January 5th, 2009 4pm
Crossing the corner of Bleecker and Christopher Streets in New York's West Village I was stopped by an attractive, tall young man who spoke with a Slavic accent. He asked me if I wouldn't mind taking his picture under the Christopher Street sign. Immediately understanding the significance of this intersection, the epicenter of 1970s NY gay culture, I said yes. He posed beneath the sign while I walked to the opposite corner to frame the complete scene. I took several photos with the flash setting 'on' but they came out a little dark. I suggested turning the flash setting to 'off'. He thought it wouldn't help, but I insisted and helped him adjust his camera. I took several more photos, mostly coming out lighter but a little blurry. I hoped at least one would satisfy his request. I smiled and returned his camera and wished him a good visit to NY.
It wasn't until later that I realized how significant this exchange was. He was asking me to frame him within a shared, albeit imagined history as gay men. In my hurried city movement I didn't ask him to share a coffee and talk about his desire for this image. But I don't think I really had to. And I could have asked to take his photo since I was carrying my camera. It seems more important to tell you this story without an image to remember the power photographs can have to frame, create, elucidate history and community among complete strangers.
It also reminds me of another encounter last summer wherein two young Japanese women asked me to take their photo in front of the Stonewall Inn, the site of the 1969 riots which started the post-war GLBT civil rights movement....