Friday, March 19, 2010

Band of Brothers: A Salvaged Legacy

[Third illustration: Unknown, Untitled, c.1972, found photograph]

Scott Zieher discovered a pile of photographs among discarded effects of a recently deceased tenant in the basement of a Manhattan apartment building. Exhibited for the first time in the show “Band of Bikers” at ZieherSmith (and presented in a new publication of the same name from PowerHouse Books), these photographs from circa 1972 offer an intimate and most poignant portrait of a group of gay bikers in both city and forest settings.

This touching sampling of a historical subculture at its carefree zenith brings into focus a brief, specific period of relative innocence, when middle-of-the-road Americans more often than not failed to perceive the homoerotic undertones of their most heterosexual of institutions. With conceptual light cast by issues ranging from anonymity in homosexuality and underground motorcycle chic to vernacular photography’s pop-culture ramifications, a warm and generous spirit of camaraderie pervades this subterranean survey. Like a real-world set for Kenneth Anger’s 1964 experimental film “Scorpio Rising” casually captured by an unpretentious extra, this found cache of old-school, leather party snapshots emanates archeological as well as emotional significance.

While the particular tenant’s cause of death is not known, these recovered artifacts bespeak the irreparable squander and loss of artistic, cultural, and literary legacy during the AIDS epidemic. During the late 1980s and early 1990s it was so outrageously commonplace to come upon trashed remnants of prematurely consumed lives. Isolated individuals (such as Zieher) managed to rescue minute portions of such treasures from oblivion. Happening upon such treasures on nights out with friends and comrades during that period, we would absorb the tragedy by looking through the books, records, and assorted ephemera of our lost brothers. Horrified, we would go through unidentified photos knowing that history and experience were being lost before a proper recording, reckoning, quantification, and qualification. At the same time we mourned for a brother unknown to us as well as the loss of his potential heritage. How we absolutely resented the cavalier decisions by survivors (whom we always assumed to be ultra-homophobic cretins from the "outer reaches") to trash such treasures on the curb!

The original individual photographs, as well as the book, will be available throughout the exhibition. The PowerHouse publication also includes an essay by Scott Zieher. Zieher , a poet, art dealer, and avid collector has scavenged and collected books, photographs, art, paper, archives, and ephemera since childhood. His recent poetry has appeared in Tin House, LAB MAG, The Sienese Shredder, and KNOCK. His first book, “Virga,” was the first of a projected 13 sequential, book-length poems. He is president and founding member of Emergency Press, and co-owner of ZieherSmith with his wife, Andrea Smith.

Amos Lassen has made the following observations about this documentation of three gay biker gatherings from the summer of 1972 (a high-water mark and season illuminated in the must-see documentary “One Bright Shining Moment: The Forgotten Summer of George McGovern”): “The photos are old and faded but they still show the happiness of the time and the beauty of men. Leather and denim fill the photographs and the men who are in them smile gloriously. They are all happy to be with each other and exude a true sense of brotherhood. Some of the photos are playful and there is a certain sinuosity to others. However, what we see above all else are senses of pride and belonging. Here is a history of a time gone and what we see is the carefree abandon with which some of the gay community lived (and loved). It would be wonderful to know what was going through the minds of the men in the photos but we will have to wait until someone else can supply us with that. Meanwhile we have this wonderful album.” Well said, Mr. Lassen!

Band of Bikers
@ ZieherSmith
Through Saturday, March 20, 2010
516 West 20th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues), NYC 10011

Band of Bikers 1962/1972 (Hardcover) by Scott Zieher

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