Found footage is like a message in a bottle, floating through time and crashing onto the shores of your consciousness when you least expect it. And if that message contains nude pictures of buff military men, it becomes an affair for the ages.
Michael Stokes has recently released a coffee table pictorial entitled My Naked Soldier, and we can’t help but judge this book by its provocative cover. The source material scours the wounded majesty of the past, shining a smoldering spotlight on enlisted men from the World War I and World War II eras. My Naked Soldier is a culmination of Stokes’ life work, which elevates athleticism and bravado until they are on par with classical corporeal representation.
The male bonding on display in a Stokes photograph is so robust that the viewer can almost taste the sweat mingling on his models’ taut flesh. The flyboys of yesteryear were caught with their flies down, and now they are inspiring the frontline workers of today to follow suit.
And when the heroic deed of the moment is completed, the real fun begins. The same-sex canoodling in Stokes’ visuals captures the afterglow of the big game or the treacherous battle. No matter what these men have just endured, they can comfort one another and commiserate in the steamy aura of achievement.
The themes of My Naked Soldier echo from antiquity and rumble unapologetically into Stokes’ contemporary pieces. His subjects bristle with masculine vulnerability and thrive despite setbacks that shimmer on their unconventional physiques.
As the LGBTQ+ movement moves out of the shadows and into enlightenment, we can’t abandon the alluring memories left behind in the dark. Our taboo lineage made us who we are today, no matter how verboten our behavior may have been back then.
Michael Stokes offers us a passport to the past. Each photo represents a dangerous waltz between voyeur and exhibitionist. The images from My Naked Soldier were never meant to see the light of gay, which is exactly why they are so thoroughly enticing. We peer through a warped historical lens and find vintage versions of ourselves, nude and conflicted. Welcome to our collective destiny.
Photo: Instagram @michaelstokesphoto
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