Andrew Printer just doesn't get it. Sure, there are plenty of middle-aged men who think like him, but his situation is a little different. A gay man, he's a contrarian voice in one of the more contentious issues of modern times, the right for same-sex couples to marry. That's certainly not to say the photographer opposes gay marriage. He's been with his boyfriend for nine years, a man he describes as having very "Indiana values." And despite his qualms, Printer has watched while his gay friends became beacons of domesticity. Getting married, buying suburban homes, raising babies. He shakes his head. He just doesn't get it.
"When you've reached the height of something, you have a tendency to call it normal,'" Printer explains. "And once you're there, you have second thoughts and think, Is this really where I thought I'd end up?"
Printer describes himself as "post-gay," a designation that can mean different things to different people. For him, the term refers to his reluctance to adopt hetero-normative mores. Moreover, he thinks there should be pride not only in being homosexual, but also in the fact that it is, indeed, different. He fears that in his community's rush to assimilate, what made it so exciting to be gay in the first place will die along with what he calls "alternative possibilities of kinship." He worries that the gay community will become complacent in its new, normal domestic life and forget to celebrate the differences even within its own population.
"Homosexuals who adopt a heterosexual model of living... that will privilege them," he says, "the gay people who can mimic most closely the middle-class, heterosexual lifestyle. And this will disadvantage those who don't want to do that. Also, people with gender issues who just don't look the part, or don't feel the part."
He explores this in Second Thoughts from Normal Heights (a play on words, in case you didn't get it), his new photographic and video exhibition, which has been up at Agitprop Gallery in North Park since early August. Art and photography shows have certainly explored larger questions within the gay community's fight for full civil rights, but what Second Thoughts manages to do, and what makes it so affecting, is that it tackles the post-gay civil-rights era before it has even begun. Inspired by the works of famous homosexual photographers of the 20th century, like George Platt-Lynes and Robert Mapplethorpe, Printer borrows poses, gestures and tactics from some of their works and incorporates them into a domestic setting.
"Are they fighting? Are they making love? Are they indifferent to one another?" Printer asks when describing the photo, "Leed and Tim," which shows a couple on the floor naked, interlocked and intertwined. "That pose is an exact replica of a 1951 wrestling pose from a Bob Mizer photograph," he adds. "Before being gay was fine, before it is what it is now, there were all these ways a photographer would use to justify taking pictures of naked men. It could be in the guise of art, in the name of a burgeoning naturalism movement. Or in the '50s, it was done in the name of physical fitness."
But unlike his predecessors, and many current gay photographers, Printer doesn't placate or deal in the intimacies and eroticism of gay coupledom. The fact that the images are all of men (often nude men) becomes secondary within the bigger picture. In photos like "Sy and Robert" and "Andre and Matt," you see the eerily familiar question that all couples, gay or straight, must grapple with: What now?
"They're as far away from having sex as possible, but the nudity is there to just suggest that these were once sexual beings," says Printer when talking about the photo "Rob and Ted," which shows two men eating breakfast at the kitchen table. "They're there with their pots of jam and their toothbrush in their mouth, having breakfast with no rapport-just sort of like, Here we are.'"
After moving to San Diego from Scotland in 1989, Printer began making documentaries at the height of the AIDS epidemic, but he later moved away from film and began exploring still photography. While he's been displayed in juried and solo shows in Europe and across the U.S., one of his more famous local shows was Beyond the Surface at the Limbo gallery in 2006, a group show that explored the gay community's obsession with often ridiculous standards of style and beauty.
The closing reception at Agitprop on Saturday, Sept. 12, will also include the result of a month-long writer's workshop in which writers, both gay and straight, will read aloud their personal essays exploring the themes of the exhibition. But at the moment, Printer is lamenting how he was unable to set up a Wikipedia page about his work and how his webpage domain host is threatening to take down his website (www.andrewprinter.com) because they consider it "adult material." Even if the host is much more concerned with the nudity, what Printer doesn't realize is that he is dealing in adult material-the ideas of growing up and settling down. And when you're also dealing with the theme of gay marriage-an issue so personal and divisive that someone like Barack Obama can be against it and Dick Cheney can be for it-nothing is really that cut and dried. Printer doesn't see marriage as a problem, but he won't treat it like the solution, either.
"I'm just not going in the same direction," he says. "I get in pretty heated conversations with friends about that. Even some of my more progressive gay friends want to get married. But that didn't work for straight people, so why would we want to do that? Why should we want to fit into that mold? Even in the writing workshop, we came up with other words to describe the way same-sex people get together. We should be more faithful to our experience."
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