Towering photographs of Wil Blanche Unsung Hero of Photography, vintage sleaze
Unlike my first "Unsung Hero of Sleaze Photography" I can not provide Mr. Blanche's measurements, but don't let that stop you from appreciating his work. I suspect it was somewhat unusual for a Black man to take "glamour" photographs of white women in the late 1950s...and not only that, to publish them under his own name.
Nothing is more satisfying about constructing the vintage sleaze files than coming upon a lesser-known artist who never received the credit they deserve. Wil Blanche certainly fits the bill. A free-lancer most of his professional life, African-American Wil Blanche was brought to the United States from the West Indies by his parents around 1915.
Wil became a professional photographer by working for the New York newspaper PM, a leftist rag bankrolled by millionaire Marshal Field III. PM stood for "Picture Magazine" but it is notable for the pictures and much more. Attempting to be free of corporate interests, the paper refused advertising in their 8 year run from 1940 to 1948.
Blanche was in good company at the paper, other photographers who published work in PM were no less than Weegee and Margret Bourke-White. It also employed some notable cartoonists, including Coulton Waugh and Jack Sparling, not to mention Dr. Seuss. I. F. Stone wrote for them, Erskine Caldwell, McGeorge Bundy, James Thurber, Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway...no slouches these! Blanche had wonderful neighbors, even if the paper was just a commie rag, that is.
Following this, Blanche published in Look, Sports Illustrated, Ebony and others, creating his work in a studio he built himself in Thornwood, New York, a 48 minute train ride on the Harlem line.
The "vintage sleaze" connection came later in his career...Maybe the freedom he found outside of the city helped. He is quoted as saying his biggest problem was finding the right model. "She must have a wholesome personality, a desirable sex appeal, and above all, a healthy and shapely body." He made considerable use of light and shadows in his figure work (but not enough shadows for me to put the entire beautiful photographs in my g-rated blog...trust some of his work was revealing indeed! His glamour photographs appeared in Figure Magazine and I presume other publications. He was also published in the book "Beauty and the Camera" in 1957.
Blanche appears to have had one of the longest and widest careers of any photographer! Amazingly, some of his most notable work came late, as he was commissioned to photograph construction of the World Trade Center for the Documerica project from 1971 to 1977. Now these are some twin towers I CAN show!
Any young photography students looking for a thesis? I reckon Wil is ripe for the photo picking.