“Gay Semiotics: a Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men” by Hal Fischer— Orientation and Identification

Fischer, Hal. “Gay Semiotics: a Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men”, Cherry and Martin, 2015.

Orientation and Identification

Amos Lassen

Hal Fischer’s book “Gay Semiotics: a photographic study of visual coding among homosexual men” was originally published in 1977 and is one of the most important publications associated with California conceptual photography in the 1970s. The new edition of Fischer’s book reproduces the look and feel of the original volume of 24 text-embedded images of Fischer’s 1977 photographic series, Gay Semiotics. The photographs present the codes of sexual orientation and identification that Fischer saw in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight Ashbury districts and we see the range of such sexual signifiers as handkerchiefs and keys as well as depictions of the gay fashion ‘types’ of that era—from ‘basic gay’ to ‘hippie’ and ‘jock’. We also have Fischer’s critical essay, which is marked by the same wry, anthropological tone found in the image/text configurations. The book was circulated widely and found an audience in both \ the gay and conceptual art communities.

Fischer insisted on the “visual equivalence of word and image; the use of words as pictures is a hallmark of the loose photography and language group that included Fischer, Lew Thomas, Donna-Lee Phillips, Peter D’Agostino, Sam Samore and others working in the San Francisco Bay Area”. When first published in 1978, it was a time when gay people had been forced to both evaluate and defend their lifestyles. Now almost forty years later, “the book remains a proactive statement from a voice within the gay community from a moment in history just before the devastation wrought by AIDS”.  

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