An early essay — Comrades: portraits of men 1978 – 1998

Gordon Brent Ingram
July 2013

comrades:  portraits of men 1978 – 1998

PDF copy available: Ingram 2013 comrades – portraits of men 1978 – 1998

| Mark Adams | David Carl Arndt | Joseph Barnett | Frank Brayton | Ben Chin | Peter Christian Combe | Jean Ulrick Désert | Alain Dupuis | Sean Eliuk | Jeffrey Escoffier | Russell Fortuna | Greg Galves | Mauricio Galves |  John Grube | Michael Immel | Gordon Brent Ingram | Bill Jacobson | Henry James | Isaac Julien | Peter Kesselman | Garland Richard Kyle | Sylvain Lapyre | Gerard Lemos | Jon Lutz | Tede Matthews | Bernard Miller | David Millhauser | Erwyn Pawe | Daniel Phill | J. Peter Prins | Jason Quicksilver | Robert Reid-Pharr | Eric Reyes | William Robinson | Steven Sartor | Jayce Salloum | Andy Seal | Richard Sinkhoff | David Stern | Taj Tellalian | Tobias Tomlinson | Fred Wasserman |

Peter Kesselman, San Francisco, January 1982

This essay is about how my male friends transformed their identities, their sexualities, their identities, their bodies, and where they lived. For various reasons, I have been moved to ask to photograph these men. In turn, these friends have had many things to say through be photographed.

I came of age in a relatively pleasant and safe West Coast maelstrom spanning both Canada and the United States and cultures with English and French spoken and with links to a wide range of overseas communities. In this part of the world, recent decades have seen some of the most rapid cultural and social change in human history especially around the confluence of gender identities, sexuality and cultures. These transformations of communities and how individuals and networks of friends have made their ways through them, and in deed how we have been remaking ourselves, has been one of the sources of fascination for my photographic portrayals.

For many of my male friends, notions of sexuality, masculinity, maleness, and even gender itself have been transformed between their childhoods, adolescent years and into their adulthoods. Many of these redefinitions of notions of and ideals for sexuality, self, and social responsibility, as based on social equality and protection from violence, have occurred throughout much of the world constituting a still poorly examined form of ‘globalization’. But on the West Coast the notions of individualism, personal responsibility for change, and secularism, regardless of religious beliefs, have been particularly strong. In contrast, many of the men portrayed in this essay have also engaged in more widespread projects such as collective struggle and community development  – counter narratives that also informed the political cultures of the West Coast since the first labour organizing of the Nineteenth Century. Similarly, particularly rigorous forms of multiculturalism and notions of social equity took root on the West Coast. Today, political and sexual cultures are increasingly manufactured in and routed through a small number of global centres. But for a time on the West Coast there was a preoccupation with people and our environments, where we choose to go, how we make our own various kinds of homes: our own private localisms.

Within the distinct dynamic of this edge of North America, photography has been a favourite way to explore and comment on where we live and for whom we care. The camera has helped me make sense of shifting permutations of eroticism, politics and imagery that, in turn, constitute aspects of our cities and towns that are as ‘structural’ as the road, buildings, and power lines. And my broader social community, grounded in a century-old, West Coast multicultural Left that spans Southern California to Alaska, has been transformed through social struggle, increased wealth, globalization, immigration, and, no less importantly, by powerful ideas about sexuality, identity, justice, and community.

In a matter of decades, norms have shifted to those of the experiences of migrants, commuters, and cultural and ethnic hybrids. Similarly, static notions of class have been transmuted into more tentative positions in ways often best symbolized by the formerly marginalized, lumpen intellectual and artist. And, perhaps most problematic and interesting, identity, sexuality, and intimacy are now more often regarded as unresolved ‘journeys’ and conversations. The portraits in this photoessay are about conversations with other men about whom we were, what we had wanted, and what we are doing to honour and pursue our desires.

In hindsight, there has been an almost obsessive preoccupation with the individual and this is perhaps a peculiarity of those times and these communities. And many of these men, perhaps a bit higher percentage than their cohorts, were deeply engaged with marrying and redefining ideals of social justice with individual choices over desire and identity. So the core of this essay is a portrayal of a particularly tight entanglement of notions of homoerotic desire, identity, and political engagement for social equity. And for less than three decades, modes of social struggle and homoerotic sexuality were bundled and untied and reworked until that process of personal and communal examination, that originally was so overtly political, became synonymous with personal responsibility.

The men in these photographs are linked by both being my friends and acquaintances and by consciously grappling with their identities and erotic desires as males nearly always in the context of various struggles for social justice. I was involved, intimately, with just a little more than a third of the men in this essay; hence use of the somewhat dated term, ‘lovers’. Some of the erotic interaction barely spanned the period of a ‘sitting’ and portrait whereas I had relationships of five to eight years with several of these individuals. And photographing was always done in the context of long conversations around sexuality, politics, and culture. This was the generation that believed, naively, that ‘the personal was political’, as if it ever was not.

Along with the debates around sexuality and masculinity, of inversion and reorganization of male iconography, are hints of my own particular journeys – that were often more the result of my own background and efforts at making a living. I grew up in a tolerant, multicultural family on southern Vancouver Island where my parents had a strong commitment to social justice extending to inter-racial dialogues and work place activism. And my parents were generations ahead in a commitment to supporting local, multicultural histories and for the silent to finally tell their stories. In this very loving and supportive environment, my personal experiences of sexuality and masculinity were some of the least of my worries. So I had a relatively low level of ‘internalized homophobia’ for the times that in turn allowed me to easily engage in often eroticized conversations that linked desire and politics. But beneath the self-confidence and verbosity was a particularly insecure position in the world. While the worldviews of my parents had been shaped by the study and discussion groups of the working-class education movement in British Columbia of the Nineteen Thirties and Forties, often associated with socialist projects, they both were from middle class backgrounds but only gone to school until Grade 7. They could read and discuss superbly but struggled to write at a sufficient level to explain their experiences and values. My father did, however, succeed at writing pithy letters to local newspapers. So growing up between two modes of discussion around emotions, values and ideas, one verbal and passionate, and a more measured world of letters, documentary photography, particularly social portrayals that bled off to experiential portrayals, became both of media of research and a mode of self-expression.

As a photographer, I have never felt like an outsider but rather a harbinger of the future and occasional sexual outlaw. Allusions of what could be have been a preoccupation in my portraiture. And my family’s heritage, a significant demographic group in Nineteenth Century Canada, both allowed me to feel like an insider and while forcing me to develop intercultural skills. My parents had a classic Nineteenth Century Canadian ‘mixed married’: the blonde husband and sultry, woman-of-colour wife. My father’s heritage largely consisted of Nineteenth Century emigrants from Scotland while my mother’s family was from various parts of the French-speaking world and her father was a well-assimilated, bilingual Métis. Today, there is considerable awareness of the high levels of poverty in rural Métis but our world was that of a pleasantly multicultural, relatively functional extended family as something of a bridge across communities – and prospering through those many social ties. But this was at the end of an era of exceptional racism and marginalisation (as part of land theft) of native communities in Canada. As ‘non-status’, I experienced only the faintest forms of racism, as I am a lot fairer than our mother, but group up as privileged on a social cusp where the survival of entire native families was still in jeopardy.

So for a West Coast Canada with a multiracial and trans-cultural experience, photographic documentation was a relatively secure media from which to make explorations and statements – turning the tables on a predominantly white world of social activism as it was being rapidly decolonized. Photography, more than any other contemporary arts medium with its roots in a tension between the optimistic expansion of capitalism and the industrial world and social criticism through documentary, was a way to assert both the half-forgotten past and the tantalizing future. Most confounding for me was that I did not feel comfortable including any of my North American native or aboriginal friends, even ones who were exploring their identities and sexualities, in these particular visual explorations. In a century of intensifying health crises for native communities, the ‘aboriginal’ body, particularly the male aboriginal body which is very much reflected in my own, remains problematized and very much a place of anger for both native males and as a source of anxiety for many ignorant and chauvinistic non-natives. More importantly, I did not consider it appropriate nor was I comfortable with approaching males in indigenous communities with these same photographic practices – especially in ways that might have been wrongly construed as ‘anthropological’. In the same period, I completed several photoessays of indigenous communities but as a gay man did not feel comfortable delving into sexuality and doing anything to push traditional communities into some kind of modern identity (and many in those communities were engaged in this project themselves).

I began these portraits in Vancouver while being a teaching assistant in a special classroom at Britannia Senior Secondary School. Half my adolescent students were aboriginal and half had documented histories of abuse a large portion of which was sexual. I was living with my first serious boyfriend. Photographing for this essay began six months before I became an undergraduate photography student at the San Francisco Art Institute – on scholarship from the British Columbia Cultural Fund. I went from Vancouver in a period of nationalism and social activism to San Francisco at a time when it felt like the capital of contemporary culture especially for gay men. I was soon full engaged in an innovative a course entitled ‘Experiential Photography’ taught by the documentarian Reagan Louie[i] who in turn was deeply influenced by one of his teachers, Walker Evans.[ii] Here in 1978 and 1979 was an intellectual turn in photography, away from the pop and style shaped by the world of fashion photography and the landscape monumentalism of Ansel Adams, to conceptual discussions, of intentions and practices, so obliquely influenced by Walter Benjamin’s then paradigmatic essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.”[iii]

The shift in documentary practices was away from the both the journalistic exposition of W. Eugene Smith[iv] and the relative detachment of the early work of Robert Frank[v] to the more subjective, or rather photographer-driven, and conversational practices of Diane Arbus[vi] and Duane Michals[vii]. George Platt Lyons[viii] and Tina Modotti[ix] were particularly influential in portraiture of males, desire, and social change. Alan Sekula[x] and Robert Mapplethorpe[xi] were just becoming major influences in contemporary photography, as they would be in the 1980s and 1990s. Another San Francisco Art Institute teacher, Linda Connor[xii], was also to be influential in my more surreal explorations of male bodies and eroticism.

In North Beach at the end of the 1970s, there was also another, almost counter, aesthetic discourse that also influenced this portraits but more indirectly. The period saw a fecund intersection of pornography and self-portrayal. The underworld of homosexual pornography, only partly linked to male physical culture, became integrated into the new post-gay-liberation urban economies.  And there were new, ‘self-help’ portrayals; most focused on sexual education, most notably the images of David Greene.[xiii] So by the 1980s, men who were exploring their sexualities increasingly wanted to be photographed. And soon some of these men wanted to be photographed in ways that they staged rather carefully.

Curiously, there were few avowedly feminist photographers who were influential even in San Francisco in the 1970s, a fact highlighted early on by critic and curator, Connie Hatch, who went on to complete a crucial survey of work on gender and feminism in that period.[xiv] Three decades ago at the San Francisco Art Institute, photographer and sculptor, Ellen Brooks[xv] engaged in some pioneering explorations of gender though I do not recall work that addressed male identities and homosexuality. Another figure from San Francisco Art Institute in the late 1970s was photographer Bill Jacobson.[xvi] He and I were in the 1980 San Francisco gay and lesbian cultural group Mainstream Exiles, became a dear friends and informal mentor. But it took me fifteen years to get around to arranging for him to sit and let me create a portrait. One of my fellow students in Reagan Louie’s Experiential Photography became the noted transgendered photographer, Del La Grace.[xvii] Del’s mother even made a guest appearance in class and talked about the significance of macramé in popular culture. While Del and I had extensive conversations and arguments, he is not portrayed here because in this period he identified as a lesbian. And by 1980, the images of George Dureau, some of the first that dealt openly with race, disability and inter-racial desire, were circulating through San Francisco.[xviii]

The particular intersection of personal exploration and documentary embodied in the ‘experiential photography’ moment did not last long. More stylized explorations of intimacy, less directly engaged with social and cultural theory, embodied in the work of such photographers as Nan Goldin’s 1986 Ballad of Sexual Dependency[xix] became far more influential. And for a decade or two, AIDS overshadowed sexual intimacy often at the expense of even portraiture. While queer theory saw hundreds of new essays and books between social documentary and of snapshots of friends, the blurred line in this particular photoessay project, did not seem so interesting. Two photographers of gay men, who were of most particular interest during the early organizing against AIDS and the critical theory and queer nationalism[xx] that largely emerged from those struggles in the early 1990s were Peter Hujar[xxi] and one of his lovers David Wojnarowicz.[xxii]

Perhaps, photographic portraiture linked with imagery of community change, in the Nineteen Eighties and Nineties, was a way to maintain a link to social realism as the old left disintegrated and issues of environmental justice became more popularly articulated. And as the imposing narratives of high modernism have faded and become less relevant, the opportunities of photography to define the subjectivities of the portrayed and the photographer, the conversations, were convenient for describing the life of some men at the end of the Twentieth Century. Photography and increasingly video have become the easiest media for describing the nomadism of globalization, the growing alienation and atomization of individuals and their communities, and surviving within the tentativeness of the increasingly information and culturally oriented workforce. Consequently, the locations of these portraits reflect both significant centres of gay and queer activism, on one hand, and my employment and arts and research funding on the other.

I have spent years working in the Third World from the Sahel of Africa and Yemen to Indonesia and New Guinea but while I made friends I rarely felt a basis for the conversations around identity, sexuality, culture and politics that were the foci of these photographic conversations. In contrast to globalizing notions of sexualities and identities defined by individual desire, my portraits of people in traditional and Third World societies have been more locally defined and thus not linked to the kinds of conversations in ‘comrades and lovers’.

Central in these photographic conversations, where the portrayed directed many aspects of the locales and details of depictions, were unresolved tensions between notions of personal liberation and personal development, on one hand, and old notions, influenced by socialist and anarchist movements, of collective struggle. While in this period, individualist models of social change and personal liberation predominated, more collectivist notions were being reworked whether through the early months of the very first order of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco in 1980 to the final images in this essay where in 1998 my boyfriend and I moved into a artist live / work studio building that was a pioneering project, with utopian allusions, one of the few piece of fruit of years of local arts activism in Vancouver.

On a more theoretical level, this photoessay represents the shift from a short-lived coalescence of a gay and lesbian feminist left in the 1970s, where previous socialist and labour organizations had been homophobic, to the institutionalization of queer theory, with greater human rights protections within the context of globalizing capitalism, in the late 1990s. In the sense of the Nineteenth and early Twentieth Century left movements for social justice, gay men in the late 1970s, who worked together openly (and erotically), were very much still ‘comrades’. Two decades later, and after a lot of accommodation with capital, ‘consumers’ could almost have been a more appropriate word than ‘comrades’. Of course, less than a year after the last photographs in this essay were made was The Battle of Seattle opening a new phase of social activism that at times had little relevance to gay consumerism and its focus on the rights of individuals.

The late 1990s also saw a broader institution of more fluid (and tolerant) notions of gender[xxiii] that extended to queer politics where concepts of maleness and masculinity were often viewed as less important. So the value of an all-male photoessay seemed dated – at least for a while. In Canada human rights protections became so institutionalized by the late 1990s, that the common experience for gay men in the 1970s and 1980s, of being sexual outlaws, was gone. Today, one of the reasons why this essay is now of theoretical value is because while the work is so dated, notions of queerness, maleness, collectivity, and tolerance, are again up for redefinition after a relative stability of sexual identities and centre-left politics over the last two decades. And with gay male identities and desires having become so intertwined with the limited social freedoms of atomized consumerism and relatively functional urban care neighbourhoods, the continuing economic crisis that began in 2008, is bound to generate new forms of community and collective struggle.

Underlying these conversations and respective portraits were often overly optimistic notions of individuals having autonomy from their cultures and political economies: a sort of late uncoupling from the more extreme collectivism late lingered in the Left of North America and Europe mixed with the individualism of the West Coast. But growing up on the western edge of North America, this tension between collectivism and individual often seemed as almost natural, a constant at least for me. A third of the way through the progression of these portraits, two global events transformed my portraiture in   ways that I have yet to fully grasp: a pandemic and the rise of digital technologies that made the West Coast, at least for a time, one of the wealthiest parts of the planet.

The spectre of AIDS first appeared five years into these West Coast portraits with some of the men who these photographers receiving their diagnoses within weeks and months of photography sessions. HIV had a multiplicity of impacts on the desires to be photographed and what I wanted to record. The portraits before 1984 recorded the end of the most rapid and widespread sexual revolution in history. After 1983, few of the portrayals did not give hints of a host of anxieties – even when the icons suggested tranquillity and contentment. And while the possibility of ill-health and death truncated some conversations, effectively curtailing some portraits, other individuals experienced an urgency about being photographed young and healthy. And this period saw the male vanity industries explode as the vulnerability and transience of being a ‘young man’ became all too apparent. Of the men portrayed in this essay, most of whom, if alive would only be in their forties, fifties, and sixties, slightly less than half have died well before the average life expectancy for males in developed countries. Most of those deaths have been directly related to HIV. And some of the individuals in these portraits were and continue to be heroic pioneers of continuing to engage in social activism while living well with HIV.

The other wave of change, for which few of these individuals were prepared, has been the creation of the digital world and the wealth (and sometimes poverty) that was created. The males of the Nineteen Eighties were far more engaged, and often took for granted, a privileged but working class culture of collective bargaining that had largely been emasculated by the end of the Twentieth Century. But the implications of digital technologies to the men portrayed in this essay are less clear except that many of us have found employment and self-employment through the skills working with the early computers that we picked up when we were relatively marginalized economically. Certainly, for individuals who grew up with parents whose lives were shaped by collective bargaining, the shift to working in new corporations, with few unions but relatively favourable working conditions, or being self-employed has been confounding. In 1978, a politically active gay man on the West Coast worked within a socialist feminist framework and knew exactly who were his comrades both politically and in his workplace. Two decades later and today and even after tremendous social gains for previously marginal groups of women and men, the lines for building new coalitions and forms of workplace and community solidarity are far less clear.

Those two decades also saw tremendous changes in inter-racial and cultural politics. It was difficult to involve men of colour within the terms of these explorations in the late 1970s, in large part because of mutual distrust. By the early 1990s, there was a wave of work on male sexualities, race, and identity[xxiv] by a new generation of activist cultural theorists and artists of colour. Figures portrayed here including Isaac Julien, Jean Ulrick Désert[xxv], Eric Estuar Reyes[xxvi], and Robert Reid-Pharr[xxvii] propelled many of the latter portrayals. While the future of fully decolonising notions of race, ethnicity, and various definitions of community has been a preoccupation of many of the men portrayed in these photographs, so too has history – particularly of earlier communities of resistance. For example, curator Fred Wasserman has become a figure in both lesbian and gay histories[xxviii] and in Jewish culture.

Many of these portraits are about intimate relationships between men and making the spaces for them. I began photographing my first partner, David Arnold Millhauser, from the mid-1970s into the 1980s as we moved back and force between the Vancouver and Victoria, where I was born, and San Francisco where he was born and grew up. In 1979 and 1980, I studied a very different set of intimacies in the conflict around public sex in Buena Vista Park on the cusp of San Francisco’s Ashbury Heights and the Castro. That fieldwork generated a controversial essay entitled, The Woods at Buena Vista Park. Later that year, David started working at a job in Los Angeles and there was an affair with young, Vancouver Island composer, Rodney Sharman that, while short-lived, produced an essay entitled, How to Photograph a Gay Man in 1980. The Sharman studies constituted my final project for my fine arts degree at the San Francisco Art Institute and lead to an Honors.

In the early 1980s, I was active in Mainstream Exiles a group of lesbian and gay cultural workers who produced a series of gallery shows and performances[xxix] and involved disparate group of creative young lesbians and gay men including a number of the men photographed from this period such as Fred Wasserman, Tede Matthew, Kico Govantes[xxx], and Bill Jacobson. For a few years, I hosted a monthly potluck in my airy apartment on at the top of Downey Street in San Francisco called ‘Red Hearts’ for gay men active in the Left. While hundreds of men came through our apartment, we talked too much together for me to get around to arranging many sittings for portraits. In the same years, I returned to my family roots on the north-western Canadian frontier and became engrossed in two essays and subsequent shows on travels through two remote areas in north-western British Columbia, edziza trip and crossing cold streams, with subsequent exhibitions.

Soon after, I began doctoral studies across the bay at the College of Environmental Design of the University of California at Berkeley that had a visual design program and less contemporary and experientially oriented artists such as aerial landscape photographer William Garnett.[xxxi] Eschewing conventional landscape portrayals at Berkeley, I was soon working on aboriginal landscapes in north-western British Columbia and with landscape architect Michael Immel, who a decade later would be the subject of portraits, on questions of sex between men in public space. Michael in turn used my study of Buena Vista Park in his research.[xxxii]

Much of my work both as a photographer, planner, designer and theoretician has been about how marginalized cultures have reworked their communities and taken and transformed space. These photographs of my male comrades can be viewed as tentative spaces for exploration and development of theory. And these photographic explorations of males exploring their sexualities, identities and communities were in large part about documenting the beginnings of a new, increasingly global, vocabulary of what was to become queer, space taking and place-making. The locations of most of these images, especially places that individuals felt were safe and expressed aspects of their lives, were well discussed beforehand with the men portrayed. While I photographed some early gay and lesbian rights demonstrations and marches, I rarely detected much self-expression or a conversation with being photographed so have included few of these many street images. In fact, discussing the precise locales for a person’s portraits was often the major entry point for longer discussions around their bodies, values, milieux, and neighbourhoods. In this whole two decade period, during some of the most rapid change around the politics of masculinity and work places in human history, only one individual, only one person Andy Seal an architect, asked to be photographed in his workplace which was an apartment that he was renovating in San Francisco.

In the mid-to-late1980s, I was more often photographing people whom I did not know in remote parts of the Sahel of Africa, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea – individuals that occasionally had homoerotic desires but whose sexualities were more grounded in local experience and their clashes with colonial and national cultures. But the early 1990s went back to photographing my friends – especially the men involved with various forms of queer activism. But half way through these two decades, the uses of portraiture and constructed visibility were changing. A number of documentary surveys had been already completed, my favourite black and white essay being Robert Girard’s Particular Voices[xxxiii] on gay and lesbian writers.

In the early 1990s, my work in portraiture shifted more fully to documenting people and our environments – and how we adapt to and change where we live. Personal and community history also took on a greater role. My work in the 1994 exhibition “Queer Space” at Storefront Art and Architecture in New York City[xxxiv] dealt with history and place with blurred portraiture. And in subsequent years, a group of us developed an anthology on queer space[xxxv] with a great deal of photographic documentation that was published in 1997. And back in Vancouver during the most sustained building boom in the city’s history, many of the historic sites for sexual minorities were being obliterated.

This essay also represents a two-decade-long transition from the old mechanical to digitally supported forms of photographic representation ending just before digital cameras were widespread. I began these essays from 35 millimetre film then shifted to a fixed lens, medium-format Rolleiflex and then to a larger, multiple lens Pentax 6 X 7 centimetre film surface, and then to a Pentax with some digital technology, the medium format 645 with a smaller (6 by 4.5 centimetre) film surface. This photoessay also gauged a general shift from monochrome to colour portrayals. In the summer of 1998, I shifted over to colour film all of the time – as part of a departure from a century of documentarian emphasis on black-and-white portrayals. Today, black and white images are so redundant that they have taken on a new aesthetic value – but one quite different than the lean monochrome of past decades. And soon after 1998, I was working with my first digital cameras, which are all now redundant, themselves, with technologies that have been overly retooled to today’s cheap digital SLR optics.

Why did this essay end in 1998? There was the end of an exhausting, on-again-off-again five-year relationship with Peter Coombe. There was the loss of certain idealism about my world as a gay man. I became engrossed more and more in writing that came from a desire for more critical exploration beyond photographic portrayal. The lustre of my friends, and of photographic explorations of sexual politics, was beginning to fade just a bit. The 1990s also saw the disintegration of a cohesive vision of socialist and self-managing societies with the coalescence of the anti-globalization movement in 1999 opening a new chapter in social movements. And most importantly, the shared experience of being sexual outlaws was gone as tolerance was increasingly institutionalized and a host of groups and political agendas were articulated.

And what followed for me was a hectic decade of commuting back to Vancouver while living and working in Italy, The Netherlands, Dubai, Pakistan, and Washington, D.C. I had a six year relationship with a young lawyer in Pakistan – who had no interest in being photographed in ways that would articulate his sexuality.

Some old friends and lots of lovers are curiously missing. I have lost the negatives of some old friends and may find them eventually. For other old friends who did not have time to be photographed: there still is time.

The men in these photographs were constructing new ways of honouring their desires in ways that were uncharted and provisional. By the end of the Twentieth Century, a masculine, gay and what many of us called ‘queer’ identity had become relatively stable and partially accepted. So in my world centred in Vancouver, 1998 was the year when we stopped being sexual outlaws. Are these portraits simply a time capsule from the years proceeding and after the end of the Cold War and the years that lead to comprehensive human rights protections? Does the notion of a community of comrades, who often have sex together and at least talk at great length about politics and intimacy, and who are building an alternative to sexualities defined through consumerism, have any relevance today? I think so. In these times of new crises and ‘barbarism’ and where, to paraphrase Michael Moore the popular “love affair” with “capitalism”[xxxvi] may well be over, at least for awhile, perhaps it is time to revisit some explorations of desire, personal change, and community-building.


[i] Louie, Reagan. 1991. Toward a Truer Life: Photographs of China 1980-1990. Introduction by Jonathan Spence. New York, New York: Aperture Foundation & San Francisco, California: Friends of Photography. Louie went on to explore sex work in Asia (Louie, Reagan and Tracy Quan. 2003.  Orientalia: Sex In Asia. Brooklyn, New York: powerHouse Books.).

[ii] But while Evans rarely referenced sexual politics, except for a few over-cited allusions such as his 1936 photograph, “Love Before Breakfast,” there was a current of his worked that mixed portrayals of social space with the physicality of individuals and groups (Walker Evans. 1994 (1982). Walker Evans at Work. London: Thames and Hudson).

[iii] Walter Benjamin. 1969. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. in Illuminations. Edited and with an introduction by Hannah Arendt. Frankfurt, Germany: Suhrkamp Verlag / Schocken. pages 217 to 251.

[iv] W. Eugene Smith and Aileen M. Smith. 1975. Minamata. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[v] Robert Frank. 1958. The Americans. Paris: Robert Delpire.

[vi] Diane Arbus. 1972. Diane Arbus: An Aperture Monograph. New York: Aperture Books.

[vii] Marco Livingstone. 1997. The Essential Duane Michals. London: Thames & Hudson.

[viii] David Leddick. 2000. George Platt Lynes 1907 – 1955. With a forward by Anatole Pohorilenko. Koln: Benedikt Taschen Verlag.

[ix] Mildred Constantine. 1983. Tina Modotti: A Fragile Life. New York: Rizzoli; Tina Modotti. 1983. I Grandi Fotographi Serie Argento: Tina Modotti. Milano: Gruppo Editoriale Fabbri; and Tina Modotti. 1999. Tina Modotti. With an essay by Margaret Hooks. Denville, New Jersey: Aperture.

[x] Allan Sekula. 1984. Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973 – 1983. Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

[xi] Mapplethorpe’s work was just appearing in San Francisco in 1979. The Experiential Photography class took a field trip to see Mapplethorpe’s first show in San Francisco which was at a small gallery in the tony Pacific Heights district (which was not at all part of the contemporary art scene of the city). Some of us joked and dismissed the small images as being of more of interest to ‘Pacific Heights matrons’ who needed small, amusing framed pieces for their bathrooms. Some of the early pieces of Mapplethorpe’s work there were already circulating as the one image in the 1977 Image Bank Post Card Show that was published as a small box set and distributed by Image Bank that was originally housed at Vancouver’s Western Front (with the set now on file at the Morris / Trasov Archives, Morris and Helen Belkin Art Gallery of The University of British Columbia, Vancouver) and in the 1983 ICA catalogue (Robert Mapplethorpe. 1983. Robert Mapplethorpe 1970 – 1983. London: Institute of Contemporary Art.).

[xii] Linda Connor. 1979. Solos: Photographs by Linda Connor. Millerton, New York: Apeiron Workshops.

[xiii] One of Greene’s most celebrated photographs were printed in the Summer / Fall 1976 issue (No. 29 / 30) of the San Francisco journal, Gay Sunshine: A Journal of Gay Liberation and in the following year more of his photographs comprised a major part of the book Men Loving Men (Mitch Walker. 1977. Men Loving Men: A Gay Sex Guide & Consciousness Book. San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press).

[xiv] Butler, Cornelia H. and Lisa Gabrielle Mark (editors).  2007. WACK!: Art and the Feminist Revolution. Cambridge, Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

[xv] Gretchen Garner. 2003. Disappearing witness: Change in Twentieth-Century American Photography. Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press / Hopkins Fulfillment Service. See page 213.

[xvi] Bill Jacobson. 1998. Bill Jacobson 1989 – 1997. with a story by Klaus Kertess. Santa Fe, New Mexico: Twin Palms Publishers &  Bill Jacobson. 2005. Bill Jacobson: Photographs. with an essay by Eugenia Parry. Ostfildern, Germany: Hatje Cantz Publishers.

[xvii] Della Grace. 1991. Love Bites: Photographs. London: Gay Male Press Publishers.

[xviii] George Dureau. 1985. George Dureau: New Orleans 50 Photographs. Introduced by Edward Lucie-Smith. London: Gay Male Press.

[xix] Nan Goldin. 1986. The Ballad of Sexual Dependency. New York: Aperture Books.

[xx] Michael Warner. 1993. Introduction. in Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory. Michael Warner (editor). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. pages vii to xxxi.

[xxi] Peter Hujar. 1990. Peter Hujar. Essays by Stephen Koch and Thomas Sokolowski. Interviews with Fran Lebowitz and Vince Aletti.  New York: New York University Grey Art Gallery and Study Center.

[xxii] David Wojnarowicz. 1990. Tongues of Flame Works: 1979 – 1989. Normal, Illinois: University Galleries of Illinois State University.

[xxiii] One of the theoretical discussions on gender that was exceptionally influential in the 1990s was Judith Butler’s Gender Trouble (Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.).

[xxiv] One example of the new work on masculinity, race, and sexuality in the 1990s, especially that relied on photography, was the 1995 exhibition, The Male Masquerade (Andrew Perchuk and Helaine Posner (editors). 1995. The Masculine Masquerade: Masculinity and Representation. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.).

[xxv] Désert, Jean-Ulrick. 1997. Queer Space. in Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance. Gordon Brent Ingram, Anne-Marie Bouthilette, and Yolanda Retter (editors). Seattle, Washington: Bay Press. pages 16 – 26.

[xxvi] Reyes, Eric Estuar. 2003. The Politics of Globalization in Filipino American Culture. PhD dissertation, on file Brown University.

[xxvii] Reid-Pharr, Robert.  1999. Conjugal Union: The Body, the House, and the Black American. New York: Oxford University Press;  Reid-Pharr, Robert. 2001. Black Gay Man: Essays (with introduction by Samuel R. Delany). New York: New York University Press; and Reid-Pharr, Robert. 2007. Once You Go Black: Choice, Desire, and the Black American Intellectual. New York: New York University Press.

[xxviii] Molly McGarry and Fred Wasserman. 1998. Becoming Visible: An Illustrated History of Lesbian and Gay Life in Twentieth-Century America. New York: The New York Public Library  /  Penguin.

[xxix] Editors of Coming Up! . 1981. Exiled artists expose queer culture. Coming Up! (San Francisco) (June 1981): backpage, 7.

[xxx] For some of his friends like me, Kico’s portrayal in the highly influential, And the Band Played On, (Shilts, Randy. 1987. And the Band Played On: Politics, People, and the AIDS Epidemic. Boston: St. Martin’s Press) as well as the 1993 American television film docudrama was problematic. A Cuban-American whose grandfather was a Minister for Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950s, Kico Govantes was a complicated and creative young man who struggled for sexual freedom and social justice and whose partner Bill Krause was a leader on the left of the Democratic Party and who, for a time in the early 1980s, chaired the Alice B. Toklas Gay Democratic Club in San Francisco.

[xxxi] William Garnett. 1996. William Garnett: Aerial Photographs. Berkeley, California: University of California Press.

[xxxii] Immel, Michael Lee. 1983. Gay urban open space in San Francisco : the landscape of liberation. Thesis for a Master of Landscape Architecture. on file, University of California Main (Gardner) Library, Stacks (NRLF) 308t 1983 32.

[xxxiii] Robert Girard. 1997. Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.

[xxxiv] 1994. Queer Space, The Storefront Center for Art and Architecture, Soho, New York (including Ingram’s 13 colour photographs, 11 drawings, and text in a larger project ‘Open’ ‘Space’ with Martha Judge) curated by Beatriz Colomina, Dennis Dollens, Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Cindi Patton, Henry Urbach and Mark Wigley.

[xxxv] Ingram, G. B., A.-M. Bouthillette and Y. Retter (editors). 1997. Queers in Space: Communities | Public Places | Sites of Resistance. Seattle: Bay Press.

[xxxvi] Capitalism: A Love Story, 2009, Directed by Michael Moore, Produced by Matthew Brown and Kathleen Glynn, Written by Michael Moore, Distributed by Overture Films (USA) and Paramount Vantage, English language, USA, 120 minutes.

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