“A young God you were, yet a rascal. / A paviour from the lowest class. / Laughing out loud, you hammered small tiles // Into the street, among other tearaways.” This is how Gerrit Komrij’s poem “Endymion” starts. Throughout the centuries, this mythological figure is mostly depicted as a sleeping male beauty (and Komrij’s last stanza also refers to this eternal sleep: “Someday, the earth will slowly well up from your mouth”) but traditionally, Endymion was a hunter or shepherd - someone who had to work hard to make ends meet.
Komrij certainly was not the only gay man sensitive to the virile attraction of men doing physical labor. Over the past fifty years, an extensive gay-erotic-fantasy world was created, both visually and in writing. A world in which boys and men from the working class, in the broadest sense, took the lead. Komrij published his ode to the road worker in 1978. But six years earlier, for example, writer-illustrator Sean had already given a pornographic tribute to orgiastic excesses of a group of construction workers in his exuberant story “Hardhat Sex” with an abundance of full-page illustrations.
And in 1976, director Joe Gage (pseudonym of Tim Kincaid) produced his legendary film “Kansas City Trucking Co.,” with roles for porn legends Richard Locke en Jack Wrangler. This production, followed by the films “El Paso Wrecking Corp.” (1978) and “L.A. Tool & Die” (1979) - would become famous as the “Working Man Trilogy.” In the following decades, construction workers, truckers and other workers were portrayed as sex objects for gay men.
Photographer Marc Martin is a twenty-first century exponent of this movement. Martin has captured impressions of the - often subconscious - erotic aura of workers in the workplace in his recently published “Dur Labeur.” In this book Martin writes: “Our popular culture demands that men [...] be objects of desire, conscious of their own charm and their potential for attraction. The city dweller, rich in avatars, hyper-connected, the perfect body, sporting a beard too, is currently the paragon. The workman in his safety helmet, is not in the running. But he does it for me.”
Marc Martin was born and grew up in the north of France, but lives in Paris. However, many of the photos were made in Berlin with “real drains from Berlin,” as Carsten Bauhaus recently reported with true Berliner chauvinism on Siegessäule.de. He adds: “The photographer Marc Martin lives in perfumed Paris. It is no wonder he is frequently drawn to proletarian Berlin, where at best, people are indifferent when it comes to scent.
Various nights in the Berliner Lab [“Lab-oratory” in full, a ground-breaking queer fetish club in Berlin, Ed.] have dirty themes. But for all the other parties here as well, the rule is: ‘No perfume.’ By contrast, natural exhalations are very welcome, preferably somewhat bad and well permeated.”
Since photos are usually odorless, it will remain a mystery whether the men photographed by Martin really didn’t bath in Old Spice and remained true to their natural scent. The point of Bauhaus’ digression however is that in a man who didn’t shower thoroughly, the chance of discerning sexual fragrances is much higher, and precisely that natural, unabashed virility is the subject of Martin’s photos.
In “Dur Labeur” Martin states: “To my eye, real virility is not found in images of genitalia. Proudly displaying a hard penis does not define a man. Nor does the image of a resting cock free it from a pornographic context. For me, the eroticism of the male body is always looming in its contours and its confrontations.” Somewhat later, he adds: “The stereotypical attitudes of boys who define themselves as heterosexual, but whose behavior betrays homo-erotic overtones, produces an ambiguity which fascinates me. It totally informs the way I shoot. My images are infused with the manly aesthetic of the single man and his actions. I love the framework of the solitary subject. Paradoxically, sex-scenes inspire me far less. Sex on sex saturates one’s attention and leaves no room for anything else.” These remarks perfectly summarize the content of “Dur Labeur.”
Many photos show individual men, and if a naked cock is visible, it is not the focus of the composition. Even when men are depicted together and are fondling each other, it is often not clear whether they are just horsing around, or act in an erotic context, although for example the photo “Oil Warning” does show two men covered by oil kissing each other.
Marc Martin’s photos, published in a print run of five copies, were exhibited last autumn at Gallery Koll and Friends in Berlin and until January 31st at Gallery Au Bonheur de Jour in Paris. Those who are not attracted by groomed urbanites with stylized muscles and hair, but are interested in unbridled masculinity, can only hope for a Dutch gallery clearing space for Martin’s virile working class Gods.
Meanwhile, they will have to settle for the book “Dur Labeur.” This hardcover book has 160 pages and was published in a limited edition by Pig Prod. The book is available at Amazon.fr, gay book store Prinz Eisenherz in Berlin and at Gallery Au Bonheur du Jour in Paris.