Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay

The photographer Anthony Friedkin began work on “The Gay Essay,” a four-year-long series documenting gay communities in Los Angeles and San Francisco, in 1969, at the age of nineteen. Friedkin, the son of a Broadway dancer and a Hollywood screenwriter, had already worked as a freelancer for the Magnum Agency when he began spending time at the Los Angeles Gay Community Services Center. There he met Morris Kight and Don Kilhefner, the founders of the Gay Liberation Front of Los Angeles, who introduced him to L.A.’s gay and lesbian scene; later, Friedkin travelled to San Francisco to photograph an experimental-theatre company. ”The Gay Essay,” a selection of which was first exhibited in 1973, will be published as a book next month. A new and comprehensive exhibition of Friedkin’s photographs opens at the de Young Museum, in San Francisco, on Saturday.

USA – The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco are pleased to present Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay, a photographic series of more than 75 vintage prints that chronicles the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco from 1969 to 1973. Coinciding with San Francisco’s annual Pride events and the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, this exhibition will be on view at the de Young from June 14, 2014 through January 11, 2015. For more than 40 years, American photographer Anthony Friedkin (b.1949) has documented people, cities and landscapes primarily in his home state of California. The Gay Essay, created during the culturally tumultuous years of the late 1960s and early 1970s—a turning point in the history of political activism in the gay community in the United States—offers an expressive visual chronology of a vital moment of historic change in our culture. “We are proud to present The Gay Essay in its full depth and range for the first time. It accords with our goal of bringing to light important, and sometimes neglected or overlooked, bodies of work that enrich the history and study of photography, a medium that is central to art and society today,” said Colin B. Bailey, director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “We are delighted that 94 vintage prints from The Gay Essay are now part of our permanent collection, thanks to the generosity of donors Dan and Mary Solomon and Nancy Ascher and John Roberts.”  

Shot in studioDon Kilhefner and Morris Kight at the Gay Community Services Center, Los Angeles, 1972 © Anthony Friedkin

  A native of Los Angeles, Friedkin began taking photographs at age 8 and was developing film in a darkroom at age 11. The artist formed a deep connection to the medium and later sought to combine a photojournalistic tradition with an individual statement. In the spring of 1969, when Friedkin was 19 years old, he embarked on The Gay Essay as a self-assigned project. His goal was to create the first extensive record of gay life in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and to chart the emerging and shifting visibility of the gay communities in California. Influenced by the work of Henri Cartier-Bresson, André Kertész and Josef Koudelka, among others, Friedkin found his place in an approach that retained the outward-looking spirit of reportage combined with individual discovery. As an extrovert with an avid curiosity, he developed close relationships with his subjects that enabled him to create portraits that are intimate and devoid of judgment. He did not aim to document gay life in Los Angeles and San Francisco slavishly, but rather to show men and women who were trying to live openly, expressing their individualities and sexualities on their own terms, and improvising ways to challenge the dominant culture. Whether photographing in city streets, motels, barsor dancehalls, Friedkin approached his subjects with an open and inquiring mind to achieve empathic portraits that celebrate pride, dignity and the expression of love between people of the same gender.  

Shot in studioGay Liberation Parade, Hollywood, 1972 © Anthony Friedkin

 

More than four decades after this work was created, The Gay Essay stands as both a record of historic change in our culture and an eloquent testimony to Anthony Friedkin’s passion for the art of photography,” said Julian Cox, curator of the exhibition and chief administrative curator and founding curator of photography at the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. “We are left with a beautiful, sensitive record fit for the ages.” While selections from The Gay Essay have been on public display in museums and galleries in the past, the entire scope of the series will be shown for the first time at the de Young. Accompanying the original full-frame black-and-white prints will be contact prints, documents and other materials from the photographer’s archive and loans from the San Francisco Public Library and the San Francisco Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Historical Society that provide valuable historical context and insight into the conception and execution of the work. The exhibition opened on June 14th. 2014 and continues till 11th January, 2015.

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