A Levinstein street hustler

(Focused on stud hustlers, with one really racy but not X-rated photo, and text that manages to talk about the male genitals and man-on-man sex entirely in decorous language. But still, it’s about stud hustlers, so not to everyone’s taste.)

Encountered through a Pinterest posting, this photo of a young street hustler from a 2010 exhibition of Leon Levinstein’s urban photography:

(#1) Street Scene: Young Man Leaning against Shopfront Window, from 1972

Now, about the exhibition, and then about this hustler and his presentation of himself.

The exhibition. From the artblart site (verbatim):

exhibition: ‘hipsters, hustlers, and handball players: leon levinstein’s new york photographs, 1950-1980’ at the metropolitan museum of art, new york city (exhibition dates: 8th June – 17th October 2010)

with a note by Marcus Bunyan:

Although taken in the same city at around the same period as the work of Helen Levitt, these photographs by Leon Levinstein have less formality in their composition and definitely possess a more eclectic style evidenced by the dissection and placement of bodies within the image frame. This is not to denigrate either artist but merely to observe how two great photographers can see the same city in totally different ways. In both previsualisation was strong, the camera freezing what is placed before the lens in a balletic display that captured “just what you see.”

The street hustler context. First, there is a Page on this blog about my postings on male prostitution. The two most recent postings:

from 8/31/21, “A stone solid pro”: on street hustlers, with an illustrative Daily Jocks ad, on urban photographers showing street hustlers

(#2) From “A stone solid pro”: An attenuated version of the archetypical hustler pose, merely approximating it: his left leg is bent at the knee, but not up against the wall; but then, his jacket is open to display his torso

from 1/10/22, “Hustle and trick: the cruise pose”, on poses used by street hustlers; and on documentaries on street hustling. The archetypical pose is this one:

(#3) On the prowl: the gay pornographer’s fantasy stud hustler, heavily influenced by Tom of Finland’s hypersexual characters

The social and semiotic organization of street hustling. In the real world, there are situations where a hustler can in fact offer his body for sale pretty much as flagrantly as in #3, where he’s openly on the market for anyone to see. Famously, on some of the boulevards of Los Angeles, where there’s virtually no street traffic or surrounding urban street life, so it’s an open meat market for buyers in cars to shop. What’s going on is entirely clear to everyone.

But most urban hustling is embedded in the rich fabric of street life, where the hustler’s task is to communicate his availability clearly to potential johns while not alerting other people (who might reasonably be annoyed or offended) to what’s going on: the trick is to fashion ways of presenting yourself as a desirable sexual partner and your body as available for sale in ways that a only a john will clearly recognize — in the secret code of hustling, you might say, a code both men understand — while otherwise just looking like a guy lounging on the street, while city life streams around and past you.

(Things can go wrong, of course, in a variety of ways. Your signals can be too subtle. You can be too obtrusive. Or you might not pitch to the right audience; I once encountered a young man on a city street I thought was hustling, but it turned out he was selling dope, not his body.)

The young man in #1. His pose is subtle enough that it would easily not be noticed by passers-by. No visible package, torso fully covered — though the hands-in-pockets stance is one way of  calling attention to your package (which is, after all, what’s on sale here), since you can be seen as cradling it with your hands.

Then his face. First thing: his gaze is averted, to the side, not directly confronting the viewer (which might be seen as too challenging). Just as in #2. A not uncommon hustler presentation, which requires that you approach him to negotiate.

But then the facial features themselves: #2 has a tough face, sharp in its details, suggesting an experienced, savvy, hustler — while #1 has a smooth, boyish face, suggesting perhaps a novice, not exactly innocent but not yet street-worn. This, of course, might be a pose in itself, an allure to make him more desirable to the tastes of some johns (who will long to see his sweet smiles).

It’s all a very complicated dance.


3 Responses to “A Levinstein street hustler”

  1. Robert Coren Says:

    I was briefly garden-pathed by “the trick is to fashion ways of presenting yourself…”, initially reading “trick” as denoting the person offering himself (with “is to” in the sense of “is supposed to”), but was brought up short by “yourself”.

    This is in no way a complaint, a criticism, or a suggestion about rewriting, but rather a note on a phenomenon that entertained me, and might also entertain you or others.

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