I never set out to be a photographer, I set out to be an artist. I wanted to paint, sculpt, make beautiful things, have a cool time. But I started playing around with cameras, and I realized that photography was, every bit of it, a very personal diary. The best advice I ever got about what I was doing came from Robert Mapplethorpe’s boyfriend Sam Wagstaff. 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.
— Gay photographer Tom Bianchi opens up to The Fader‘s Alex Frank about capturing genuine tenderness, the youthful, lusty ideal and how life was like before Instagram on idyllic Fire Island of the 70s and 80s. Bianchi’s new photography book, Fire Island Pines. Polaroids, 1975 – 1983 is available now.
Towards the end of the interview, Alex asks Bianchi about Instagram and self-exposure. Bianchi’s response makes me think we should take more shirtless selfies. Maybe we should show ourselves off more, fuck it.
One of the remarkable things about the book is kind of how it feels like Instagram before Instagram was invented. Your work kind of predicts internet exhibitionism, showing off your friends, your self, your vacation.
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.
Alex also shares with Bianchi a feeling I’ve had all too well. Seeing photos of this golden gay era days goneby and feeling not so much nostalgia, but envy that perhaps I was born too late.
I was born in 1986, but sometimes I wish I’d come of age in 1986. Before the Internet, writing for a magazine was like being on The Hills and you didn’t need an iPhone app to find the horny guy with only a towel wrapped around his waist.
Then again, if I had come of age in 1986, chances are I’d be dead.