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Eye-catching icons

Body and Soul: The Black Male Book
by Duane Thomas
Universe Publishing, $27.50,
144 pp.

When women aren't in a seemingly hypnotic stupor thumbing through the pages of Body and Soul: The Black Male Book, they're drooling over the pictures and making unintelligible comments, generally along the lines of "ooh, aah, oh yeah."

That is, if they've managed to get a copy of the fast-selling collection. One look at this recently published, eye-catching coffee-table pictorial, and it's understandable why women of all races are intrigued.

Author Duane Thomas has coordinated a stunning collection of photographs portraying '90s icons -- all black men -- in various stages of dress and undress, as captured by some of the fashion industry's top photographers. Interlaced throughout are comments made by the subjects' female counterparts, such as Halle Berry, Vivica Fox, Beverly Johnson and Susan Taylor (as if anyone's reading the words).

Dubbed a celebration of today's black men's style and beauty, Body and Soul attempts to make a statement about the "strong black man" that goes beyond good looks and brawn.

"There has been so much negativity surrounding the image of the black man, that I wanted to present something positive," explains Thomas.

"This book is a positive reinforcement to the black community in general, and to other groups of people overall who maybe haven't viewed black men as beautiful, talented and successful."

As an artistic designer for several nationally renowned magazines, Thomas was inspired to launch the Body and Soul project after noticing that black men were conspicuously absent from many fashion publications.

"White men and women continue to dominate the fashion industry, whether it's on the runways or on the cover of magazines," observes Thomas.

"When you do see a black man ... it is very often within a negative context, and I wanted to create something to dispel that image."

To a certain extent, Thomas has accomplished his mission of displaying black men in a positive and unusual manner. In the book, we see such photographs as actor Malik Yoba suited up and giving a whimsical wink. Comedian Chris Rock is also suited up, but looks uncharacteristically pensive and strained. Oscar-winning actor Cuba Gooding Jr. bares his muscular chest and sheds a tear, while the late Tupac Shakur has exchanged his hard-core rap image for a photo of him in a period costume, standing in a cotton field.

Unfortunately, by limiting the photos to Generation X music artists, athletes, models and actors, Thomas missed a great opportunity to drive home the point. Even the most tuned-in 35- to 50-year-old might be hard- pressed to recognize some of the book's most interesting subjects.

Diversity is what the African diaspora is all about, but diversity is the key element missing from this book. Some of the men who garner the most pride from the black community don't rap, don't dunk, don't pose and don't act. They rise to positions of political power, they swim with the sharks in corporate America, they're catalysts for social change, and they are our fathers, brothers and next-door neighbors.

"The photographs look great and creative, but the collection is lacking a broader spectrum of black men," notes international fashion photographer, CarlosseƩ Lumpkin.

But what Thomas lacks in diversity, he makes up for with a tastefully compiled book full of beautiful black men of the '90s. If someone is collecting items for a time capsule, they may want to consider Body and Soul as a viable entry.

E-mail comments to letters@metrotimes.com

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