PHOTOS: Tom Bianchi Remembers Fire Island Through A Lens Fondly In “Polaroids 1975-1983”


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

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  • kayakriver

    Nice pictures!

  • erikwm

    The interview asks:

    “As a 26 year old, I look at your book and books like this, nostalgic books about the past… and think, I wish I was born then. Now sucks, comparatively! Was it really that great?”

    Are you kidding me?! I am forever grateful THAT wasn’t my time. The pictures may look pretty, but what came next was a nightmare.

  • Homophile


  • Spike

    Figures it be Polaroids from 35 years ago, no way Queerty would be able to find let alone post pics of hairy gay guys in present day.

  • viveutvivas

    Pre-steroid bodies, for a change.

    I can’t look at these pictures without great sadness, though, given what we know in hindsight about the nightmare that was stalking these men even then.

  • dvlaries

    Behold how sexy a man still can be without pierced ears, lips, eyebrows, taints, scrotums, navels, tongues or a back, chest and limbs defaced permanently with embedded ink. It really was that way once.

  • yaoming

    @dvlaries: So right… these guys, including the hunky photographer himself in picture #1 are natural, beautiful men. I want to see more.

  • mpwaite

    I had the priviledge of meeting him on my Atlantis Cruise back in the early 2000’s. He is such a nice guy; and true to form, was taking incredible pictures of lovely sexy men.. He actually asked if he could photograph me; he said he was in love with my green eyes, and he did so along with his models; I felt so honored to have been photographed by a man who’s photographic masterpieces adorned both my library and coffee tables in my home.

  • PSPoolside

    @erikwm: What came next was just another part of life, illness, caregiving, death. I survived it many didn’t and as a community we learned and grew. And yes it was fun, still is.

  • Presty15

    Thanks for the memories of a wonderful, special time and place.

  • Jerry12

    Unless one happens to be one of the people on the photos, why in the world would anyone actually pay money to have a copy? As photographs, they are nothing to brag about having taken.

  • erikwm

    @PSPoolside: Silly me! I didn’t realize burying half your friends while in your 20’s and 30’s was “just another part of life.”

    Nonetheless, I remain grateful it hasn’t been part of mine.

  • o.codone

    Those were some really fun days on Fire Island, but of course, nobody could see what was coming. When AIDS hit, Cherry Grove died too. The silence out there was frightening and sad. It replaced the laughter and the voices of our friends. For a couple of years all you could hear was the ocean. No parties, no camp guys hanging out. Everybody waiting for the other shoe to drop. There was no test at first and you could cut the tension with a knife. Life went overnight from raucous sex and drug parties in the dunes to worry, despair and death. Eventually, slowly that changed and the irrepressible gay spirit won out, but that was a very long journey from there to here. I always wonder how differently this (gay world as it is now) would have turned out if there was no AIDS. Any ideas?

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