Zurich was a city for artists and exiles when Karlheinz Weinberger was born there in 1921, the place where Lenin finished his essay “Imperialism, the Highest Stage of Capitalism” a few years earlier and that would be dubbed “Red Zurich” a few years later, becoming a center for left-wing agitation and a site of barely repressed sexual countercultures well after WWII. Here, Karlheinz, a factory worker at Siemens-Albis, would pick up a camera and spend his free time taking thousands of photographs of working men and young rebels over decades, becoming a pioneer of homoerotic photography who prefigured many of today's gay male fetish archetypes like leather men and rocker boys, joining the likes of George Platt Lynes and Bob Mizer on the pages of Der Kreis, the Swiss homosexual magazine where he published his photographs under the pseudonym Jim.

His photography of the sporting world dates back to the 1940s, when he began photographing the Zurich Athletics Sports Association. For the openly gay photographer, the camera was a pass into a world of rebels and rockers, where men openly expressed themselves beyond the confines of bourgeois society, but his freelance photography career also let him into the world of bodybuilders, wrestlers, weightlifters, and football players drenched in pools of tension and sweat.

“Sports especially interested Weinberger and formed a heterogeneous area, where the physicality unfolded and was visibly and erotically charged,” says curator Patrik Schedler. “As sports and fitness became commercialised and erotically neutralised, Weinberger lost interest in them. From then on, he focused on the rockers, to whom he remained photographically loyal until his death.”

Karlheinz did not abandon sport photography for good. In 1962, he began photographing for Satus, a Swiss workers’ sport federation that had been committed to socialism and internationalism and promoted working class sports since the turn of the 20th century, visiting noteworthy sporting events at home and abroad. He captured leather-clad biker boys at the 1962 East Germany Motorcycle Grand Prix in Sachsenring and weightlifters and bodybuilders at the 1966 Kraftsport-Kulturistik-Europe and World Championships in East Berlin, and his photos appeared in the Satus magazine, but some, particularly ones of half-naked young wrestlers on and off the mat, made their way to underground gay publications like Club 68, founded in 1967 by a small group of the former Der Kreis team.

Workers’ sport organizations like Satus were critical of bourgeois sport culture, especially its commitment to commercialisation and close links to military and right-wing paramilitary organisations. They provided pro-worker services during strikes, gave people access to activities like skiing that were usually accessible only to the upper classes, and advocated for “socialist” sport practice including collective, non-competitive group events. They were always found at May Day demonstrations and international Workers’ Olympiads. The workers' sport movement was also committed to the emancipation of women, and welcomed relatively high numbers of women in their organizations, many of which had unisex uniforms as early as the 1920s. It was because of these political commitments that Satus had their federal funding pulled in 1933 following a campaign by the Vaterländischer Verband (Swiss Patriotic Association), a right-wing, anti-communist vigilante organization that informed police, attacked strikes, maintained a good relationship with Nazi Germany, and opposed the growing “degeneracy” of homosexuality.

Homocommunist, June 10, 2023