Gay Semiotics was among the first artworks to bring structuralism and linguistics into photographic practice. First seen in Hal Fischer’s 1977 exhibition at San Francisco’s Lawson de Celle Gallery, Gay Semiotics presents the codes of sexual orientation and identification Fischer saw in the city’s Castro and Haight-Ashbury districts as a tongue-in-cheek anthropological essay. Twenty-four photographs, each with embedded text, are categorized as Archetypal Media Images, Signifiers, Street Fashion, and Fetish.
Commissioned in 1979 through an NEA-funded exhibition organized by the Eyes and Ears Foundation, Fischer’s A Salesman billboard originally appeared on Market Street in San Francisco’s Castro district. Accompanying this exhibition of Gay Semiotics, A Salesman will be reproduced at full-scale in the gallery, and restaged on Market Street at Guerrero, only blocks away from its original site. A Salesman was, and remains, intentionally ambiguous about its role as an advertisement, offering the juxtaposition of a reclining male nude and a cryptic phone number in lieu of commercial content.
One of the key works associated with 1970s California conceptual photography, Gay Semiotics is marked in particular by Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image. The use of words as pictures is among conceptual photography’s most important contributions to contemporary art and a hallmark of the photography and language practice championed by Lew Thomas and adopted by Fischer and other artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Gay Semiotics stands as one of the most significant conceptual works coming from the West Coast in the late 1970s, capturing a pivotal moment in San Francisco’s history before the political assassinations of Harvey Milk and George Moscone, the trauma of Jonestown, and the devastation wrought by AIDS.
On Friday June 26, at 6:30pm, Ratio 3 will host a discussion between Fischer and Lawrence Rinder, director of the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. This event will happen at the gallery; admission will be free and open to the public. Seating will be limited.
This exhibition is presented in collaboration with Cherry and Martin, Los Angeles.