Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1983
Tom Bianchi is justifiably well known as one of the most talented photographers of male erotica in the world. But as good as all of his previous books and gallery exhibitions may have been been, none are as moving as this one.
Along with the photographs, the essay in "Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1885" displays what a supremely talented writer Bianchi is as well. In words every bit as elegiac and descriptive as the Polaroids that follow, Bianchi has recreated a world of glamor, sophistication, love and brotherhood.
Inevitably, both words and images are overshadowed by a sense of dread. Like the reader of the biblical story of Eden, he and the reader already know that this is a paradise lost.
Bianchi started taking over 1,000 Polaroids of the men, every single one of them almost scarily gorgeous (and women -- the Pines, contrary to what some may think, was then, and has always been, welcoming to women) in 1975, when the Pines was at its zenith as the most famous gay beach resort town in the world.
It ends in 1983, when, as Bianchi so movingly describes, an epidemic was already decimating its population. Between those years, Fire Island Pines was, as Bianchi writes, a place where "reality trumps our most extravagant flights of fancy." In its heyday -- and the late ’70s were indeed the Golden Age on Fire Island -- the Pines provided a haven for the most beautiful men, not just in New York, but in the world.
The terrible knowledge that this is a magical world that couldn’t last doesn’t, however, cloud our discovery of these intimate mini-portraits of men palling with, loving, kidding, gossiping about, just being with, each other. It enhances our appreciation of the first time gay men could indulge in endless bouts of recreational sex without fear of retribution from the rest of society or any health problems a strong dose of antibiotics couldn’t cure.
Those times are lost, never to return. But fortunately, we have Bianchi’s trove of Polaroids, whose washed-out pastels only add to the sense of a Never-Neverland where Peter Pans could never grow old.
Even if you’ve yet to have the good fortune to take the ferry from Long Island to this small carless town where, from Memorial Day to Labor Day, men shed the inhibitions of the mainland (along with their clothes and their cares), you can indulge yourself in these near-mystical photos that conjure a paradise that, yes, might be lost, but, thanks to Bianchi, will never be forgotten.