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Coinciding with San Francisco’s annual Pride events and the 45th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City, Anthony Friedkin’s seminal body of work The Gay Essay goes on show this month at the De Young Museum, in San Francisco.

The Gay Essay chronicles the gay communities of Los Angeles and San Francisco between 1969 a 1973 — an era of great strides for political activism in the gay communities in California and nationwide.

Friedkin (b.1949) has always been committed to documenting cultures in his home state of California. The Gay Essay was one of his earliest efforts; he embarked on it as a 19-year-old. Self-assigned, Friedkin went poolside, to the city streets, and into motels, bars and discos in an attempt to create the first extensive record of gay life in the Golden State.

Shot in studio

Shot in studio

Shot in studio

“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 devoid of judgment,” says the de Young press release. “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.”

In 1973, the San Francisco Art Week wrote, “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.”

And yet, The Gay Essay has remained known, since, primarily only to photo-boffins. Consequently, I am personally eager to see this work. It’s “footprint” is not as large as its social significance warrants. Indeed, at the time of writing, a search “Anthony Friedkin” on Google has as the first result a speculative piece I posted on Prison Photography nearly five years ago. (Who knows, perhaps Google’s search metrics might shift a little once Friedkin and The Gay Essay enjoy new press interest for this big De Young show?)

Shot in studio

Shot in studio

The paucity of images and information on the internet is indicative of a wider photo culture that just hasn’t had Friedkin on the radar. This dearth has been reflected in the real world too. While selections from The Gay Essay have been on public display in museums and galleries in the past, the entire scope of the series — 75 vintage prints — has never been exhibited before in one venue.

The Gay Essay 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.

If you’re in the Bay Area at any point in the next six months, I recommend catching this exhibition.

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Shot in studio

Shot in studio

EXHIBITION DETAILS

The Gay Essay runs June 14, 2014 – January 11, 2015, at the DeYoung Museum, Golden Gate Park, 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco, CA 94118.

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.

Friedkin

Exhibition catalogue: 144 pages, Yale University Press. Hardcover $45.

Read more at Los Angeles Times, and at DRKRM Gallery.

All images: © Anthony Friedkin

BIOGRAPHY

Anthony Friedkin started out as a photojournalist working as a stringer for Magnum photos in Los Angeles. 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 internationally including in Rolling Stone, Newsweek and others. He lives in Santa Monica, California.

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“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

Sun Reflections on Wave, Zuma Beach, CA, 2000. Anthony Friedkin. Photography - Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches

Sun Reflections on Wave, Zuma Beach, CA, 2000. Anthony Friedkin. Photography - Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

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.

Woman by the Pool, Beverly Hills Hotel, CA, 1975. Anthony Friedkin. Photography - Silver Gelatin Print. 16 x 20 inches

Woman by the Pool, Beverly Hills Hotel, CA, 1975. Anthony Friedkin. Photography - Silver Gelatin Print. 16 x 20 inches

Dan, Male prostitute, San Fernando Valley. Anthony Friedkin. 1972

Dan, Male prostitute, San Fernando Valley. Anthony Friedkin. 1972

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).

Clockwork Malibu, Rick Dano on the Highway, Malibu, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1977. Photography - Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches

Clockwork Malibu, Rick Dano on the Highway, Malibu, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1977. Photography - Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches

Debbie with her Head in the Sand, Venice, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1980. Silver Print. 11 x 14 inches

Debbie with her Head in the Sand, Venice, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1980. Silver Print. 11 x 14 inches

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.

Android Sisters, Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1978. Silver Print.

Android Sisters, Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1978. Silver Print.

Jaws, Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1978. Photograph. Silver Print.

Jaws, Universal Studios, Hollywood, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1978. Photograph. Silver Print.

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.’

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches

Four Convicts, Folsom Prison, CA. Anthony Friedkin. 1991. Silver Print. 16 x 20 inches.

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.

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