Stanely StellarJerkoff (1977)

It’s mind boggling that the site of this photograph looks like this now.

However, if you didn’t know a bit about Stellar and/or the history of pier 46, there’s nothing to immediately betray the image as anything less than contemporary. (The towel, facial hair and discarded underpants strike me as par for the The Hipster Porn Project-course props.

I have always felt this profound and extremely problematic nostalgia for the NYC circa the late 70’s/early 80s. The grit and desperation. Patti Smith. Swans. But also the AIDS epidemic and a despite being post-Stonewall there was still a prevailing rampant homophobic sentiment.

For me that milieu tries to shift what I think of this image. I say tries because I see it as both brash and dangerous–regardless of where it was shot. But there’s also a beautiful openness to it. And I don’t care whether or not you see me, this is who I am. (I’m someone who always views radical honesty as worth whatever risks comes with it.)

And as much progress as has been made–not that the work is by any means complete–I do feel a heavy despair knowing that living in the city these days means there’s little (if any chance) I’ll ever encountered this sort of open display of sexuality in public but I’m accosted by Justin fucking Bieber’s Calvin Klein wrapped package on the side of every fifth bus and bus stop enclosure.

I can’t help but think of Iranian poet Ahmad Shamloo. In the same year, Stellar made this image, Shamloo left Iran to protest the Shah’s regime. He traveled around the US lecturing at various colleges.

I’m not sure if it’s apocryphal but apparently a number of people were rather surprised when he chose to return to Iran. On being asked why he claimed that at least in Iran the mechanism of state control and oppression were clearly visible. He said that the reason America worked is because they had grown so adept at hiding the very same mechanism.

(As an aside: I can’t help making a rather obvious correlation between this image and Stranger by the Lake– it’s streaming on Netflix, you have no excuse. It doesn’t escape my notice that Stellar is essentially filling the role of the skeevy guy who stands around awkwardly masturbating while folks he’s attracted to hook up.)

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