Roy Blakey resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where he works as a commercial photographer and shares a studio space with his niece, photographer Keri Pickett. His first book of photographs, HE, was a landmark collection of male nudes which he self-published in 1972. He is a former professional figure skater and the founder and curator of The IceStage Archive, the preeminent private collection of rare and important ephemera and memorabilia documenting the colorful worldwide history of theatrical skating. He is also an avid collector of Asian art and antiquities with a particular love of the cultures of Thailand and Japan.
Master of Light and Shadow
I remember very clearly the first time I saw a photograph by Roy Blakey. It was the fall of 1979, and I had just entered The University of Tennessee as a freshman. While working on a paper for a class, looking for back issues of a magazine in the university’s Hoskins Library, I found a series of bound volumes of After Dark. I’d never seen or heard of the magazine, but as soon as I opened the first volume from the early 1970s, I was captivated. In one issue, a photograph showed a beautifully lit frontal nude of a gorgeous man with tousled blonde hair, kneeling, arms up. He was looking directly into the camera, unashamed. It was an advertisement for Roy ’s book of male nudes, HE.
Published in 1972, HE was a groundbreaking book. Male nudes had by then appeared in other photography books – including those by Kenn Duncan, George Hester, Skrebneski and David Vance – but always published alongside female nudes. Blakey’s book, devoted solely to male nudes, stood in stark relief.
This was a bold step for a man who’d grown up in tiny Enid, Oklahoma. At an early age – while watching a film starring the legendary ice champion Sonja Henie and her company of skaters – Roy was profoundly struck with the wonder of ice skating. He began a scrapbook of articles about ice shows and wrote to famous skaters for autographed photos. Determined to skate, but without an ice rink nearby, Roy became a champion roller skater. After graduating from Enid High School in 1948, he enrolled as a commercial arts major at the University of Tulsa – near a rink where he could finally train on ice.
Drafted into the U.S. Army in 1952, Roy was stationed in Germany as a mail clerk for an anti-aircraft unit. He achieved the rank of corporal, and bought his first good camera in the PX there, snapping pictures during his three-day passes. In 1954, after two years of mandatory military service, Roy joined the ice skating show at the Casa Carioca nightclub in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany. He returned to the United States in 1956 and joined the ice revue of the elegant Boulevard Room at Chicago’s Conrad Hilton Hotel. He also took his first courses in photography and housed a makeshift darkroom in his hotel bathroom. In 1961, he joined the company of Holiday on Ice and subsequently performed in nearly 40 countries on extended tours through Europe, Russia, the Far East and Latin America – always with his camera and darkroom in tow.
Retiring from the frozen stage in 1967, Roy stopped in New York for a three-day visit that stretched into 25 glorious years. He and his makeshift darkroom took up residence in a loft above Billy’s Topless on Sixth Avenue, where a host of entertainment stars and hopefuls ascended the stairs to his studio to have their photographs taken. All the while, Roy was creating the masterfully lighted male nudes that comprise this collection, some of which were included in HE.
Flash forward. Nearly 20 years after I became aware of Roy’s work, not only did I eventually find a copy of HE for myself; ultimately, I found Roy Blakey, as well. One night while checking my E-mail, I searched the AOL member directory and found a match in Minneapolis, Minnesota. I drafted a brief note stating that if the recipient was the famous photographer of male nudes, I was a fan of his work, and that I believed it deserved to be exhibited and published again. A reply came back to me the next day, and our friendship began.
Over the next several years, I made a number of trips to Minneapolis to work with Roy, unearthing the gems you see here. Not only have we worked shoulder-to-shoulder – we’ve become dear friends. He has been exceedingly kind in crediting me for what he calls his "resurrection,” but none of this would have been possible without Roy’s unique vision, his passion behind the camera and his skills in the darkroom. He is, after all, not only the creator of these images, but also the magician who has brought them to life on paper. I consider myself fortunate to be the magician’s assistant.
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