[October is LGBT History Month and to celebrate, Queerty’s gaying up each day with our 31 Days of Queerstory.]
The history of the LGBT communities isn’t carried solely on the backs of the acknowledged founders and leaders of the modern queer movement such as Harry Hay and Harvey Milk. Sometimes people we’ve never heard of have also left a lasting legacy. For example, take the story of a closeted scientist at the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission. The unnamed man befriended dozens of hitchhikers along the Pacific Coast Highway between Venice Beach and Santa Barbara and convinced the young men to let him take photographs (some were artistic, some erotic) of them.
After the photographer passed away, the collection landed in the hands of a friend who later handed them over to L.A.’s indispensable ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives.
After filmmaker Paul Detwiler discovered the cache of images, he found the inspiration for his next project. His documentary short 24 Hitchhikers, described as “equal parts meditative memory piece and bearded-beefcake bonanza,” will be shown this Sunday as part of ONE’s Queer Film Fest.
Detwiler offered Queerty an exclusive statement about his film:
I was captivated by the young man standing in the doorway; his canvas knapsack and torn jeans a testament to time spent on the road; dark, brooding eyes conveying a quiet intensity still palpable as it was the day 40 years ago when his photo was taken.
The moment I opened the storage box of photographs proffered by ONE Archives curator Michael Oliveira and saw the stunning faces of dozens of hitchhikers from the 1960s–70s staring back, I felt like the photographer must have: intrigued by the untold stories of these men and attracted to their casual physicality; but unlike him, I felt compelled to share their beautiful images with others.
I was struck by a number of questions: who was the photographer, whose longings and desire for connection brought him and his roadside pickups together—first into his car, then into his studio? Who were the hitchhikers, what did they seek on their journeys during those tumultuous times of possibility, when personal re-invention and self-discovery awaited along the open road?
Without answers, but with the determination that these images were too brutally awesome to ignore, I tried to imagine myself as the photographer to create a memory piece, although I didn’t know where this would go. Essentially, I immersed myself in the photos, let them speak to me, and let myself respond. It was a fascinating process. A month later, the piece had created itself.
Nothing is known about the hitchhikers immortalized through the photographer’s camera lens. Though their stories will remain untold, whatever longings and desires those young men once held on the road, in bygone encounters, they’re still affecting and haunting, across the decades.
The 4th annual ONE Institute Queer Film Festival will take place October 13 in Los Angeles. For more information and tickets, go here.
See more photos below.