Gay Life in New York, Between Oppression and Freedom

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Gay Life in New York, Between Oppression and Freedom

Credit Luis Carle

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Luis Carle sees himself, and his work, as a bridge — between the gay and straight communities, between the younger and older generations of the L.G.B.T. community, and between past and the present. The Puerto Rican photographer was 17 when came out in San Juan in 1980, and in subsequent years witnessed the AIDS crisis, the culture wars, and the march toward broader L.G.B.T. rights. All along, he made pictures of his community and the seismic waves that were reshaping it.

“My generation was the one between oppression and freedom,” he said. “I feel proud of seeing both sides. I was right there in that period of time and my work documented some of the magic that went on in those days. A lot of that is not going to happen anymore.”


Luis Carle. 2017.Credit Jake Naughton

Mr. Carle grew up on a dead-end street in San Juan. His father worked in insurance, and often used a Polaroid camera in his work. He made sure to teach his son how to use the camera, so from an early age Mr. Carle understood photography’s role as record.

Soon after coming out, he bounced between studying pre-med in San Juan and business in Orlando, Fla., before winding up at Parsons School of Design, where he quickly was immersed in photography and documenting the gay community of which he was part. “There was art everywhere,” he said of that time. To help pay for school, he started assisting fashion and commercial photographers, and then began making his own work. He captured the infamous black parties, the marches and rallies, and throughout, the close-knit ties of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.


Giovanka De Medici, a Puerto Rican drag performer, at BushWig, Brooklyn. 2014.Credit Luis Carle

“I was going back and forth between Puerto Rico and New…

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