Castro to Christopher
Gay Streets of America 1979-1986
Published by powerHouse Books
Between 1979 and 1986, that is, after Stonewall and before the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, there was a period of exuberant and burgeoning gay life in places even then known as “gay paradises.” There were others, but the best known were San Francisco’s Castro District, New York’s Christopher Street and Fire Island, and Provincetown, Massachusetts.
The joy—and pathos—of these tragically lost worlds is beautifully and vibrantly documented in this collection of compelling portraits and street scenes photographed by Nicholas Blair. As a teenager lured to San Francisco from New York—via hitchhiking to Buenos Aires—Blair lived in a hippie-style arts commune just across town from the Castro. With a Leica rangefinder camera loaned to him by a childhood friend, Blair began honing his craft as a photographer amidst the explosion of LGBTQ life that was rapidly eclipsing the hippies as the most visible (and photographable) counter-culture movement of the day.
Blair's revealing, evocative, and celebratory photos are a window into the outburst of pent-up celebration and (occasionally) riotous ebullience of theretofore closeted persons who had suddenly felt the door of tolerance opening a crack, and who were now leaning in, hard, to live life openly as their true and genuine selves.
Perhaps most ironic, viewed from today’s perspective of intersectionality, is how extensively, especially in the San Francisco images, the “hippie” background dovetails with, for example, the vibrant flamboyance of many of those in the Pride Parades. How many degrees of separation are there, really, between Ken Kesey’s Merry Pranksters and The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence?
If the specter of AIDS were not hanging over these photographs, it would be as if they were showing us a parallel universe where full equality under law for LGBTQ people could have come so much sooner.
As they stand, these historic images are time capsules of a few places in America, where, for the very first time, and for a very short while, it was ok to be gay.
What People Are Saying About Castro to Christopher
"In the 1980s you cruised and hit the streets, everything had to be a 3D activity to be successful. It was fun, sometimes thrilling, and often full of charming surprises. Nick Blair perceptively captures the zeitgeist of this time in these often arresting and beautiful black-and-white photographs. As art should, they emphatically speak for themselves and invoke in me a feeling of gratitude for having experienced an era of gay life that now feels very far removed from the world we live in." —Rahal Eks, activist, author, and painter
"Blair has done a beautiful job of capturing affections, hugs and kisses, from the men and women who came out on Pride Day to align themselves with the LGBT community. It’s a book full of life and sparkling with its suggestions of love." —Samuel R. Delany, author of Dhalgren, Dark Reflections, and The Mad Man
"These pictures are extraordinary. Call them street photographs if you like, but they're unexpectedly compelling and richly revealing. Made at crossroads of desire, they're all about everyday erotics and history, the politics of looking, and the rewards and consequences of being seen." —Marvin Heiferman, curator and writer
"It will be hard for any gay person to look at these photos without a searing sense of loss. Even the streets themselves—in the Castro and the West Village—would no longer strike anyone as gay neighborhoods at all. But loss isn’t the only feeling these photos engender. When I look, I also feel warmth and wit, I feel invention and defiance, and, to quote Saint Donna (Summer), 'I Feel Love'.”—Jim Farber, (from the introduction)