Project Native Informant

Hal Fischer

The Gay Seventies

PNI, London

If Castro was the village, the intersection of Castro and Market Streets was the town square. Events - both positive and negative - were the catalyst for demonstrations and marches originating at this intersection. Gays and lesbians would gather there on short notice to celebrate, protest, or mourn. This was all the more remarkable because the landline - in absence of cell phones, Internet, or social media - was the only form of non-face-to-face communication.

The Castro embodied all that was fun about the 1970s. The election of Harvey Milk gave the community a tremendous sense of empowerment. The sexual revolution lived on, and social diseases, which were rampant, didn’t require much more than a trip to the city clinic and a course of antibiotics. While the Castro clone was a predominant stereotype, the neighbourhood mix also included drag queens and members and followers of the Angels of Light, a polysexual theatre group formed after the breakup of the Cockettes, as well as those who sartorially carried on the legacy of the Summer of Love. The Castro Street Fair, which Harvey milk created in 1974 as a protest to the discriminatory policies of some of the local merchants, grew into a giant annual celebration with vendors and a stage at Castro and Market. Here one might be fortunate enough, as I was, to experience a performance by the legendary Sylvester. It was great to be gay, and the Castro was the epicentre of the gay universe.

In 1970s gay San Francisco, Oscar Wilde would have found all the delights he envisioned in the next world and more. Gay bathhouses, which would be closed down in the 1980s in an ineffective knee-jerk response to the AIDS epidemic, were plentiful and catered to a variety of tastes. At 2:00 a.m., when the bars closed, hundreds of men would flood out onto Eighteenth and Castro Streets. It was a playground and no one need go home alone.

                                                                     -- ‘At the Center of the Gay Universe’ in Hal Fischer: The Gay Seventies, 2019


Hal Fischer’s second solo exhibition at the gallery presents three series of works shown for the first time in the UK: 18th near Castro St. x 24, 1978, is a hybrid of performance, photography and portraiture. For 24 hours, Fischer took a photograph of a bus stop bench at the corner of 18th and Castro Street in the heart of San Francisco’s gay village. Along the way, the artist cruises, catches up with friends, increasingly getting drunk and high. Civic Center, 1979, is a triptych focusing on San Francisco’s City Hall at three key moments: the annual gay pride celebration, a protest against Proposition 6, an initiative to ban gays from working in Californian schools, and the assassination of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in the history of California. Cheap Chic Homo, 1979, is a performative deconstruction of a friend’s everyday outfit. Listing both the items of clothing as well as their provenance, Fischer’s subject cheekily looks to the audience in an often sly manner.

The UK launch of Fischer's The Gay Seventies (Gallery16 Press), the first monograph to feature the complete set of photo-text works that Hal Fischer produced between 1977 and 1979 in San Francisco's Haight and Castro neighbourhoods, takes place on Saturday 9 November 15:00 - 17:00. The artist will be in conversation with Charlie Porter to discuss Fischer's best-known works and gay life in late 1970s San Francisco.

Following Project Native Informant’s solo presentation at Art Basel 2019, upcoming exhibitions include Fischer’s first UK retrospective Gay Semiotics and Other Works at GoMA, Glasgow; Thought Pieces: 1970s Photographs by Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips and Hal Fischer, SFMoMA, San Francisco; and Masculinities: Liberation through Photography, Barbican Art Gallery, London.

Units 1 and 3
48 Three Colts Lane
London E2 6GQ
United Kingdom

Wednesday - Saturday
12:00 - 18:00