“It was a world where they could laugh and be affectionate, have boyfriends…. It was one tiny bit of the world that was ours,” Tom Bianchi told In Sight as he recalled photographing the gay community of Fire Island Pines from 1975 to 1983. “We were fresh out from under our parents’ thumbs, in a different world with a different value system.”
The Pines, a mile-long slice on a 36-mile-long barrier island east of Manhattan along the Long Island coast, was a sanctuary for up to 10,000 gay men during weekends. Bianchi, a lawyer turned painter turned photographer, spent weekends there with his SX-70 Polaroid camera documenting that jovial environment that allowed many men their first opportunity to walk openly with a romantic partner.
Bianchi’s motivation for publishing the photographs harks back to that feeling of freedom. “I didn’t want another kid to grow up in this culture not knowing there was a place for them in the sun,” he said.
Having the physical Polaroid prints helped him gain trust and capture moments of intimacy. He would lay prints out on a table at parties so it was clear what type of photographs he was taking. “They could see how cool life looked from my eyes, that I was looking for beauty. It [the project] was possible because we all knew what it was about — our love for each other.”
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