"In the summer of 1986, a young photographer shot hundreds of rolls of film documenting the pulsing rhythm of male bodies in the heat of the California sun. Moments of intimacy—a hand resting on a chest, bodies clasped in an embrace, lips parted for a kiss—reveal the sensuous pleasure of queer culture over a quarter century ago.
"I wanted to create a fresh portrait of a largely undocumented subculture," Doug Ischar explains now. "The only images of gay men that existed at that time were staged studio compositions, for example the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe or Arthur Tress. Photographs of gay men flirting, socializing, and cruising were few and far between. And that pissed me off."
Currently on display at Night Club Gallery, Ischar's collection of photographs, entitled "At Large," reflects the rich tapestry of gay life in San Francisco, San Diego, and Los Angeles. Inspired by a long tradition of documentary photography established by Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Robert Frank, Ischar was determined to chronicle what he believed to be the twilight of the gay culture. "I was an avid shooter," he says, "because, like a lot of people at that time, I was fearful that gay life as I knew it would be eclipsed by AIDS and right wing reaction. I was a man with a mission and wanted to commit to film as much as I could of what was going on."
Equipped with the camera of all the great street photographers—a Leica Rangefinder—Ischar captured the colorful spectrum of gay life from Pride Parades to the Gay Games, originally known as the Gay Olympics. Shooting with a 35mm wide-angle lens required a proximity, both physical and emotional, to his subjects. "Gay guys didn't mind me photographing them, because I was a good-looking, well-built guy in a T-shirt, and I'm sure that got me a fair amount of access."