Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art presents Hal Fischer's Gay Semiotics and other works
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Glasgow's Gallery of Modern Art presents Hal Fischer's Gay Semiotics and other works
Fischer utilizes critical theory, text, and a tongue-in-cheek approach to his subject.

GLASGOW.- Photographic works by American artist Hal Fischer are on display for the first time in Scotland this November at Glasgow’s GoMA. Fischer (b.1950) photographed the gay male culture of San Francisco in the later 1970s. The exhibition features Gay Semiotics, his seminal work, along with two major works: Boy-Friends and 18th near Castro St. x 24.

Fischer utilizes critical theory, text, and a tongue-in-cheek approach to his subject. Gay Semiotics, Boy-Friends and 18th near Castro St. x 24 are works that investigate urban gay life during the first decade of gay liberation. Fischer’s work reflects a brief period of time between the Stonewall uprising of 1969 and the early 1980s advent of AIDS. It is a celebration of identity and community.

Since 1977—when the first exhibition of these works took place in San Francisco— Gay Semiotics has been recognized as a unique and pioneering analysis of a gay historical vernacular and as an irreverent appropriation of structuralist theory.

Taken directly from Fischer’s personal experiences living in the vibrant gay communities of San Francisco’s Castro and Haight-Ashbury districts, Fischer’s photo-text deconstructions are laced with humour and a formal photographic aesthetic indebted as much to textbook and advertising images as it is to the photographs of August Sander. Gay Semiotics is recognized as one of the first conceptual works to bring the language of structuralism and linguistics into photographic practice.

Hal Fischer said: “The resurgent interest in my work has been a big surprise. I didn’t know we’d have the potential to re-edition the photographs, making it available to museums, or that it would have this kind of resonance with a 21st century audience.”

“It’s hard to get people to read text, particularly in photographs hanging on walls, so when I see people not only reading the text, but really engaging with the work, I am quite pleased. That a whole new generation within the queer community has embraced the work means a great deal to me.”

Boy-Friends (1979) consists of ten photo-text “portraits” of men the artist interacted with over a four-year period in the mid- to late-‘70s. The series marks Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image, with both image and text photographically printed on separate 8 x 10 inch sheets of paper. Boy-Friends continues the photographer’s interest in labelling, in this instance giving each subject an identifying title and an accompanying narrative that strives to “typify” the specific subject and interaction. Fischer conceived the piece and then drew from his repository of negatives, never actually taking a photograph specifically with this series in mind. As such, Boy-Friends exhibits elements of both appropriation and found photography.

18th near Castro Street x 24 was produced over a period of 24 hours, as Fischer photographed a popular bus stop bench on 18th Street, just 75 feet from the corner of 18th and Castro streets. This series pairs the 24 photographs, each taken from precisely the same point of view (Fischer drew outlined footprints on the sidewalk) and on the hour, with a paragraph of text. The photo-text juxtapositions function as both observation and commentary, charting the ebb and flow of a wide range of visitors to the bench, as well as the photographer’s personal interactions during the 24 hours he spent on the street.

Fischer’s work has been featured in recent exhibitions in New York, San Francisco and London. Hal Fischer: Gay Semiotics and other works at Glasgow’s Gallery of Modern Art is the first exhibition in over 40 years to bring all of the artist’s major works together. The exhibition also coincides with the release of a new book Hal Fischer: The Gay Seventies, published by Gallery 16 Editions.

Curator of Art Post 1945, Martin Craig, said: “We are very pleased to be able to acquire and host the first exhibition of Hal Fischer’s works in Scotland. Hal Fischer’s photographic works are a striking and important historical record of gay life in San Francisco in the 1970s, in the period between the Stonewall riots and the AIDS crisis.”

“The three series of works were created at a time when the breakdown of social taboos was still very much in its infancy. They remain just as important today in continuing to break down barriers and promote tolerance and inclusivity in our communities. We are proud to present this exhibition which highlights our commitment to better representation of LGBTQ+ and queer histories and identities in public museums.”

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