Growing up in the 1950s, Tom Bianchi would head into downtown Chicago and pick up 25-cent “physique” magazines at newsstands. In one such magazine, he found a photograph of bodybuilder Glenn Bishop on Fire Island. “Fire Island sounded exotic, perhaps a name made up by the photographer,” he recalls in the preface to his latest monograph. “I had no idea it was a real place. Certainly, I had no idea then that it was a place I would one day call home.”
In 1970, fresh out of law school, Bianchi began traveling to New York, and was invited to spend a weekend at Fire Island Pines, where he encountered a community of gay men. Using an SX-70 Polaroid camera, Bianchi documented his friends’ lives in the Pines, amassing an image archive of people, parties and private moments. These images, published here for the first time, and accompanied by Bianchi’s moving memoir of the era, record the birth and development of a new culture. Soaked in sun, sex, camaraderie and reverie, Fire Island Pines conjures a magical bygone era. DAMIANI
Tom Bianchi: Fire Island Pines
Edited by Ben Smales. Introduction by Edmund White. Text by Tom Bianchi.
Featured images reproduced from Tom Bianchi: Fire Island Pines.
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Tom Bianchi – Printing of Fire Island Pines Polaroids 1975-1983 from Tom Bianchi on Vimeo.
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An excerpt from the VICE interview with Bianchi:
VICE: And you happened to be there with a fancy, new Polaroid camera, too.
BIANCHI: I was a lawyer at Columbia Pictures at the time. At an executive conference in Miami, we were given an SX-70 Polaroid camera. It was this little plastic thing, which I took to Fire Island a little while later and started taking pictures of my friends. At the time, a lot of people were still in the closet so, as you can understand, they were extremely wary of having their picture taken. So, the important thing about this camera was that it allowed me to take the picture and a few minutes later put it out on the table for people to take a look. It made everyone immediately more comfortable and I very quickly formed the intention to show the world what a cool, amazing place the capital of Queerdom was. Or the provincial part of it [laughs].
VICE: Leafing through the book, I can’t help but notice that everyone in the pictures is unbelievable hot.
BIANCHI: Well, the reason is twofold. Gay men in my generation were called pansies or poofs – we had been raised to have very negative feelings about ourselves. It was around our time that more and more guys began to discover gyms, too. And the more guys went from ordinary looking men to “Oh, my God, look at that stud,” the more of a no-brainer it became that you had to be as close to perfect as possible. Suddenly this really beautiful community of men emerged, and they all boarded planes, trains, or buses to Fire Island every weekend.
At the same time, I wanted my sexual partners to be really beautiful, hot guys. And I never wanted anyone to think I was using my camera to seduce people, so for the most part the intimate pictures are of people I had relations with.
VICE: And then HIV came along. The sense that I got from reading your book is that the disease set the gay rights movement back quite a few years.
BIANCHI: I think it’s the opposite. I think what happened was that we were kids, partying along, thinking we were untouchable, immortal. AIDS forced us to grow up.
READ THE FULL INTERVIEW @ VICE!
MORE PICS AFTER THE JUMP…