Tom Bianchi is best known for his stunning collection of Fire Island Polaroids, taken between 1975 and 1983. These image document 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.
While Bianchi is known for his polaroids, he’s still documenting queer life in Fire Island Pines, a gay enclave 40 miles outside of Manhattan. Only now, he’s turned his camera in for an iPhone and his gallery today is Instagram.
The 71-year-old artist beautifully captures the magical queerness of the destination, showcasing his inhibited subjects who let him into private moments behind closed doors.
An interviewer compared the exhibition quality of Bianchi’s Polaroid work to Instagram, obviously happening before the social media platform was invented. He responded: “You’re looking at what would be the Abacus version of the computer. But I think exhibitionism is a healthy thing. If you have high self-regard, play with yourself, put yourself out there. You’ll be so much more free and healthy for it.”
“I’ve always said you have to find something that you think is a little scary and you’re not sure you would be comfortable doing it, and then that’s the cliff you throw yourself off. What’s the downside? Well, maybe you get more dates on Saturday night. And smile while you’re doing it.”
Bianchi also shared the best advice he ever received that came came from Robert Mapplethorpe’s boyfriend Sam Wagstaff.
Bianchi says, “I was showing him some of my pictures and some of the things I thought were very coolly composed and had artistic coloring, and he was poo-pooing them. He said, ‘You can’t compete for color with everyone else, but you’ve got one thing that no one else has: you have the uncanny ability to take us behind the doors of you and your friends’ lives.'”
“‘Make your pictures about that. That’s what’s going to be interesting in hundreds of years.’ And he’s right. I’m interested in conceptual art and all of that, but it seems to me not so interesting as pictures of life. Because the lessons that we need to learn, to have a fulfilling life, come from other people.”
Wagstaff’s advice still rings true today. Thankfully for us, Bianchi is still sharing his world with all of us, one Instagram at a time.