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Photography Tue Jun 08 2010
Jerry Pritikin, gay rights activist and photographer, has experienced a tumultuous chapter of U.S. history and lived to tell about it. San Francisco in the 1970's is the title of his photography exhibit at Gage Gallery, as well as a simple explanation for the framework of his life as a gay man.
Not only was Pritikin out in a time when, despite hippie love culture, homosexuality was not embraced by the public- he was also living in the heart of the gay rights movement that was fronted by friend and neighbor, Harvey Milk. Milk, who served on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors for 11 months before being assassinated, owned the photography shop that Pritikin used to develop his photographs. The photography shop also served as a central landmark in the Castro district in San Francisco -- a community that fronted the gay rights movement in California.
Pritikin's position in this historical time would presumably allow for dramatic and moving photographs. The Gage Gallery exhibit however, seems to rely more heavily on the movie version of the story, Milk, as an ongoing video presents clips from the 2008 film, staring Sean Penn as Harvey Milk. Although interspersed with actual footage and interviews of the real Harvey Milk and those around him, the reliance on a previous interpretation of the events that Pritikin's claims to capture is disappointing and distracting.
His photographs are attractive and inviting -- some are quite thought-provoking -- but others are potentially irrelevant without labeled explanations. Crowds of people at the San Francisco gay pride parade should make for an intriguing group, but often there is no focal point of interest -- besides an occasional nude.
One image provides a unique perspective of an outsider looking in on the activities of the gay rights movement. This photograph presents an old man, staring out a bus window. He is watching a tricycle race that is part of the parade, and the photograph begs the viewer to find both judgment and intrigue in his eyes. Maybe if asked, he would condemn the blatant homosexuality that was being paraded in the streets -- but maybe he wouldn't.
The events that are documented in this series of photographs are of huge significance to every American who believes in equal rights for all. Although I did not find the majority of the images particularly captivating, I did get a better feel for this time and place in our country, and the increased awareness that this show instills is well worth it.