James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Archives April 2010: A Well Developed Body of Work

Photographs of physique model Tony Sansone

In July 2009, the Hormel Center received a small box from an anonymous donor. It contained 20 black and white photographs and a small book titled Rhythm (Brooklyn, NY: 1935). The photos and book feature beautiful studies of Anthony (Tony) J. Sansone, a physique model and dancer.

A letter accompanying the donation explained that Leonard Laton once owned the book and photographs and gave them to the donor for safe-keeping in the 1950s. Unfortunately, the donor lost track of Laton. Now, decades later, he has sent the material to the Hormel Center in Laton's name. The donor describes Laton as a German Jewish gay man who “escaped the Nazi holocaust, fled to Canada and then established citizenship in the United States. He was a gentle, intelligent, cultured person, interested in photography, and nature particularly horticulture.”

Collections of male physique photographs are not uncommon in the papers of gay men. This collection contains 20 black and white photographs of Tony Sansone; most are nudes and 10 images are reprinted in Rhythm. One photo is inscribed: “For Leonhard Laton, with every friendly wish, Tony Sansone, 1955.”

A protégé of Charles Atlas, Sansone was a much sought-after model for photographers and artists during the late 1920s and 1930s. He worked extensively with Edwin Townsend, Achille Volpe and, in later years, worked some with Lon of New York. Townsend and Sansone collaborated on Modern Classics (1929) and Rhythm (1935). The introduction to Rhythm is by the sculptor Arthur Lee and includes photographs of Lee's bronze sculpture of Sansone.

Sansone became a gym owner in New York. For a complete biography, see John Massey's American Adonis: Tony Sansone, the first male physique icon (New York: Universe, 2004). Massey's book places Sansone within the context of the burgeoning physical culture of the early 20th century.

The Leonard Laton Collection of Anthony (Tony) J. Sansone Photographs (GLC 62) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library.

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