Tuesday, May 11, 2010
JERRY PRITIKIN'S SAN FRANCISCO IN THE 1970s
My interest in taking photographs happened when I moved to San Francisco from Chicago, in the mid-1960s. I bought a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera, to send pictures to friends and family in Chicago, of the bridges, Fisherman's Wharf, the cable cars and the natural beauty of the Bay Area. However, left over beatniks, hippies, flower children, Peace Mongers (war protesters) and the free Rock Concerts in Golden Gate Park seemed to find their way in front of my camera. An ounce of pot cost $7. bucks!
To start the 1970s, I moved between the Haight-Ashbury, and a changing S.F. neighborhood in the Eureka Valley, called the Castro. I bought a better Canon FTb-SLR camera, and a few lenses.To be honest, I really didn't know what I was doing... but it seemed I was doing it right. In The Castro, changes were happening daily... The Twin Peaks Gay Bar, at the corner of Market & Castro Street, took the paint off their big plate glass windows, becoming the first gay bar in the nation, that you could look into, as well as look out of- at the people walking by or waiting for the bus. Several old time mom and pop shops were purchased by new gay owners. Several old-time neighborhood bars became gay bars over night. For me... whenever I left my house on Alpine Terrace, I brought my camera along, and it became my constant companion.
I never printed my own photos, and always took advantage of the best sale to have them printed. In 1973, I asked the owner of Georgeanna's Bakery Shop at 420 Castro... just a few yards from today's Harvey Milk Plaza... If I could display my photos in the window of her shop, and she agreed. It was located next to a very busy bus stop and transfer spot. I kept the window filled with a mixture of photos. Many of my photographs contained a word, or words within the frame of the photo. I called them "PHOTOGLYPHICS". They also had messages within them... some were subliminal, and a few jumped right OUT of the print! And those that had no words, seemed to speak for themselves!
At the same time... a new camera shop opened a block away at 575 Castro. It was called Harvey Milk's . Within a short while it became similar to a small town's General Store, without the potbelly stove! People came in to pet Harvey's dog, talk politics, or just to watch the never ending parade of good looking young men passing in front of Harvey's store front window. I began to take my film there to have developed, and became friends with Harvey and his partner Scott Smith. By osmosis...I was involved in early gay sports and politics I joined the first gay sponsored softball league in the country. I became a freelance photographer, and publicist that specialized in gay clients, bars and businesses.
I hardly ever sold any of my photographs, and really didn't mind... just as long as people had the opportunity to see them. Once in a while, I was asked to shoot some kids... or private parties, or various gay events. I entered into a few judged shows and was invited to the Civic Center Art Show, and Washington Square Park Photo show for the next several years. In 1977, along with 10 other gay photographers, took part in the first all gay exhibit of its kind, in protest of Anita Bryant. It was featured in the S.F. Chronicle's art section. I outed myself nationally, when I created the "Anita Bryant's Husband is a Homo-Sapien! T-shirt via United Press International. Several weeks later, I was able to get Jane Fonda to wear one at a S.F. gay fund raiser... and on June 7,1977/ "Orange Tuesday", my image of Harvey, with the bullhorn taken at the end of an impromptu march in response to Bryant's led victory to over turn a gay rights ordinance at Dade Country Florida, was flashed across the country via Associated Press. It introduced Harvey Milk, nationally as a spokesman, 5 months before he was elected as the first openly gay male politician in the country. That image became a footnote in gay history.
This exhibit, is a time-capsule of San Francisco in the 1970s... for me, it is like getting on the reversible light-year train, going back to the time it was just arriving there... and these images are the results of that era in the early S.F. gay rights movement.