Melleno: The Fairoaks Project
Polaroids from a San Francisco bathhouse 1978
by Gary Freeman
Reception June 12th, 2010 7-10pm
collection of Polaroids was put in a box shortly after they were shot
and have not been seen until now. Many of the images contain nudity and
frank erotic scenes, but they also capture men dressed in festive attire
and engaged in other aspects of the counter-culture lifestyle the Fairoaks
promoted. Many artists lived at the hotel, and ongoing therapy-support
groups and monthly theme parties enhanced the Fairoaks’ reputation
as a neighborhood center for gay men as much as a bathhouse.
a string of black pearls, San Francisco’s bathhouses adorned the
city with a touch of louche glamour. The Hothouse. The Barracks. The
Handball Express. Animals. The Club, Bulldog, Sutro and, down by
the tracks, the Ritch Street Baths. The ever-notorious South-of-the-Slot,
and so many more. (They were all officially closed in October 1984.) Each
claimed a distinct character and clientele. But no place had quite the
feeling of coming home once through the front door as did the Fairoaks...
More than a pictorial record of a by-gone scene--or even of passing strangers
with sticky feet--these photographs open a door into a secret gay world
of sexual encounter and sweet innocence the likes of which will never
be seen again."
"In the headlong rush in the era of Plague to disown our promiscuous past as "immature," inherently pathological, and both lookist and sexist we've had few powerful counterarguments. But before we deny our past, we should at least know it. These photographs from the Fairoaks, precious and rare, are thus of defining importance. They show us a multi-racial erotic space that was also a clubhouse, a boy's dorm and a socio-cultural community center. Sex, in short wasn't just sex--it was that which enabled the creation of community for a new
movement just emerging from the shadow of self-loathing. The defining tone of these photographs is actually acceptance. Great sex, friendship, community building, the eroticization of difference--these historical images rebuke our present with the prospect that before AIDS changed everything, bathhouses were at the forefront of progressive social change."
limited-edition catalog from the exhibit, with
an introduction by Mark Thompson, is available for purchase on MagCloud