In the ’70s and ’80s, New York’s Fire Island Pines was one of the few places in the world where men could be openly gay and show affection in public. Today, a stunning collection of Fire Island Polaroids, taken by artist Tom Bianchi between 1975 and 1983, documents that lost ‘golden age’ for gay men. Currently on exhibit in New York City, Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-83 can be seen at Throckmorton Fine Art through Sept. 16.
A book carrying the same name as the exhibition was listed as one of Time magazine’s Best Photo Books of 2013. Now large versions of the Polaroids are available for all to see.
Some of Bianchi’s Fire Island Polaroids don’t look real, resembling paintings or sketches more than photographs, as if Tom of Finland had gone on holiday to the beach and swapped his black and white cartoon hunks for bronzed gods, golden sands and turquoise skies. There are dozens of gorgeous shots of guys holding hands, kissing and being affectionate in a world where it was still almost unheard of to be able to do so publicly and openly. But these are real photos of real guys living in a different time.
Bianchi gained the trust of the men he photographed in their Fire Island haven by sharing Polaroids with them, celebrating them and making it clear he was on their side.
“In the Pines, my dreams of being an out gay man and artist became possible,” says Bianchi.
In decades past, up to 10,000 men would descend on Fire Island on the weekends for its famous tea dances and legendary all-night parties. It was the first time many would men would ever feel safe enough to hold hands in public, and perhaps still is. Fire Island remains one of America’s ultimate gay vacation destinations, and its parties are themselves still legendary.
When the AIDS crisis hit, Bianchi’s Fire Island Polaroids stopped. They were put away in a box until their publication only a few years ago.
If you’re in New York or visiting before Sept. 16, it’s well worth seeing the large, limited-edition versions of Bianchi’s amazing photography. If not, the book is another amazing option.