PHOTOS: In the new tome, Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1983, photographer Tom Bianchi captures the beauty of the gay utopia, both its environemnt and its occupants, before and during the onslaught of the AIDS epidemic. Bianchi sat down with The Fader to discuss that lost era, his lost friends and what he’s gained with age. Here are a few excerpts from his interview:
On getting his subjects to strip down: …[A] lot of people were very nervous about the possibility of being outed by a photograph. You’d lose your job back then if your employer found out you were gay! So to win them over, and to persuade them that it was okay to show ourselves to the world, I had to show them how beautiful I saw them.
On Fire Island: Fire Island was, for me, a little utopia away from everything. It’s literally an island. And even for me, my photos were an idealization…Stonewall happened right before I got to New York and shortly before I started doing all of this at Fire Island. The image of the homosexual was that of degenerates working in shadows and perverts trying to seduce children. So healthy young American boys playing on the beach? Early game changer…Basically I saw myself as the supporter of and encourager of the whole gay consciousness that was emerging at that time in a very positive way…What’s special about it is remembering the affection that we all had for each other. We were all best buddies. We played together, we partied together, we adored each other. We danced with each other.
On the beginning of the AIDS crisis: Literally you would hear that an entire house, 6-8 guys, all of them had died over the course of the winter. That was not an uncommon thing. There was a particular day I remember when I was walking down the beach and every friend I encountered said, “Did you hear about….” And it was always a hospital admission, a death, pneumonia, something. In those days, whatever that something was, was a death sentence. Nobody, nobody survives. It was a 100% death sentence. I wonder today how I could have held it together, given what my life became, because life became endless visits to hospital room, endless memorial services, and being witness to things. A lot of us were still in our 20s—a pimple on our forehead could wreck Saturday night. Imagine children going through the development of debilitating diseases which robbed them of everything. Mobility, looks, sight, often hearing.
On getting older: Ben…is 29 years younger than I am. We have a super intense romantic relationship. More than any other relationship I’ve ever had in my life. And I’m fucking 67 years old. I wonder, how the hell did this happen? Because I was supposed to be retired, over the hill, invisible, etc. But so much of this is all expectation, and my whole life has been about, let’s not live by negative expectation. I’ve learned a lot. And a lot of what I learned was to accept my good fortune and cultivate it.
Read the full interview at The Fader.
Photos courtesy of The Fader