Don Whitman: Wrestling Series (vintage)
Don Whitman: Western Photography Guild Wrestling Series
Vintage photograph 1950s
5×7″ vintage photo, image is lightly toned on beautiful lightly textured photo paper with light gloss, image is matted in archival paper die cut mat and backing boards to 8×10″ ready to frame- a strong print from WPG, a male nude sketch is also on the backside of the image with “wrestling series 11 #1 included.
Western Photograpy Guild began offering thier original physique photographs in1947. These unique images, many made outdoors in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, were well received from the start. The creative force behinde the studio was Don Whitman. Don served in in the Navy during world war two. Upon returning to his native Colorado, he began working as an accountant. Don was inspired by a physique model that he met during the war, that there might be a future in the physique photography business. He placed an ad in the local newspaper for models. The response from models was good, and Western started off with 12 handsome models and 12 sets of photographs offered in April of 1947.
The response from photo collectors was also good, and the studio continued to photograph new models and add to its offerings. As the golden age of physique photography dawned in the 1950’s Western Photography Guild was doing very well. In 1950 Don co-founded the Mr. Colorado Contest to create a showcase for physical culture in the Rocky Mountain Region. Don served as the director of the contest from 1950-1972. Many of the contest participants went on to be models for Western Photography Guild. During this time, Whitman came into his own as a skilled photographer. This along with a careful selection of models and the beautiful Rocky Mountains of Colorado as a backdrop, allowed Whitman to compete with more well established studios such as Lon Hanagan of New York, and Bob Mizer’s Athletic Model Guild in California.
The studio flurished throughout the 1950’s and on into the 1960’s. Tragedy struck hard in June of 1965, when the South Platte River in Denver over-flowed its banks during a powerful June storm. The flood caused serious damage to the WPG studio which was close to the river. Much of the equipment was ruined. Many of the negatives were covered in mud and could never be printed from again. Don, along with the help of his family, employees and even some of the models began the daunting task of cleaning up the mess and saving and restoring what they could. Despite this serious blow, the studio moved forward and for the most part recovered. No doubt though, some really beautiful and unique imges were lost forever.
In 1968 the laws concerning the mailing of frontal nude images were changed. It was now possible to photograph models without using a posing strap or clever concealment of thier genitals. To a large degree Whitmans photographs from this period retain the artistic approach that made his earlier work so popular.
Don was well liked by most of the models he worked with, and many of them remained lasting friends for the rest of his life. I believe this aspect of Whitman comes through in his photographs which are almost entirely appericiative rather then exploitive. Western Photography Guild continued to photograph new models into the early 1980’s. The studio closed in 1989, with prints still available through mail order for a couple of years. The result is a truly amazing body of work, that spans more then 40 years of the male nude in the 20th centruy. Don passed away in 1998. His family and friends miss him a great deal.