Chuck Renslow and Kris Studio
Chuck Renslow was much more than a pioneering physique photographer. Publisher, entrepreneur, political activist and leatherman, he was at the forefront of the gay liberation movement in Chicago.
Starting in the early 1950s he founded or acquired at least two dozen businesses: Kris Studio, bars and discos, a health club and a bathhouse, magazines and newspapers, hotels, restaurants, and bookstores. He was also the founder of International Mr. Leather.
As a teenager, Renslow realized he was attracted to men. He displayed the courage to live as an openly gay man when it was too risky for most gay men to come out.
A member of his high school camera club, Renslow first pursued photography as a hobby. Eventually he opened a photo studio to supplement earnings from his day job at a drugstore. It evolved into Kris Studio, publishing catalogs and physique magazines (Triumph, Mars and The Rawhide Male) featuring Renslow’s photography and his partner, Dom Orejudos’ drawings (using the pseudonym “Etienne”).
Chuck and Dom proved to be a great team. Dom arranged the sets and poses; Chuck did the lighting and photography. Selecting models was a joint pleasure/responsibility.
In 1958 Renslow and Orejudos became owners of the Triumph Gym which provided a steady supply of muscular models who eagerly donned posing straps for him. It is reported, some eagerly took them off as well.
The same year, Kris Studio was raided and Renslow charged with sending obscene materials through the mails because his photos contained “excessive genital delineation.” This begs the question: “what is the ‘allowable’ amount of genital delineation in a photo? I’d like to have been on that jury.
Renslow later admitted they sometimes wet posing straps to accentuate the genitals they were intended to conceal. In a bold move, he fought the charges and was ultimately exonerated. In 1966 he was arrested again on obscenity charges; the case was dismissed.
Orejudos and Renslow remained together for 43 years until Dom's death in 1991 from complications from AIDS. Renslow died in 2017.