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PICTURE THIS Photo book documents '80s same-sex couples
by Tracy Baim, Windy City Times
2015-02-18

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Talk about patience. Sage Sohier has waited three decades to put together a wonderful collection of intimate portraits of, and interviews with, same-sex couples across the United States. Step back in time with her new book, At Home with Themselves, and experience this era of both love and death, during the early years of the AIDS crisis and the fight for civil rights.

As the LGBT community celebrates the stunning marriage victories sweeping through America's courts, this book provides a needed perspective on just how long this road has really been. Starting with the photo of two dads cooking with their child on the cover, the book takes you through a myriad of images showing what makes a family, including couples with pets, parents and wedding cakes well before it was legal to be married.

The 122-page softcover book includes 56 black-and-white photographs, interviews of the couples by the photographer, plus an essay by Hunter O'Hanian, director of the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.

As Sohier writes in the book's introduction, she came to document this community through an unusual story: "One evening in the late 1970s, my cousin Jackie happened to see my father dancing with a young man at a club in New York. When she reported this to me and my sister, we realized, rather belatedly, that our father must be gay. We were intrigued and relieved by this revelation. He had split up with our mother when we were toddlers, and had kept us at arm's length for many years. … He never 'came out' to either me or my sister, and it became increasingly clear that he didn't intend to. …

"In the spring of 1988, I was just finishing my same-sex couples project. It had taken me almost halfway into the project to realize that I had been inspired to a great extent by my lifelong curiosity about my father and more recent curiosity about his lifestyle. I was in New York showing the work to galleries and museums, and decided to call and see if my father was in town. He invited me over for lunch the next day; I had my portfolio with me, but figured I would never get up the nerve to show it to him.

"His partner, Lee, answered the door when I rang. He had long blond hair pulled back in a pony tail, a Southern drawl, and was about my age. Lee made sandwiches for us while I chatted with my father. I mentioned my project and, after some urging from Lee, showed them my photographs. My father appeared to be interested, amused, and touched. As we kissed goodbye later, his eyes teared up. His emotion and relief at my coming out for him was palpable. I began this project in 1986 because the advent of AIDS had led me to think about the prevalence, variety, and longevity of gay and lesbian relationships—the opposite of the promiscuity that was getting so much play in the press. My ambition was to make pictures that challenged and moved people and that were interesting both visually and psychologically. In the 1980s, many same-sex relationships were still discreet, or a bit hidden. It was a time when many gay men were dying of AIDS, which made a particularly poignant backdrop for the project."

Sohier continues, "Looking at these pictures now, I realize that it took a good deal more courage to stand up and be photographed as a same-sex couple in the 1980s than it does today, and I think the photographs somehow convey that. In some, there's a tentativeness, in others a kind of not-to-be-taken-for-granted raw tenderness. People in my father's generation had grown up feeling that being openly gay was just not an acceptable option. In my generation that began to change, and I was grateful to be witness to it."

Now you can be a witness, too, by exploring this treasure-trove of images. It's like opening a time capsule in your attic, peaking into the dusty photo albums of a generation of courageous individuals and couples.

See www.sagesohier.com/ahwt.html .

See related coverage at the link www.windycitymediagroup.com/gaynewsarticles.php .


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