Hal Fischer’s Gay Semiotics: A Photographic Study of Visual Coding Among Homosexual Men (1977) is one of the most important publications associated with California conceptual photography in the 1970s. This new edition reproduces the look and feel of the original volume, which reconfigured into a book format the 24 text-embedded images of Fischer’s 1977 photographic series Gay Semiotics. The photographs in Gay Semiotics present the codes of sexual orientation and identification Fischer saw in San Francisco’s Castro and Haight Ashbury districts, ranging from such sexual signifiers as handkerchiefs and keys to depictions of the gay fashion “types” of that era–from “basic gay” to “hippie” and “jock.” Gay Semiotics also features Fischer’s critical essay, which is marked by the same wry, anthropological tone found in the image/text configurations. Fischer’s book circulated widely, finding a worldwide audience in both the gay and conceptual art communities.
Fischer’s insistence on the visual equivalence of word and image is a hallmark of the loose photography and language group that included Fischer, Lutz Bacher, Lew Thomas and others working in the San Francisco Bay Area. First published as an artist’s book in 1978 by NFS Press, at a time when gay people had been forced to both evaluate and defend their lifestyles, Gay Semiotics earned substantial critical and public recognition. Thirty-seven years later, the book remains a proactive statement from a voice within the gay community from a moment in history just before the devastation wrought by AIDS.
Hal Fischer (born 1950) grew up in Highland Park, Illinois. He arrived in San Francisco in 1975 to pursue an MA in photography at San Francisco State. Through his work as an art reviewer and photographer, he soon became embedded in the Bay Area’s artistic and intellectual scene. He continues to live and work in San Francisco.