It’s about personal desire; it’s a lexicon of attraction. And there’s a huge amount of artifice, which was also very deliberate.
--Hal Fischer in conversation with Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Gay Semiotics Revisited,” Aperture (January 2014) pp. 32-39.
First exhibited at San Francisco’s Lawson de Celle Gallery, Gay Semiotics (1977) is one of the first conceptual works to bring the language of structuralism and linguistics into photographic practice: the series of 24 photographs with embedded texts presents deconstructions of various “hanky codes”—discreet signals of sexual subjectivity and identification—and archetypal media images of gay men in the 1970s. Taken directly from Fischer’s personal experiences living in the vibrant gay communities of San Francisco’s Castro and Haight-Ashbury districts, Gay Semiotics can be read as an analysis of a gay historical vernacular as much as a tongue in cheek appropriation of the theories of Roland Barthes and Claude Levi-Strauss. Boy-Friends (1979) consists of 10 photo text diptychs, pictures of men the artist met: the “flower child/space cadet” who he ziplessly picked up one evening and the “punk poet” with whom he shared a “Rimbaud/Verlaine rapport”. Both series mark Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image and connects the artist to the loose Photography and Language group that originated with Lew Thomas and included Lutz Bacher, Donna-Lee Phillips, and others working in the San Francisco Bay Area.
In addition, Project Native Informant will exhibit A Salesman (1979). Originally commissioned through a National Endowment for the Arts-funded exhibition organized by the Eyes and Ears Foundation, the billboard appeared on Market Street in San Francisco’s Castro district. 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. Fischer’s images are “deliberately banal”, connecting him to current contemporary artists such as the collective DIS or Roe Etheridge, who appropriate commercial photography to address personal and political concerns.