"I cannot live without books." -- Thomas Jefferson

Monday, September 1, 2014

The Way We Were

We have a pretty kick ass Art & Photography section here at the Soup, and as happens, some real gems slide in unnoticed from time to time. It was on a swing through the photography section recently that I happened upon Anthony Friedkin's gorgeous new black & white monograph The Gay Essay. It's the companion book to his current exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco.

Friedkin documented the gay community (or what there was of it) in the late 60's and early 70's, from San Francisco to Los Angeles. He photographed drag queens, hustlers, community organizers, trans people, and even Divine! He shot them on street corners, in bedrooms, music halls and parades. 

It is startling to look at these photos in 2014 and think about how far we have come in the 40+ years since many of them were taken. There is a defiance in these photographs that is palpable. These were people who were used to being beaten by the police, kicked out of their homes and harassed on the street. Many of them would lose their lives eventually or have them otherwise ravaged by AIDS.  They couldn't imagine a world where they would be courted by politicians for votes, or allowed to marry the person they loved. To pose for a photo at that time was an act of courage and something I'm afraid our "selfie" obsessed culture would find difficult to relate to now. 

When you view the photos now it all makes sense. Of course we have come this far and nothing was given to us. We took it by forming bonds with people we loved, and creating safe spaces to be together, and marching in the streets. We put on dresses anyway, and smiled pretty for the camera, and reshaped the culture. 

I hope people find their way to this book or to the exhibit in San Francisco which I was lucky enough to stroll through one Saturday afternoon a few weeks back. It's a powerful and moving document.

Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay is published by Yale University Press and can be purchased at the link below:
Visit the de Young Museum:

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