Joy and nakedness at San Francisco’s Dyke March: Phyllis Christopher’s best photograph | Photography

In San Francisco, the night time earlier than the annual Delight parade is reserved for the Dyke March, a celebration of lesbian life all through town. It was like our Christmas – the largest night time of the yr – and half of us could be so hungover we wouldn’t make it to Delight the subsequent day.

I keep in mind getting a name from an editor at On Our Backs, a lesbian journal run by girls that billed itself as providing “leisure for the adventurous lesbian”. It was a bedrock of the lesbian group – one of many few methods to speak with each other, and to have fun intercourse and educate one another about it at a time when Aids had introduced a lot devastation to queer communities. The editor wished me to shoot a kiss-in, however the tone of her voice sounded virtually responsible – like she couldn’t fairly carry herself to ask me to work on the largest social gathering night time of the yr. However to me, it was probably the most enjoyable I might think about.

Lesbians from all around the nation, a lot of whom I knew, had gathered within the park, mingling and chatting to whoever got here alongside – homosexual, straight, no matter gender. However when the Dyke March started, the crowds cleared and the Dykes on Bikes took the lead, with the remainder of us forming a column behind.

I’ve at all times discovered one thing stunning about that second: individuals stepping apart to offer lesbians their area, to have fun and applaud them. Most of the girls would march shirtless as a gesture of their freedom. It was a time for lesbians to claim themselves within the public sphere, a second of security and pleasure.


The principles of the Dyke March had been just about “something goes so long as it’s enjoyable”. Girls had been celebrating being half bare, feeling secure and supported by everybody. There have been no protesters as a result of there have been just too many queer individuals in San Francisco. It was a second of untamed abandon, marching via the streets, climbing bus stops, on high of vehicles, hanging out of home windows.

This shot was taken on 18th Road within the Castro, one of many centres of queer life in San Francisco. Anybody who had an condo on the march route would take full benefit of their home windows. Yearly, the inhabitants of homes would lean out of the home windows, typically with indicators, screaming for the group and the group would scream again.

Greater than 20 years later, this picture nonetheless hits me in my intestine: I really feel the ability in it. It encapsulates a form of pleasure that, at the time, was completely mandatory. It was a manner of celebrating intercourse within the face of the loss of life wrought by Aids, and in opposition to voices on the correct who blamed us for the epidemic. We couldn’t marry and job safety was nonetheless uneven throughout the US for queer individuals. We nonetheless felt like outlaws.

Within the Eighties, there was lots of dialogue amongst feminists in regards to the significance of intercourse. Some took a strident line – that photographing intercourse was offensive, even violent. Whereas we owe every thing to lesbian feminists of that period – they paved the best way in so many respects – our technology wished one thing totally different. We had been professional kink, professional intercourse, and professional pornography. Intercourse meant rather a lot to us; we weren’t simply going to let it go. It was a form of political hedonism.

There have been few instances in historical past the place girls run the digital camera, the press and the ecosystem of publishing. However the world we created in San Francisco felt like an attractive laboratory. It wasn’t separatist by any means – we didn’t seclude ourselves from males and non-lesbians – however we had been making work for one another. I feel that’s evident in these photos.

Publishing my work from that time in book form has been a dream of mine. I photographed that interval so intensively: it advised such a narrative of that group, and I didn’t need it to get misplaced. Images can get destroyed, ruined or misplaced, and the relative shortage of lesbian publications implies that, typically, this work is absent from our collective archives. I’m so glad this survived.

I’ve immense respect for the ladies who let me photograph them. It was an actual political assertion. However there was a sense that it was additionally important to let different homosexual girls know that they weren’t alone. There’s at all times this stereotype of the lesbian as indignant. Typically, we had motive to be. However typically, we had been too busy having a good time.

Phyllis Christopher.
Phyllis Christopher. Photograph: Kate Sweeney

Phyllis Christopher’s CV

Born: Buffalo, New York, 1963
Skilled: State College of New York at Buffalo.
Influences: Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, Honey Lee Cottrell, Jessica Tanzer, Chloe Atkins, Leon Mostovoy, Mark Chester and Jill Posener.
Excessive level: Getting my e-book, Darkish Room: San Francisco Intercourse and Protest, 1988-2003 revealed this yr.
Low level: Making the swap from working in a darkroom to the digital world. I missed the magic and chemistry of revelation below the pink lights.
Prime tip: “Comply with your bliss – your coronary heart at all times is aware of the reply.”


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