A glimpse of Fire Island’s history captured in Polaroids.
New York’s Fire Island has become a superficial summertime getaway from life in the city. Despite its current reputation, for generations, the 36-mile-long utopia off the coast of Long Island was a refuge from homophobia. This island’s forgotten history has been documented in Fire Island Pines, Throckmorton Fine Art’s exhibition starring the photography of Tom Bianchi’s, who recorded the free-spirited community in its “golden” age.
“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, 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, as many as 10,000 gay, bisexual and queer men would escape Manhattan and head 60 miles east to openly celebrate their sexuality at midday “Tea Dances” and beach parties. For many guests, 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.
Bianchi’s lens highlights the passionate freedom of same-sex romance and a switch in male sex appeal, which the artist believes was a response to years of queers being socially shunned and by the straight community. “Suddenly this really beautiful community of men emerged, and they all boarded planes, trains, or buses to Fire Island every weekend,” he said, aiming his Polaroid camera at hard-bodied men in Speedos.