Saturday, 7 November 2015

Gay Semiotics: Can't You Read?

Are you a fister, or fistee? In 1970s Castro district San Francisco, the answer was right on the ass - a red handkerchief in the back pocket.

The Hanky Code of the pre-AIDS San Francisco gay community is lovingly documented in Gay Semiotics, the seminal work of photographer Hal Fischer, originally published in 1977 and re-released this month. The book is a cult classic field guide to gay style and expression - explored through photographs of nude men standing in trees, sadomasochistic contraptions, and the correct way to do poppers.

"The whole series and my subsequent work in that period, was about me, and my place in time, and the community I was in," explains Fischer. Photographed, written and exhibited over the course of a few months, Gay Semiotics depicts what Fischer calls, "the ambiguity, the way of being able to code things and communicate, and not have it be misunderstood." ...


The ubiquity and sophistication of these gay signifiers is often greatly overstated - do you really think many men could commit the entire supposed hanky code to memory, and recognise them in a dark gay venue?

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