- Comin' at Ya! The Homoerotic 3-D Photographs of Denny Denfield
Lloyd 'Denny' Denfield (1918-92) of San Francisco was a nondescript accountant by day, a retiring bachelor who was known as a mama's boy. Denny made his mark through his avocation, a secretive obsession with photographing the male nude.
As David L. Chapman explains in the introduction to Comin at Ya! Denfield's obsession was sparked during his wartime career in the South Pacific when he witnessed a group of handsome marines strip naked and jump into a jungle stream. This event crystallized his gay feelings as well as a conscious desire somehow to record the fleeting beauty of manhood.
Denfield began to experiment with cameras and photography almost as soon as he returned to civilian life, determined to become a master photographer 'in order to record the transient beauty of as many male bodies as he could.' Technique was learned through trial and error, and by searching out and befriending major physique photographers of the day, including Bruce Bellas (Bruce of Los Angeles), Lon Hanagan (Lon of New York), Douglas Juleff (Douglas of Detroit), and Bob Mizer (Athletic Model Guild). The world of gay photography at mid-century was small, secretive, and illegal. Denfield was able to avoid arrest for selling nude photographs by simply being a devoted amateur who never intended to sell his images. His collection was private and was kept safely locked away.
Denny Denfield had no trouble finding willing subjects to photograph. Some of these men were well-known physique models, most were friends [End Page 454] or even strangers. A devoted naturist, Denfield would often be seen in summertime during the mid-1950s strolling San Francisco's most prominent nude beach, wearing only the cameras that dangled from his neck. There he would scout for likely subjects, who were most cooperative. Some of these men were also invited to indoor photo parties at Denfield's home (when mother was away), and, later, to a large, isolated party house in Marin County.
Comin at Ya! focuses on one aspect of Denfield's photographic oeuvre. In 1947 a remarkable new camera was introduced. The Stereo Realist was a compact, easy-to-use 3-D camera that produced vivid, life-like Kodachrome stereoview slides. It was Bob Mizer who encouraged Denfield to take up stereo photography in 1954, which he did with a vengeance. He took thousands of Realist stereoviews; Denfield once claimed that he took stereoviews of 1,500 men before he stopped counting. Some of these surviving stereoviews are displayed in this book, 177 full-colour figures in all, with a hand-held 3-D viewer inserted in a pouch at the back. The result is a spectacular feast of vibrant and highly erotic images, enhanced greatly by the 'pop-up,' in-your-face effect produced by using the viewer. And what makes these images so exciting and rare is that they are unique: they have never been reproduced before.
Thomas Waugh's foreword characterizes Denfield as a type of 'talented but tormented' gay artist common to the pre-Stonewall gay erotic underground. Although Denfield was never arrested for his photographic hobby, the pursuit was not without dangers. In 1951 thieves broke into the trunk of his car and stole a large number of his best slides. In 1965, he was beaten and robbed after a party. By 1968, after years of heavy drinking, smoking, and riotous living, Denfield's health was ruined and his photographic career was over. Although Denfield lived another twenty-four years, he gradually abandoned all ties to his old friends and associates and turned away from his former gay life.
Original gay pornographic photographic images from the mid-twentieth century are rare, and it is remarkable that so many of Denfield's stereoviews have survived. At his death in 1992, Denfield willed his entire photographic archive to a former friend, who looked after it until his own sudden death in 2004. The collection was then broken up and...