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Opening night: Tom Kelley's Studio

Milk Gallery brought out the photography fanatic in all of us for the opening of Tom Kelley’s Studio, a presentation of the nude pinups of the eponymous godfather of the art form.

Released in tandem with the gallery show is a book of over 200 never before seen prints by the legendary photographer, a labor of love made possible through the work of his son, Tom Kelley, Jr., the archivist of the project. Kelley said that this exhibit, as well as the accompanying text, is “like a museum, like highlights from the archives.”

Drawing from the photographers enormous collection, which Kelley, Jr. said would “literally take weeks to go through,” the gallery displayed various highlights of his pinup series which spans from the mid 1940’s to the mid 1970’s, acting as an interactive guide through America’s cultural history told through the female form. The brightly hued photographs were stark splashes of color that commanded attention from every angle of the gallery, with their nude subjects hovering like classical Greek sculpture around the room, beckoning us in with their seductive allure yet simultaneously desexualized, proudly displaying the vulnerability and sheer aesthetic wonder of their physiques.

While most filters would be quick to identify the series as ‘NSFW,’ they are the antithesis of distasteful. The book’s publisher, Tony Nourmand, explained how fantastic the reaction to the collection has been. “A lot of nudes these days are very offensive to women, but a lot of the women that have walked in here and seen these tend to like them fare more than any of the men have. These are all real women, and though it wasn’t that long ago you never see women look like this anymore. It’s truly fascinating.”

Indeed it seemed that all of the guests were entranced by the photographs, lost in the call of these sirens from a lost age. A crowd gathered in front of every individual piece as if it were a shrine, with a full-blown throng that remained transfixed around Kelley’s kingmaking portrait of a pre-frame Marilyn Monroe. Smooth jazz permeated from the speakers as guests roamed the halls, if smoking were permitted inside it would have been like stepping to a noir film.

Kelley’s refined classicism of a style too often considered lewd helped remind the audience that it is indeed an art form. “I just think it’s about time people saw these” Kelley, Jr. said. We could not possibly agree more.

Tom Kelley’s Studio runs from October 1 through November 2 at Milk Gallery. (Weekdays 10AM-6pm, Weekends 11AM-6:30PM)

You can still enter to win a copy of the book Tom Kelley’s Studio here

Photography by Mitchell Mclennan

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