What did it really mean to be an LGBT person in the early and middle part of the 20th Century? Fiction and drama paints a picture of misery, societal alienation, anxiety and inner turmoil, and why wouldn’t it? Happy people in fiction aren’t very interesting, and conflict makes society move forward.
Now that stigmas are disappearing, and we have a better idea of just how many gay people there are (and were) in the world, it may surprise us to discover that many of those gay people who lived their lives in the closet were actually happy.
This is the theme of a new photo collection by Sebastien Lifshitz, "The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride", and from the "thousand words" each of the pictures he has collected tell us, gay people’s lives seemed pretty good.
Since he was a teenager, Lifshitz has searched flea markets and yard sales for snap shots of unique images, and he was particularly attracted to those that had a kind of gay aesthetic.
He noticed certain trends. Cross-dressing and role-playing were popular in the 1920s during the inter war period; people seemed to fancy provocation and sexual ambiguity. After the 1940s conservative consumerism and suburban idealism fill the photographs, just as they seemed to fill the country. The outrageousness and rebelliousness didn’t return until the 1960s.
Many of the photographs Lifshitz has found tell a story of "homosexuality without inhibitions, gentle and playful," and he has selected his collection with the curiosity of an anthropologist and the eye of an artist.
These pictures come with no further data than the image itself. Who are the people in these photographs? What kind of lives did they lead? And what was the nature of their relationships? These things are all left to our imagination.
Unlike Lifshitz’ film of the same name (which won the Cesar Award for Best Documentary in 2013 and was inspired by this collection of photos), these snapshots come without any editorializing from the collector.
If captions were written on the back of these snap shots, Lifshitz has not recorded them. The photos are not organized into chapters or ordered chronologically. They come to us completely without text.
Homosexuality isn’t even certain in these pictures; it’s probable and "played at," but these photographs are merely sudden glances into stranger’s lives. And these glances clearly bare the look of the queer eye.
This book is interesting and exciting for all of this. Indeed, each viewer will discover the snap shot stories individually, and each imagination will reel in the speculations of each microscopic glance into an infinitely rich queer history.