He may not be a household name (even in gay households), but chances are you've gazed upon Lon of New York's work. A major figure in the post-World War II male physique photography boom, Lon's trailblazingly multicultural images graced the covers of many a muscle stud magazine like Superman and Strength and Health, and became huge favorites among gay collectors of the day.
Born Alonzo Hanagan in Massachusetts in 1911, Lon came to New York City in 1936, where he soon befriended gay neighbor and painter George Quaintance. Lon would later claim that in preparation for his first photo catalog in 1941, Quaintance painted "luminous leaves" directly onto the prints to remove hints of any naughty bits. Such humility and his steadfast refusal to shoot porn images unfortunately didn't save Lon from police raids, most tragically in 1961 when cops came to his Upper West Side home at 266 West End Avenue (between 72nd and 73rd Sts., and the former home of no less than Mae West, the ornate detailings of which sometimes appeared as backdrops to Lon's work) and brutally beat him and destroyed and/or confiscated every single piece of his work. Fortunately, Lon had locked some pieces in a trunk, but those few were the sole survivors of the raid. Devastated by the incident, Lon gave up photography for years.
Lon's excellence was rediscovered in the '80s and '90s by a new generation of gays, who appreciated his clear eye for Greco-Roman statuesque perfection. "I'd say, 'Now Sal, or Raul, or whoever, you're up there for one reason,'" Lon explained as a key to his work's quality in a 1999 Village Voice article. "You're there because you're an object of beauty. And you're supposed to think, I must be beautiful or I wouldn't be standing here. Keep that in mind and it'll come through in the pictures.'" Lon died at the ripe age of 87 in 1999, having earlier that same year finally had his first gallery show ever at Wessel + Connor (then on 26th St. in Chelsea, now in Brooklyn's DUMBO).
For a NSFW gallery of Lon of New York's portraits, click here.
A printed collection of his work, The Male Ideal: Lon of New York and the Masculine Physique, is available here.