Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay
June 14, 2014 – January 11, 2015

de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

Anthony Friedkin’s The Gay Essay was first produced in 1973 as a one-of-a-kind maquette. Over 40 years later, this seminal body of work is finally getting its due. Produced in conjunction with the de Young Museum, this edition reproduces the original book that Anthony painstakingly produced from his portfolio. We are proud to provide this exclusive look along with audio commentary by the artist. Be sure to check out the exhibition at the museum through January 11, 2015, and the accompanying catalogue published by Yale University Press.



—The Editors


Probably the most far-fetched definition of homosexuals given to me is that they are people who have been caught in transition during reincarnation. What is even more ridiculous is the constant probing into the reasons for homosexuality, suggesting that gays are all Freudian accidents. I spent approximately 18 months photographing gay people in Los Angeles and San Francisco and found the experience to be one of the most important in my life. At first, I felt a bit threatened by the whole idea of exposing myself to a culture I didn’t understand. I came to learn that the majority of the attitudes that I had been brought up with concerning homosexuals were false, and that gay people have been one of the most suppressed, abused, misunderstood groups since the beginning of modern civilization.

If we accept the idea that everyone has a right to express love—something that is essential to any free society—how can we accept a society that will put someone in jail or not allow someone to work because that person’s interpretation of expressing love is different from the majority’s? Gay people have had to struggle with straight attitudes that label them as queer, psychologically diseased, and a general threat to the established culture. Much the way white people have related to the black, straight people have related to the gay, with all the inherent prejudices and fears. Instead of “niggers,” we deal with “fags.”

The experiences I had while photographing these people were vastly different and at times beyond my own imagination. I found a tremendous honesty amongst them, a wonderful sense of the absurd, and fantastic passion. There is much to learn from the gay community. Who knows? Maybe they were caught in transition during cosmic reincarnation. The point is: Who wants to know?



Anthony Friedkin

December 1973

Friedkin Intro, part 1

INTRODUCTION



From the dawn of time there have been gay people. We have known for a long time, in research, in the pure sciences, that in the process of evolution some people wind up primarily gay or homosexual, some people wind up primarily heterosexual, some people wind up primarily a variation thereof. But all beings are sexual, since this is whence we came. In that nine months of gestation there is a period of time in which you’re a nonentity, a period of time in which you’re asexual, a period of time in which you’re monosexual, a period of time in which you’re primarily homosexual, a period of time in which a majority of people, apparently, wind up heterosexual. Thus, if at that moment of birth this new person emerges and he or she is gay, nobody notices that. If that person is born black, or Chinese, or Japanese, or some other person of color that is instantly noticed, the father instantly notices it, the mother notices it, the obstetrician who assisted [the] it’s birth noticed it, the birth certificate is noted: Black American. But no birth certificate ever said GAY, because nobody noticed that. There was no way for it to be determined. [If only] there were some kind of litmus test that could be applied—[this] little blip that you put on the rump of a new baby, it says AH! the meter shows nine points… zing!… GAY. So we put on the birth certificate: A new gay person has been created. Gay people are denied that, [but] then gay people have to go through the same physical growth that non-gay people have to go through. However, at some point then, gay people are denied a spiritual growth. They are visitors in the village, not really belonging, and all that time being denied. There is an 18-year period of denial, and what happens to people during that period of denial? Some of them become alcoholics, some become drug addicts, some become stutterers, some become murderers, and some become terribly creative people. Whether more gay people become alcoholics, stutterers, or murderers than non-gay people, I don’t know. As a matter of fact I think probably not. Gay people share in a percentage of this! And if that’s true, it indicates that there is an inner spirit, a gay spirit, that is worthy of attention. Now at 18, 17, or 16, or whenever it happens, one has had a few single-gender sexual experiences and one is beginning to have those gay feelings, and then what happens when one tries to express that? Well, they’re shut off immediately. “You’re sick!” “Sinful!” “You’re horrible!” “You must go see Doctor Wasserman!” So as a result of this, people flee. They go to the coasts, or Chicago or New Orleans, and there undergo the transformation, [emerging from] the chrysalis. An escape from East Jesus, Nebraska, to personal freedom.

We cannot totally separate ourselves out from society around us. And in the beginning of gay liberation, gay liberation was not a separatist’s move, it was a parallelist’s move. It was that we were going to identify who we were in this society parallel to it, parallel to it, but equal to it. But this society’s going to deal with us. And during that time, some philosophers at the University had a notion that we were going to develop what we [call]—I think we invented the phrase by the way—a sense of community. A sense of being brothers and sisters in the high spiritual meaning of the word. And we sort of got trapped in thinking that there would be some instant recognition by which we would know who one another was. And there would be instant camaraderie and there would be instant joining together, and that’s just bullshit because gay liberation has made us more diverse, not less so.



Morris Kight

26 June 1975

Friedkin Intro, part 2
Troopers Hall
Christopher Street Parade, part 1
Hollywood, part 1
Hollywood, part 2
Hollywood, part 3
Impersonators
Morris Kight
Race
Rev. Troy
Jim, part 1
Jim, part 2

Supplemental Material and Ephemera


Anthony Friedkin: The Gay Essay
June 14, 2014 – January 11, 2015

de Young Museum
Golden Gate Park
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA 94118

The Gay Essay

  • Hardcover
  • 144 pages
  • by Anthony Friedkin

For more than 40 years, American photographer Anthony Friedkin (b. 1949), creating full-frame black-and-white images, has documented people, cities, and landscapes primarily in his home state of California. During the culturally tumultuous years of 1969 and 1970, Friedkin made a series of photographs that together offer an eloquent and expressive visual chronicle of the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco at the time. The Gay Essay is the first book to explore the series, in depth, within the broader historical context that gave rise to it.

Anthony Friedkin

Anthony Friedkin’s photography has been recognized internationally. His work is included in the Permanent collections of the J. Paul Getty Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the George Eastman House in Rochester. His photographs have been published in Japan, Russia, Europe, and many fine art magazines in the United States. He received a National Endowment for the Arts grant in 1977 and was given a special commendation by Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley for his contribution to fine art photography in 1980.


During his career he taught photography at both UCLA and CalArts College in Valencia. He has guest lectured at many libraries and diverse educational institutions. His exhibition photographs, created by Friedkin in his own darkroom, are included in numerous corporate and private collections.


A native of Los Angeles, Anthony Friedkin has been documenting the social landscape with his in-depth photo essays for over 45 years.

The original, physical maquette was designed by Claudia Laub in collaboration with Anthony Friedkin.