Never-before-exhibited early works of homoerotic artist Touko Laaksonen (better known to the world as Tom of Finland) can be seen in a new exhibition entitled The Darkroom at Fotografiska in New York City.
Produced in collaboration with the Tom of Finland Foundation and curated by Berndt Arell, The Darkroom contains some of the artist’s early photographic portraits that served as reference images for his later iconic illustrated works. Many of the photos on exhibit were hidden for years due to the illegality of homosexuality at the time, and much of the accompanying correspondence with the subjects was destroyed. The Darkroom premiered at Fotografiska Stockholm and is the must-see event of Pride Month in New York City, running at Fotografiska all the way through August 20.
Tom of Finland, Untitled (Val Martin), 1984, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1984-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation
"Being aware of what society had denied homosexuals, Tom went about creating the archetype of masculine homosexuals who participate freely together in sex — a decree from Nature herself," explains Durk Dehner, president and co-founder of the Tom of Finland Foundation. "Men knew instinctively that Tom drew with them in mind. Tom’s motives were nurturing, parental. He wanted men to grow up healthy and strong — in body and mind. He wanted to break the old cycles of self-doubt."
Tom of Finland, Untitled (Val Martin), 1984 Graphite on paper Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1984-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation
Tom of Finland influenced generations of the LGBTQ+ community through his work. His work celebrated masculinity with subjects who were muscular, overly endowed, and often clad in leather or the uniforms of authorities. His unabashed and highly stylized representations of the male form and masculinity oozed homoeroticism, and the early photographs on display now in The Darkroom exhibition at Fotografiska in New York allow the viewer to trace the evolution of his work.
Tom of Finland, Aarno, 1976, Silver Gelatin Print, 7.00_ x 9.75_, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1976-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation
Laaksonen was born in Kaarina, Finland, on May 8, 1920. He studied advertising in college but also drew homoerotic art in his spare time. He had to hide or destroy these drawings because of the anti-gay laws in Finland during this period. He was conscripted into the Finnish army during World War II, and his experiences with men in uniform during this time influenced his later works. After the war, he skirted censorship laws in the U.S. by catering to clients in search of more explicit work via private commission. Laaksonen as Tom of Finland became more mainstream and influential within the larger LGBTQ+ community once gay pornography and the depiction of male nudity were slowly decriminalized.
Tom of Finland, Tom Katt, 1984, Silver Gelatin Print, 7.00_ x 9.75_, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1984-2021 Tom of Finland Foundation
There is a raw and honest air to the early works on display in The Darkroom. Most of these uniformed and leather-clad subjects wrestling or relaxing in 1972 are not the highly stylized representations of hypermasculinity with overly bulging muscles and genitals of his later more iconic work, but it’s easy to see the creative ties between the different eras of his work.
Tom of Finland, Untitled (Model in A-shirt and jeans), c. 1986 Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection © 1986-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation
In addition to their contributions to The Darkroom, the Tom of Finland Foundation has also released Tom of Finland: The Official Life and Work of a Gay Hero by F. Valentine-Hooven, III. Hoover devotes an entire section to The Darkroom. You can also purchase special Tom of Finland ‘Quicky Sticky’ wallpaper (yes, real DIY wallpaper) and more at the Fotografiska store (www.shopfotografiskanyc.com).
The Darkroom exhibit is open to the public in New York City at Fotografiska now through August 20. You can learn more about the exhibit and purchase tickets at the Fotografiska website (www.fotografiska.com).
Tom of Finland, Untitled, 1977, Graphite on paper, 12.00_ x 8.00_, Tom of Finland Foundation Permanent Collection, © 1977-2020 Tom of Finland Foundation