teo Chuan had "one of the most beautifully defined physiques ever seen in Singapore," and he won the Mr. Singapore title in 1949 and '50. His superb physique and fine posing abilities helped make him a star in Asian bodybuilding. He even appeared on the cover of the British magazine Health and Strength in 1951.
Dharwad, in the Karnataka region of Southwest India, is where K.G. Nadgir (shown here around 1935) decided to start his College of Physical Culture. It is still in existence, and it draws pupils from the many schools and universities that dot the city.
Barbados native Earl Maynard's (b. 1935) career spanned bodybuilding, wrestling, and films. He left the Caribbean in 1955 for England, where he completed his education as a physiotherapist. Like many men with beautiful physiques, Maynard posed for photos and this one was taken by the Royale Studios of London in the late '50s. He won the Mr. Universe in 1964 and '65.
Turkish oil wrestling is as popular today as it was 300 years ago. In this publicity photo, actor Tarik Akan (b. 1949) (stage name Tarik Uregul) poses as the wrestler Bilal in the 1984 film Pehlivan (Wrestler). In the film, wrestling becomes a metaphor for the difficult position that many Turks find themselves in, suspended uncomfortably between the modern and traditional worlds.
The first Mr. Israel contest was held in 1950. This man, Joseph Arsoony, aged 24, won the contest in 1965. He is clearly proud of his arms and shoulders and has devised an unusual pose to show them off.
Stereoviews have been popular since the mid-19th century. When seen through special lenses, they produce a 3-D effect. Risque or pornographic pictures could put the viewer "into the action." The homoerotic appeal of this example from late 19th-century Germany must have been unmistakable to all but the most obtuse.