The Photography of Kris Studios
Ask just about any leatherman or leatherwoman you meet who Chuck Renslow is, and you will get an answer right away. Here are some of the answers: He was the founder in 1950 and photographer of Kris Studios, one of the earliest and most durable of the physique houses (and the one where leather always had a place). He was also a noted photographer of the Ballet. His dance photography is now in the Newberry Library dance collection in the "Chuck Renslow Dance Photographs" collection. He opened the first leather bar, the Gold Coast in Chicago, in 1958. He was the publisher of Triumph, Mars and Rawhide Male magazines. He was a founder of Second City Motorcycle Club, the first club not on the West coast, in 1965. He was the founder of many bars and sex clubs since the 1960s, including Man's Country, which has survived for more than 30 years. He was among the earliest member, often among the founders, of many gay liberation organizations and movements. He was the founder of Prairie State Democratic Club in 1980. He is the owner of the Chicago Eagle. He is the founder of Chicago's famous White Party, which almost no one notices is his birthday party. Other answers have to do with his friends and lovers: He was the lover of Dom "Etienne" Orejudos for more than 40 years and, by encouraging him and publishing his work, he is partially responsible for the art of kris. He was involved with Cliff Raven, Chuck Arnett and Sam "Phil Andros" Steward and encouraged them in their famous work, too. Chuck Renslow was inducted into the City of Chicago's Lesbian and Gay Hall of Fame in 1991 and has received just about every honor and awards the gay and leather communities can give him. He is on the Board of Directors of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force and a U.S. Representative to I.L.G.A. International Lesbian and Gay Association. He is the founder, in 1979, of International Mr. Leather, which grew out of his Mr. Gold Coast contest and the experience he had managing A.A.U. physique competitions. When Dom "Etienne" died, Chuck combined his huge collection of Etienne's art with his own personal archives from his business and his life. These were the foundation of the Leather Archives & Museum which Chuck co-created with Tony DeBlase in 1991. Chuck is the president of the Leather Archives and Museum and has been since its conception.
Renslow's political activism began in 1958 when Kris Studios was raided after the Post Office called in the Federal Justice Department because some of the photos showed models with "excessive genital delineation." In those days gay people didn't fight back, and the local district attorney expected an easy conviction, so they were surprised when Renslow and his ACLU lawyers turned up in court. Among the evidence submitted by the ACLU lawyers were photographs of nude statues on Chicago's City Hall, the very building where the trial was taking place.
Like most successful physique photographers there were police/postal hassles, "Originally in '64 the Post office had Kris Studios called into court. The state of Illinois also was against us, but we won in court. We used a unique defense. Up till this time everybody was saying it was art. It was easy for the government to call up witnesses to say it wasn't. We didn't do that. We came into court and said this is not pornography. This was posing straps. We said this is not pornography. We didn't claim it was art, we said it was not pornography. I remember to this day the judge leaning over and asking my attorney "then what is it?" My attorney said it's not for us to determine what it is. All we are saying is what it's not. The judge said you have a good point. He turned to the prosecutor and asked "are you saying this is pornography, because it looks to be just a picture of the human body. Are you saying the human body is pornographic?" That's as far as it went. He dismissed the case."
Listen to Jack Rinella talk to Chuck Renslow about Kris Studios' business, models, films and more.