Friday, June 05, 2009

The importance of documentary photography

When people inquire as to why I photograph the way that I do, my response is almost always the same.

I regard myself as a documentary photographer.

When, today, that I came across a website that explores the history of gay bath houses, the following caught my attention regarding the New St. Mark’s Baths Preservation Project:

During the fall of 1992 a lesbian photographer named Gail S. Goodman left her home in upstate New York to attend the Manhattan funeral of a longtime friend who had died from AIDS. As she dropped off one of his friends on St. Mark’s Place in the East Village after the service, he turned to her and mentioned that he had recently entered the New St. Mark’s Baths (by this time shut down and boarded up for 7 years) through an upper window in order to investigate the premises. His felonious visit uncovered a host of treasures inside the ghostly facility: signs still hung on the walls, keys to rooms and lockers still filled the bank of lockboxes, AIDS literature was still stacked at the front counter along with St. Mark’s Baths personalized matches, postcards and office stationery. Knowing a rare opportunity when she saw one, Gail wrote down the telephone number of the bank which was offering 6 St. Mark’s Place for sale, then she headed home with plans to somehow enter the baths and take pictures of the facility in order to preserve the gay history of Manhattan’s most popular gay bath house for those who had visited and to those who had never been witness to the gay sexual revolution that followed Stonewall in NYC. The following day Gail was fortunate enough to find out where the baths current owner Bruce Mailman was located. With her camera in hand and a prayer on her tongue, she knocked on a Manhattan door and met with a young blond named Jonathan who worked for Mr. Mailman. He directed her to the office of Mr. Mailman himself. After a few introductory remarks by Gail, she asked Bruce if the New St. Mark’s Baths had been photographed. “No,” he dropped his head and said, “and it was so beautiful.” With that, Gail asked for his permission to photograph the baths. Fortunately, he granted Gail permission to photograph the baths with the understanding that she not photograph anything that had been destroyed or damaged by the renovation work that was going on inside. She agreed to Mailman’s demands and, with Jonathan in tow, she entered the baths with a flashlight and managed to take several snapshots of the darkened facility as it remained 7 years after being shut down by the Health Department of the City of New York due to the AIDS crisis.

With much talk of the development of Washington Nationals Stadium, it was in the fall of 2004 that began to photograph the Near Southeast DC area. I actually made a point to stop in at the various businesses and make contact with several residents with hopes that they would grant me permission to photograph their sites.

I, always felt that 'had I been white' and expressed similar interests ... the reactions that I received from most would have been much different. Even though I was not well received, I still pushed on.

When I read the above regarding The New Saint Mark's Baths Preservation Project I was reminded not only of my efforts in the Near Southeast DC area including the gay clubs at Half and O Streets regarding my documentary project.

The History of Gay Bath Houses reminded me of the important of my collection.

Pushing on ...!

1 comment:

zgailgoodman said...

I'm glad you could see the importance of my documentary photography. The major exhibition has not occured yet. There is more to show the guys. Its taken 18 years so far to gain the interest. Who ever thought it wouyld take that long. The Vision of the ARTIST. Gail S. Goodman