As part of Queer History Month in June, Bay Times staff reporter Rink is exhibiting his photography through decades of documenting queer events and persons. On Saturday, June 2 a special reception will be held at 6 pm in the SF LGBT Community Center on the third floor. This is the grand opening of the Queer Cultural Centerâ€™s 10th Anniversary National Queer Arts Festival season, where curators Greg Day and Jordy Jones have taken Rink Fotoâ€™s photographs and stories together and mounted an unusual and provocative exhibition. The images and the words, taken as a whole tell stories that neither alone could.
â€śWe human beings are social animals,â€ť says show co-curator Jordy Jones. â€śWe like to talk. We like to talk to one another. And we especially like to talk to one another about one another. Rink talks. And talks. And talks. He has a lot to say. And a lot to show.â€ť This show is therefore about what he has to show, and about what he has to say. Each image is accompanied by his personal commentary and revelation. The words both supplement the images and with them, form a whole. The story and the pictures work together. Rink is after all, a long-time press photographer. So of course: heâ€™s got the scoop.
As we all know, Rink is more than a photographer. Exhibitions that have shown his images by themselves have missed half the story. His stories, each one more outrageous than the last, are the other half. Some say Rink is a social commentator. Others consider him a notorious gossip. The truth may lie between. Rink makes history juicy. Or so says Jones and me.
Jones questions where is the line between gossip and reportage? Gossip is supposed to be bad: subjective at best, vicious at worst. And reportage is supposed to be good: objective and historical. â€śBut the truism is true,â€ť says Jones. â€śHistory is usually written by the winners. Official histories are tainted by the subjectivity of the historians.
Conversely gossip, much maligned, serves a real and important social purpose. It is through talking to one another about one another that we learn what kinds of people are to be found in our social networks and demimondes. Is it any wonder that gossip has been historically disparaged as the petty â€śsmall talkâ€ť of women, gay men, dubious servants, members of the underclass, and other socially marginal persons? Is it any wonder that people who have been traditionally excluded from the official version of history have been most criticized for our so-called propensity to gossip?
Rink has been documenting the GLBTQ world of San Francisco since 1969. If it happened in Queer San Francisco, he was probably there. Robert Mapplethorpeâ€™s opening? Rink was there. The first time the Dykes on Bikes roared down Market Street? Harvey Milk at the Castro Street Fair? The White Night riots? Rink was there for all of those and more. Most recently he recorded via striking images the same-sex marriages at City Hall.
Sometimes he attends half a dozen events in one day. He has compiled an archive of over 250,000 images of the people and events that have contributed to making this City one of the great worldwide centers of our collective culture. And for every picture, Rink has at least one story. These stories are not necessarily 100% factual, objective, or authoritatively historical. But stories, including the historically sanctioned ones, rarely ever are.
Every story is someoneâ€™s story. â€śAnd sometimes itâ€™s more important for stories to be interesting than strictly true,â€ť Jones comments. This is not to say that theses stories are fictions. They are not. They are Rinkâ€™s personal take: facts laced with his particular insight, interpretation, and commentary.
Rink is hybrid, Jones notes. On one hand, he stands with documentary photographers who have captured images of specifically American historical events, social conditions, milieus, movements, and moments. On the other hand, his exuberant commentary suggests the most eyebrow-raising of journalistic and literary gossips, Jones informs. These could include Walter Winchell, the Andy Warhol of The Diaries, and the Truman Capote of Answered Prayers. â€śRink the documentary photographer has had numerous shows, and his photographs are widely published,â€ť states Jones. â€śBut Rink the social commentator, or notorious gossip (depending on your point of view) has been neglected until now.â€ťÂ
Jones says Rink is biased. This is not a criticism. He brings a passion for social justice to his work. He promotes the gay life by documenting it, recording its details, commenting upon it, even criticizing it. Heâ€™s a self-proclaimed San Francisco booster, perhaps the Cityâ€™s biggest fan. And for nearly four decades, he has unwaveringly dedicated himself to recording the myriad events that make up the history of our intertwined communities.
He is democratic in choosing subjects. â€śIf itâ€™s of note and/or queer, heâ€™s there, pointing a camera at it,â€ť says Jones. â€śHe is also an autodidact. He is self-taught. This is not incidental. His single-minded pursuit of the moment and capture of the image is more the product of tenacity than training.â€ť He does it because it has to be done, and because he has to do it. His focus verges on obsession. The images themselves testify to the do-it-yourself aesthetic that he embraced a decade before the advent of punk with its DIY impetus. The photographs are often strangely lit, sometimes grainy, frequently over or under-exposed and not always printed particularly well. The images here were scanned from prints that had their own histories and often bore traces in the form of scratches, embedded dust, et cetera. â€śSometimes there will be a motion blur or an odd, transitory glance on a face that accentuates the sense that this moment right here is plucked out of time, forever frozen in a perpetual present,â€ť Jones says. â€śCandid shots abound. So do staged line-ups of community luminaries. Queers organizing, marching, working, playing, campaigning, and burning â€“ caught in black and white. The forty photographs on exhibit there represent only a tiny fraction of the archive: the clichĂ©d tip of the icebery. Thereâ€™s more where this came from. More than you might imagine, but not more than Rink has seen, and captured on film, and talked about.