As a selection of Tom of Finland’s photographs go on show, his friends, lovers, and models provide an oral history of the man behind the myth
Those who had the pleasure of meeting Tom of Finland (born Touko Valio Laaksonen, 1920–1991) may have expected to encounter a walking, talking version of his drawings. Instead, they would have been greeter by a gentle soul, whose Finnish upbringing made him a quiet and reserved individual, who would easily slip into the fantasy world of his homoerotic drawings for hours at a time.
“If you know Finns, and most people don’t, they can be quite quiet,” says Durk Dehner, president of Tom of Finland Foundation. “When I first went to Finland, Tom set up a cocktail party for me at his apartment. His friends started coming while he was arranging cocktails and preparing hors d’oeuvres. We were all sitting in the living room and nobody was saying a word. I was so uncomfortable, I went into the kitchen and said, ‘When are they going to start talking?’ He said, ‘Give them one more drink and they will,’ and that was the case. Of course six hours later I went into the kitchen and said, ‘When are they going to go home?’ That’s Finns in a nutshell.”
Although Tom was unassuming, he was confident and determined to create works of art that would empower and inspire gay men at a time when homosexuality – and very the depiction of it – was criminalised, stigmatised, and misrepresented. Tom’s groundbreaking drawings of bikers and leathermen, which he made from photographs now on view in the new exhibition Tom of Finland: The Darkroom, revolutionised the portrayal of gay men forevermore. “He wanted his history to be in his art,” Dehner says. And so it was – but still many wish to know, what was Tom of Finland really like? Here his friends, lovers, and models reminisce on the man behind the myth.
Tom of Finland: The Darkroom is on view at Fotografiska New York until 20th August 2021.
The Tom of Finland biography by F. Valentine Hooven
Published: 18th May 2021Tags: #TomOfFinland101, AnOther, Durk Dehner, Luke Daniel, Miss Rosen, Peter Berlin, The Darkroom, Valentine Hooven