Hal Fischer: The Gay 1970s

Hal Fischer: The Gay 1970s


I moved to San Francisco in January, 1975. I remember coming here, the first thing that shocked me was there were so many people out all day. Gay life traditionally existed for good reason behind closed doors at night. What was so different about the Castro is that it existed 24/ 7 . I’m Hal Fisher were sitting in my living room with Jasper, my dog, and favorite photographic model. I began Gay Semiotics in 1977 and the main touchstone was the idea of signifiers. I could barely read theory. I mean, it’s like taking an Ambien. I start reading and I’m asleep. But the idea of the signifiers is that if you know, you know, and if you don’t know, you don’t know. It’s really using the classic codes of the handkerchief. The earring. And the keys. And the idea that the left side is aggressive and the right side is passive. One of the theories about this is that the handkerchief idea actually started in the g old rush when the San Francisco was 99.9% male, and there was at the very least same-sex dancing and probably a lot of same sex other stuff, and during the 70s these things were really important. You know, if a man comes on to another man in this day and age, it’s often in a place like San Francisco, it’s seen as a compliment. In the 70s you know, this, this was, could be a dangerous thing. It was not just an accoutrement. Signifiers really played a role. All of this was really about celebrating the community, the place where I lived, and also sharing a lot of information about it, making it accessible. What would generate my photos was what I saw around me. I had a small group of models that were, let’s say 90% my friends and people I socialized with. Well, first of all, I think it’s important to understand with the street fashion that nobody’s costumed. This is what they were wearing. I wanted people to look at these pictures from a distance, see a certain level of banality, and then to walk up and read the text and sort of get a little bit freaked out and a little bit amused. I mean at that point in time, in terms of gay identity, for people to see stuff showing up in a gallery, to seeing it get written in, you know, art magazines was, was a big deal. Because it was overtly gay. It was right in the title. In fact, when the book came out and we were banned in some places, including SFMOMA’s bookstore. And I’ve had people come to me over the years and say, you know, I was closeted and I was in high school in some place in Ohio and I found your book in a library. So it wound up in places. There’s a great deal of satisfaction to see that my work is not only endured, but it’s moved to a level that I never could have even imagined.

2 thoughts on “Hal Fischer: The Gay 1970s

  1. I appreciate Mr. Fischer providing real-world context of signifiers as part of a safety strategy in the gay community. Also, Jasper is a real scene stealer. Adorable!

  2. I have been here last 20 years and see a big change, I'm not sure SF is a gay city any more. Seeing all tech crowed waiting their busses to go to work at Castro and 18 th , where are the gays, where are the artists and bohemians? Castro is not as gay neighborhood any more. May be I'm a bit dramatic but I think it's okay. Lol

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