BY DONNA ACETO As a New Yorker of a certain age, I have longed for a visual portal into San Francisco in the 1970s. Armistead Maupin’s series of “Tales of the City” novels and my own imagination aside, Daniel Nicoletta’s “LGBT San Francisco” is the most fun historical romp I have found. On either paper or film.
My first visit to San Francisco was shortly after my 1976 college graduation. Sadly, my self- realization and coming out was still seven years off. I wasn’t remotely ready to experience the Castro.
Not at all disappointing is the fact my favorite photo of the collection comes in a black and white spread taken at Pride in June 1990 — an image that brings back for me a time when I was finally fully immersed in the community with a vengeance. Those were trying times, to be recalled by all of us with pride in each other.
Dan Nicoletta is a New York boy who did find his way to the Castro in the ‘70s. Not just the Castro but to work for Harvey Milk at Castro Camera. The self-proclaimed Miss Kodak 1969 (he did win the company’s Teenage Movie Award at 17), Nicoletta is a part of the community responsible for preserving the memory of Milk. In fact, he is the photographer we have to thank for the joyous image of Milk that smiles on us from our martyred hero’s postage stamp — a forever stamp, no less. Long live Harvey Milk!
Nicoletta’s photos show us what it was like to birth and live a movement, rather than simply observe one. From the steam baths to street fairs, entertainment to riots, we are drawn into what will live on as institutional memory, regardless of which coast it was where we participated in that history.
More importantly, Nicoletta’s photos have the power to draw in our youth and allow them to feel, not just study, our history. It is a remarkable collection not just for its youthful exuberance but also its scope. His photos of an early view of the AIDS Quilt and another of a lone figure walking down a massive hospital hallway provide needed educational lessons just by themselves.
“LGBT San Francisco” not only draws us into actions but shows off Nicoletta’s connection to the community. Whether portraiture from the streets or backstage — Divine, Allen Ginsberg, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, and, yes, the handsome nude men — his work is personal and intimate. And it represents our community in all its diverse glory.
“LGBT San Francisco” is an enormous collection including far more work than can be discussed here. The volume is chock full of activism and activists, performance and politics, headshots of folks you know and many you don’t. You will have to see for yourself. And rest assured, it does prove its own cover boys’ proclamation: “Faggots are Fantastic.”
LGBT SAN FRANCISCO | By Daniel Nicoletta | Reel Art Press | $50; 304 pages
Dan Nicoletta will discuss “LGBT San Francisco” at the Bureau of General Services — Queer Division (bgsqd.com) on June 23 at 7 p.m. at the LGBT Community Center, 208 West 13th Street, room 210.