Safer at Home: Exploring the ONE Archives Collection

Week 5 (May 18, 2020)

This archival image depicts a man wearing a large feather hat, a shimmering shawl, and black skirt--or it might be a dress--and black shiny heels. He crouches in front of a wood-slatted room divider. Someone's loafers with black socks appear just to the left, and on the far right is a small table covered in doilies and a few items. His face is lit by a flash and his smile and eyes are bright. He strikes a pose more typical of models in magazines. Though we know little about the person pictured, he looks happy to be captured on film, pleased with the outfit he's chosen for this special occasion. This image highlights the creativity involved in dressing, the power of wearing clothes that make us feel good, and the joy of being oneself in front of the camera or an audience.

This photograph is part of a set of photographs circa 1957 that shows friends attending a gay wedding being held at home. Because these activities would not have been safe outside the house, they had to take place at home with a small group of friends. There, they could celebrate and dress as they wished.

This image as well as the rest in the set also serve as a reminder of the ways people and representations are policed by others. This group of photographs came to the ONE Archives at the USC Libraries by way of an employee of the Philadelphia photo-lab where these images were printed and that retained an unauthorized copy of the photographs. It is thanks to this anonymous person that we have a record of these gay men getting married surrounded by their friends. Though we don't know how many sets were printed, and perhaps a set was returned to the family?even perfectly mundane photographs of such occasions could be deemed inappropriate and kept out of circulation. Though the censorship might be of different things now, or play out in different ways, this photograph speaks to the enduring power of an image and the ways in which living one's true self can be hindered by others. While we can't go to a friend's house to gather like this man did here, we can make space at home to dress and represent our selves how we wish.

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