Tom Nicoll + Tom of Finland

2nd May 2015, 8:04 pm

Tom of Finland’s most active contact in Great Britain was the physique photographer Tom Nicoll. They were put in touch by Bob Mizer, who frequently published both men’s works. When Nicoll invited him to visit London, Tom quickly took him up on the offer. Under the name “Scott,” Nicoll was an early proponent of the leather scene and he had a studio, appropriately on Leather Lane Street, where his photographs of muscles and motorcycles did much to create and popularize the biker image. Nicoll commissioned some thirty drawings from Tom based on a combination of both their fantasies.


TOM NICOLL, Self-photograph, c.1964

Encouraged by Nicoll, Tom bought his first black leather jacket in London, but Nicoll made an even more lasting impact on Tom’s output by convincing him to start working from live models and photographs instead of just his imagination. On sunny days during Tom’s visits, the two of them would go to Hyde Park and look for fresh material. Tom was impressed with Nicoll’s willingness to approach a muscular stranger.

He would go right up to this beautiful guy sunbathing on the grass and ask him to pose naked and every time—every time—the guy would say yes! I could never do that. Of course, it helped that Tom Nicoll was himself so beautiful.

(Nicoll confides that his secret was to check out the bathing suit. If it was tight and skimpy, the man would pose nude. “Absolutely foolproof,” he insists.)

Once Tom began using photographs in the creation of his drawings the improvement was so dramatic that he seldom went back to drawing totally from imagination. Using photographs did create one problem: he had to get actual live men to pose for them somehow. Slowly, shyly, and only if the circumstances were exactly right, he began to ask men whom he thought handsome and well-built to pose for him. To his naive surprise, when he approached them and said, “Hi, my name is Tom of Finland. Would you pose for me?” they always said yes.

Tom loved the feeling of freedom and acceptance that he had in Chelsea and Soho—the arty bohemian areas of London. He could never feel that way in Helsinki. He began to consider moving to England permanently. He even developed a “Tom of London” logo. Then Tom Nicoll announced plans to immigrate to America. To the detriment of physique photography, he closed down Scott Studios in 1965 and moved to San Francisco. Tom abandoned his plans to move, although London retained its place at the head of his travel list for many years.

Tom of Finland: Life and Work of a Gay Hero by F. Valentine Hooven


Published: 2nd May 2015

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