Saturday, October 13, 2007
The San Francisco Public Library wants to expand its gay history archive and is asking people to bring their personal photo albums to share snapshots of everyday gay life in the city.
The current public inventory is heavy on festivals - such as the Gay Pride Parade and Castro Halloween - and tragedies, such as the 1978 assassination of mayoral candidate and Supervisor Harvey Milk.
"We have newspaper archives from the News-Call Bulletin, but most of the pictures are criminalized - women getting arrested for dressing like men, people getting busted in a gay bar. They are sensational, and that was only one part of early gay history," said city archivist Susan Goldstein, who is leading the photo effort.
Because the San Francisco Public Library is one of the first stops for authors, filmmakers and historians working on gay-related projects, the archivists and librarians want to make room alongside such notables as Randy Shilts and Armistead Maupin for the little guy, who might have skipped the bohemia at the Beat-era Black Cat Cafe or the Queer Nation street protests but played just as important a role in the city's gay history.
On Sunday, library leaders will host Shades of San Francisco Photo Day, so that people of all stripes: stroller-pushing dads, drag queens, power-suit lesbians, teenagers, activists and homebodies can expand the city's official gay record by adding pictures of regular days at home, work and play.
Lorraine Grassano, 56, who in the 1970s started one of the first female-centered newsletters in San Francisco, Natural Lighting, had a hard time choosing which photos to submit.
"Here's me as a kid dressed as a ballerina, and then the same year dressed as a cowboy ... go figure," she said, flipping through her album.
She settled on a picture of herself in her city park ranger uniform.
"I was one of the first women, and probably the first bisexual woman, to have that job," she said.
Sister Kitty Catalyst O.C.P. (of the catnip patch), a performance artist and member of the queer charity group Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, has amassed a large photo collection since moving to San Francisco from London in 1993. She's been busy, co-directing the San Francisco AIDS Candlelight Vigil, organizing hepatitis vaccinations, dispatching safety whistles to combat hate crimes, and directing the San Francisco AIDS Hero Awards.
One of the favorites from her album depicts the antics of "Guerrilla Queer Bar," a group of friends who would invade straight bars in places like Pleasant Hill and "turn them gay" for a couple of hours.
While most of Sister Kitty's submissions celebrate whimsy, the exercise is deeply serious.
"My family all have pretty much disowned me ... so for me, being able to share photos and tell my own story is quite powerful," she said.
Sifting through photos brought tears to 62-year-old writer/playwright Bob Locke of Sacramento, whose brother was 1970s porn star and AIDS activist Richard Locke.
"I wrote children's books, and my brother wrote porn, so I thought we would make a good display," Locke said.
At both ends of the literary spectrum, the brothers tackled the topic of AIDS at a time when few people understood it or could have imagined its devastation.
One photo Locke contributed shows his brother standing in a sea of men in Washington, D.C., in 1983, each holding a sign aloft with a number representing a death from AIDS. The number his brother is holding is 276.
"That was back when the death toll was in the three digits," Locke said.
Before he died of HIV-related complications in 1996, Richard Locke would routinely travel to Mexico for HIV drugs and distribute them in an underground clinic in Sacramento.
Bob Locke submitted four family portraits taken in the same pose in 1945, 1960, 1985 and 1995. He wanted to honor his departed mother, who always supported her two gay sons.
"I'm doing this to show Richard and I also had a strong link to our family," he said. "Our mother let us be who we wanted to be, which at that time was revolutionary."
This is the Library's fifth Shades of San Francisco photo project. Past photo drives have collected private images documenting specific neighborhoods: the Mission District, Western Addition, Ocean View/Ingleside/Merced and the Sunset.
The photos gathered Sunday will become part of the permanent collection at the Main Library's History Center, and will also go into an exhibit at the Eureka Valley Branch when it reopens in 2009 after remodeling.
-- For an audio slideshow of people sharing their family photographs, go to sfgate.com.
Adding to gay history
The San Francisco Public Library will be copying personal photos to augment its gay history archive from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 14, at the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Memorial Branch Library, 1 Jose Sarria Court. Historians and volunteers will select images, copy and return them on the spot.
Appointments are strongly encouraged and can be made by calling (415) 752-2483 or e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Drop-ins will be accepted if time permits. For more information, visit www.sfpl.org/news/lgbtqishades.
To see a Chronicle audio slide show of some of the images that will be added to the S.F. Library collection, go to sfgate.com.
E-mail Meredith May at email@example.com.
This article appeared on page B - 3 of the San Francisco Chronicle