Original Article: slate.me/1GBWF12
Hal Fischer’s 1977 book, Gay Semiotics, is a tongue-in-cheek look at gay life in San Francisco’s Castro neighborhood. If the same type of work were attempted today, say in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen or Chicago’s Boystown or even in the Castro, the work wouldn’t walk the same fine line of artistic expression and anthropology. That’s because Fischer was uncovering a way of life that wasn’t celebrated outside of the gay world.
“I was exposing something and I was celebrating it by using text and a certain way of photographing in a very deliberately artificial way to disarm it, to not make it threating,” Fischer said. “This isn’t Mapplethorpe doing S&M work, this is a 180 degree opposite.”
The work feels like a precursor to some modern-day blogs that combine street photography and portraiture—like The Sartorialist or Advanced Style—but with a focus on the various subcultures within the gay community. In the work, Fischer provided a humorous take on the various subtle methods of communication and identification gay men partook in during that time: donning handkerchiefs to identify sexual preferences or how to properly wear cowboy attire to fit into the archetypal Western prototype.
“At that point in time, any kind of gay presence that went public was celebrated because it was out there in a way that things had been closed off, you didn’t have gay characters on television,” he said. “I think there was a real sense that anybody that was doing work that was gay and got out there and became more mainstream and ended up in publications or in a museum was a good thing.”
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