Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The Fairoaks Project

One of the slightly awkward things about the Internet is stumbling over events or occasions that you would like to be at, only to discover that they are happening half a world away or, more normally several years ago. Both are true of an exhibition at the drkrm gallery in California called The Fairoaks Project. Polaroids from a San Francisco Bath House 1978. Fortunately, however, there's a book and, whilst it would be noble to buy the hard copy version from Blurb, which I hope to do at some point, there is a preview on Blurb which enables you to flick through the whole book.

 "The Fairoaks Project is a bold and unapologetic celebration of gay male sexual culture featuring Polaroids taken at The Fairoaks Hotel in San Francisco by Frank Melleno in the spring and summer of 1978.
During the late 1970's, the gay community in San Francisco was thriving, vibrant and sensual. There were numerous venues for gay men to congregate, such as bars, social clubs, political action groups and perhaps a half dozen bathhouses. Unique amongst these bathhouses was the Fairoaks Hotel which was located at the corner of Oak and Steiner in the Hayes Valley district. The hotel was a converted Victorian apartment building owned and operated from 1977 to 1979 by a group of men who had formerly lived together in a commune. These men infused the Fairoaks with a different atmosphere than was evident at other bathhouses at the time. For example, all the rooms were normal scale (no cubicles), there were non-institutional furnishings, artists had been commissioned or allowed to decorate and paint the rooms, and it was generally lighter than a normal bathhouse. Most significantly, the Fairoaks was racially inclusive, and was promoted as a party location. This party atmosphere fostered a lenient climate for informal photography.
Fortunately, most of these Polaroids, kept in a cardboard box for nearly 30 years have survived. These photographs were casual snapshots of the men at the bathhouse taken with subject's permission and displayed in the lobby on a bulletin board for viewing the next week. These photographs capture an aspect of the gay community rarely seen in snapshot photography: sexually frank, playful, spontaneous, and often-affectionate encounters. The storm clouds of drug abuse and disease that will soon overtake the community are not at all evident in these images."
(Whilst we don't do full frontal nudity here at FFEP, please be aware that the book does contain more than that and shouldn't be viewed at work, college or anywhere you don't want someone looking over your shoulder!)

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