Love on the run in Stephen Barker’s photographs

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It’s interesting to imagine Stephen Barker’s thoughts on those nights, to consider his interest in recording this world, these moments. The camera gave him a sort of license to look and see; it repelled his shyness so that he could interpret this world of men and what they communicated – lust sometimes, exhaustion in others, always desire – in a world where sex, not conventions , had the last word. There was no “date” here, no promise to call tomorrow; there was the freedom, the freedom to give and take whatever you chose to give and take, with someone who chose you.

I met Stephen many years ago through a mutual friend, and I think he showed me his pictures then, but I couldn’t really take them because of AIDS, which remains the formative experience of my young life. Stephen’s photos scared me for the men I knew who were or may become HIV positive. AIDS was a thief who changed the world in which I had come of age; she stole from me, and so many others, a life that we cannot describe, and that the universe forgets more and more, year after year.

It took me that long to review these photographs, and I’m glad to see them. Because they are first and foremost strong images of the movement, of people moving towards other people, looks that convey the desire to connect. Stephen’s photos bring back some smells – the disinfectant that was used to wipe up arrives; the pleasant times sitting in the cinema audience at Club 82, smoking a cigarette with a friend and doing the dishes, even if you haven’t been to Club 82 to talk much except to joke about the experience you had just come from ‘have with a cock in your hand or in your mouth. What people went to Club 82 was to experience bodies in a world of bodies.


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