The Unofficial Mayor of Christopher Street
What would we have without Leonard Fink? Activist and avid photographer, Fink was there at the very beginnings of gay liberation. Present at the marches, queer bars and cruising grounds, Fink was such a fixture of life in the West Village that friends called him "the unofficial Mayor of Christopher Street." And wherever he went he took his camera. Fink took thousands and thousands of photographs, chronicling the gay liberation movement as it burst into life. This is a collection of some of Fink's best photographs, capturing gay life after Stonewall.
Some of Fink's most important images come from the early pride marches. Present at the very first Christopher Street Liberation Day March in 1970, Leonard Fink photographed LGBTQ people and their allies making the most visible stand for gay liberation the world had ever seen. Fink attended the marches for years, building up an invaluable collection of images showing the passion and creativity LGBTQ people exhibited after Stonewall.
Second Christopher Street Liberation Day March, 1971 (1971-06-27) by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
One of Fink's most iconic photographs is actually a self-portrait. Fink and his friend Tom publicly kiss, defiantly challenging indecency laws in 1970s America. The shot was taken at the piers on West Street. Piers 40 to 52 were a hotbed of gay culture in the '60s and '70s. Fink extensively photographed the sexual and artistic expression that went on there, and often featured himself in the action.
Sunbathing at The Pier by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
Sunbathing and cruising were very popular at the piers, and reclaimed the disused industrial wasteland as a queer space, complete with artwork and graffitied poems.
Cruising took place in some very precious buildings at the waterfront. Within Fink's collection are hundreds of shots of men enjoying themselves amid the ruins. Ironically, Fink worked in the Transit Department, whose job it was to maintain highways and piers.
Pier 46 ’79 Boy with skateboard in pier 46 & shammey loin cloth.’79 [includes self-portraits] by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
A Fink self-portrait, beneath the defiant words "this is serious too"
Fink's other major contribution to the records of gay life in the '60s and '70s was his photographs of the bars along West Street. Contrary to the popular perception of gay bars as windowless dens of iniquity, Fink's images show a thriving and public bar scene where revelers who would spill out onto the streets and could be seen through large, street-facing windows.
Bar Patrons in Front of Badlands Bar and Gay World Series Banner by Leonard FinkThe Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center
Fink never intended for his photographs to be seen by the public. He sent a few to select friends during his lifetime but beyond that kept them hidden at home, where he developed them too. The LGBT Community Center National History Archive received over 5,000 prints and over 25,000 35mm negatives after Fink died in 1992. These images represent an important section of LGBTQ history, one that will now long be remembered thanks to Leonard Fink.
Curated by G.D.M Benson
Leonard Fink: Making a Scene, Jonathan Weinberg