Hal Fischer “Gay Semiotics”
Cherry and Martin is proud to present Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics (1977/2014). This is the first time Fischer’s landmark group of photographs has been seen in its entirety in almost forty years.
Gay Semiotics is one of the first conceptual works to bring the language of structuralism and linguistics into photographic practice. Twenty-four photographs—with text printed into the photographs—are codified as “Archetypal Media Images,” “Signifiers, “Street Fashion, and “Fetish.”
Here’s the words of the artist, taken from the Queer Cultural Center:
In February 1977 I began work on a series of photographs which dealt with signaling devices found in the gay community. The images evolved out of my attempts to integrate the phenomena I observed in my neighborhood (Castro Street & Haight Ashbury) with my readings on structuralism.
Originally I had not planned to continue beyond the signalling photographs, but I quickly realized that from an anthropological position I had only scratched the surface of the gay experience. At that time my interest was further generated by the fact that I could not find any books or written information dealing with the visual iconography of the gay lifestyle. During this period Donna-Lee Phillips suggested that I write an essay on gay semiotics for Eros and Photography . The research and subsequent article (reproduced here) formed the nucleus for many of the photographic ideas which appear in this book.
The exhibition of these photographs and publication of Gay Semiotics have occurred at a time when gay people have been forced to both evaluate and defend their lifestyles. In the past year we have witnessed the Anita Bryant purge and continued legislative attempts to curtail human rights. We have also observed San Francisco’s incredible gay day parade of 1977 and a developing awareness on social, economic, and political levels. At this point I cannot begin to describe how these things have affected my work, except to say that I hope this book will be part of the new and growing consciousness.
Hal Fischer – November, 1977 – San Francisco, California
One of the key artworks associated with 1970s California conceptual photography, Gay Semiotics is marked in particular by Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image.
Fischer’s work goes in the opposite direction of Robert Mapplethorpe; as one Artforum reviewer wrote in 1977, “This is to say Fischer never sensationalizes, and the voyeurism which seems to come so naturally to photography is absent.”