Tom Bianchi documented Fire Island’s queer history in Polaroids, and the photos are stunning.
In the mid-1970s, Tom Bianchi, a young attorney living in Manhattan, started taking his SX-70 Polaroid camera to Fire Island. After overcoming his shyness about taking photographs of friends, Bianchi started capturing queer life in the Fire Island Pines. Bianchi documented the affairs, the parties, and the island’s natural wonder.
“The world we were living in disregarded us and called us perverts,” Bianchi told VICE. “So the brilliance of Fire Island was that it was built by those people who imagined a different world and set out to create it. We carved out the tiniest little place just for ourselves.” He continued, “where we could be safe and laugh and play with one another on the beach, and not have any negative judgment surrounding us.”
Throughout the AIDS epidemic, queer men escaped Manhattan and headed 60 miles east to celebrate their sexuality openly. They attended midday “Tea Dances” and beach parties and hooked up on the beach. For many, Fire Island was the one place they could be intimate with same-sex partners. Back then, something as innocent as holding hands was culturally taboo in the city and could end in extortion, lost jobs, or shattered reputations.
Tom Bianchi’s Polaroid Collection
Today, Bianchi and his husband live in Palm Springs, far from the Manhattan apartment where he documented Fire Island’s queer scene. Reflecting on his work, Bianchi believes everything he created has challenged homophobia. “It was,” he says, “a way of healing what we had experienced in our lives.”
Scroll through some of the images from the collection below. You can purchase Bianchi’s official book, Fire Island Pines: Polaroids 1975-1983, on Amazon.com.