Athlete/Warrior (2006) is a book of large-format photography by Jonathan Anderson and Edwin Low. The subjects are U.S. military cadets who also play sports for their academies. There are a couple of girls tossed in as ringers, but this is homoeroticism plainly descended from Riefenstahl’s Olympia. In a previous era, I was going to write a book on a related subject, so believe me when I say the most stunning photographs in Athlete/Warrior are of the academy buildings. Anderson and Low are superb architectural photographers and may not even know it.

A noticeably high proportion of photographs centre around aquatics, gymnastics, and wrestling. (And noticeably few depict football players clad helmet to cleat in the red-blooded-American version of the burqa.)

I could not figure out what is happening in these photographs of water-polo players:

Black-and-white photo of five men in black swimsuits and water-polo helmets

Look not too very closely. I know that water polo, despite its twee little name, is a vicious sport that requires nearly unparallelled cardiovascular ability. They beat the shit out of each other underneath the water’s surface, and common is the lore that everyone wears more than one swimsuit just in case. I fondly remember walking alongside the pool at Gay Games IV inches away from an active water-polo game. I feel I am not totally ignorant of the actual practice of the sport.

But: Tell me those guys don’t have stiffies. Or that this guy doesn’t (also seen in Anderson and Lowe’s Flash portfolio).

Front and back photographs of a man in a black swimsuit and a water-polo helmet labelled AF

The volume and angles just are not consistent with multiple Speedos or even a reinforced cup under there. I’ve tried every other innocent explanation and nothing works.

I wasn’t going to just make an assumption. I contacted the photographers and two of the athletes in the photographs. The photographers refused to respond, and one of the players provided the following impassioned denunciation:

No, we don’t have stiffies. We’re water-polo players and respectable servicemen. There was nothing odd about the thing, we’ve already lost a teammate and my best friend in the war in Iraq and I’d appreciate a little more respect than to ask us if this was some f’d up sexual thing. That you guys put this on some blog and make disgusting comments about us pisses us off – it’s not flattering… It was one of our prouder moments to think that Anderson and Lowe were interested in promoting military athletes and you guys have… ruined Anderson and Lowe’s respectability by suggesting it was somehow sexual.

I don’t know, guy. You’re the one with what looks very much like a hard-on in the picture. It’s not “sexual.” I’m sure it was purely accidental that the photographers ended up with a book full of semiclothed guys. Obviously it just turned out that way, since elite athletes lose their shirts when photographed for publication.

Inexplicable, unless one goes with the obvious explanation.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2008.07.19 11:45. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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None. I quit.

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