Hal Fischer @ GoMA, Glasgow

GoMA's exhibition of Hal Fischer's work celebrates his renowned photography that documents a specific moment of 70s gay male history with conceptual cleverness and humour

Feature by Adam Benmakhlouf | 13 Jan 2020
  • Hal Fischer

Hal Fischer’s 1970s works are black and white photos showing a man demonstrating how to sniff amyl nitrite (or poppers), another wearing a ball gag, some heavy-duty large S&M equipment – the cross and the meat hoist. Carefully posed and arranged, they’re deliberately uncandid, unspontaneous and feel more formal than titillating.

Fischer annotates them in a deadpan tone and divulges some of the visual codes of 1970s Castro, an area of San Francisco that was known as a centre for gay male culture. He superimposes these texts – tongue-in-cheek academic explanations of the significance of different accessories, styles of grooming and garments – on to the photos. If a guy’s ear is pierced, does it mean he’s a gay top? Probably yes, according to Fischer’s pantomimed voice of authority.

There is also a touching series of framed photos and separate short texts that provide brief anecdotes of Fischer’s relationships with different men over a few years in the late 70s, titled Boy-Friends. His sexual CV is a range of meet-cutes and various kinds of relationships: a best friend experimenting, “Disneyland on Quaaludes”, a waiter pressing his knee between Fischer’s legs, a Harvard dropout bunking at a pal’s house. They have sex, but the stakes, lengths of encounter and outcomes are decidedly divergent: a friendship supersedes romance, a climatic break of a tumultuous affair as one Boy-Friend hits him.

In the final room a series of hourly photos of a bus bench is accompanied again by Fischer’s diaristic writing about what the photos show hour-by-hour. In these, and across the different bodies of work, Fischer implicates himself as documented and documentarian simultaneously, as he breaks down any monolithic ideas of subcultural communities into shifting (Fischer’s are already long out of date) nuances and subtleties of identities.

Hal Fischer, Gay Semiotics and other works, Glasgow Gallery of Modern Art, until 30 May, free