“The Gay Essay is comparable in magnitude to Robert Frank’s ‘The Americans’…the exhibit in its entirety is amazingly strong. And for the most part the photographs are singularly beautiful in execution.”
San Francisco Art Week, 1973
This weekend is Pride and today (Sunday) the 40th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots; an event generally regarded as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. To mark the occasion DRKRM Gallery in Los Angeles is exhibiting Anthony Friedkin’s Gay, A Photographic Essay 1969 – 1972.
Friedkin isn’t your run of the mill photographer. He’d likely balk at the top-heavy marketing necessary by the individual photographer to survive in today’s game. He doesn’t seem to have searched out publicity or reviews and never chased the recognition of the fine art world. There’s next to nothing written about him on the internet which supports my theory that he is of a different generation and different ethos.
He is a name not commonly known. This, of course, is our loss and not his.
Friedkin is as “California” as Henry Wessel. He is as culturally vital to the West Coast gay communities as Leigh Bowery was to London’s. Friedkin’s fascination with the couture and characters of subculture in the American West is on a par with that of Richard Avedon.
Friedkin was a one man Hamburger Eyes long before the zygote of Hamburger Eyes’ uncowed lens fell down the photo community fallopian tube.
A native of Los Angeles, Anthony Friedkin began photographing as a child. He started working in the darkroom at age eleven, processing and printing his own images. Since the early 1960’s, he has accomplished a significant body of work.
Friedkin’s projects include The Gay Essay done in San Francisco and Los Angeles in 1969 and 1970; The Beverly Hills Essay shot in 1975; The Hollywood Series began in 1978 continues to this day; and The Ocean-Surfing Essay which explores Friedkin’s intimate, intensely personal relationship with the surf and waves. For most of his life he has been photographing Los Angeles creating an unparalleled body of work informed by his love of the diverse conurbation.
Of all his major photographic series, only one documents life outside the Golden State (New York City Brothels).
Prison Photography is particularly interested in Friedkin’s photographic record of California Prisons and their inmates. The only image I have to present here is Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA (1991) [bottom].
California Prisons includes sensitive portrait shots of incarcerated teenagers, as well as the many typical representations of machismo and gang affiliated men.
I do not know if the series includes photographs of female prisoners, but this and many other unanswered questions now await a curious future…
I’d be very interested to hear from readers who’ve attended exhibition of the work and have any lasting impressions.
It is Friedkin’s devotion to the unexpected that distinguishes his work. He disarms the extraordinary and educates his audience. Friedkin presents outlying cultures without a second thought; he surrounded himself with these people and paid them total respect.
“They were defining their sense of freedom and individuality,” says Friedkin, who choose at the time to portray Gay people who refused to conform to society’s values. “I wanted to depict their struggles, humiliations, and their triumphs.”
As objective as the camera can be, it was so when in Friedkin’s hands and directed at people. Particularly, in documenting Gay culture, Friedkin was never reductive; he photographed the ‘wide-ranging composite … young hustlers, drag queens, transsexuals, San Francisco entertainers; a Gay Liberation parade in Hollywood; two lesbian women very much in love; effeminate boys growing up in an environment of machismo and the religious subculture typical of East Los Angeles.’
Friedkin’s close tie to California, and especially Los Angeles, is conspicuous in his work as a still photographer for the movie industry. He makes the distinction himself between the circles of Hollywood and the tradition gallery circuit as evidenced by his use of ‘Tony’ Friedkin for movie credit-lines. Work on Crips and Bloods: Made in America and an appearance as himself in Dog Town & Z-Boys tie Friedkin indelibly to the California cultures of today and yesteryear.
Anthony Friedkin has over forty years experience as a professional photographer. He started out as a photojournalist working as a stringer for Magnum photos in Los Angeles. For the past twenty-five years Anthony Friedkin has lived and worked out of his apartment studio in Santa Monica. Currently, he is preparing a book of his Ocean-Wave photographs. Friedkin’s photographs are included in major Museum collections including the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, San Francisco MoMA and The J. Paul Getty Museum. His work has been published in Japan, Russia, Europe, in many Fine Art publications in America and in magazines such as Rolling Stone, Newsweek, French Zoom and Malibu Magazine. For a full resume click here.