The Unsung Photographer of the Gay Rights Movement


Pritiken: One thing Harvey [Milk] and that era has taught us is that once you come out of the closet There should be no reason ever to go back in the closet I’m content But you shouldn’t be content. It’s your time to battle and go forth. I used to leave the house without knowing where I was going and I didn’t know where I was going until I got there I always had my camera with me and somehow I wound up taking a picture that I never intended to or even knew I was going to take to take I know nothing about photography Narrator: Jerry Pritikin’s life unfolds at the intersection of Addison and Halsted, streets in Chicago that are symbolic of the Cubs and the LGBT community Pritikin is known for being Chicago’s number one Cubs fan But what many people don’t know is that Pritikin was at the front lines of the Gay Rights Movement in San Francisco in the ’70s—and he documented a huge part of it Pritikin: When I was shooting back in the ’70s, even to ’60s, I never thought of it [that] I was recording history And I got a lot of collections of the early Gay Rights Movement, the [anti]war movement San Francisco becoming a major tourist attraction… I didn’t go out with any intention to find something It found me or my camera Historian: There weren’t a lot of people taking pictures yet of this remarkable group of largely gay men who were getting ready to launch a consistent and purposeful advocacy for the LGBT community, which, of course accelerated during the time of AIDS. But there was Harvey Milk and there was a whole bunch of other characters who ultimately became the founding leaders of that portion of the movement’s history. They were all in the Castro and Jerry was a young guy just down there taking pictures That wasn’t just that he took pictures of them from afar He actually took the time to meet them and get to know them. I remember somebody saying to me Are you aware that there’s a new camera store a block away? He said it was gay owned, and I went over there I introduced myself to Scott Smith and Harvey Milk. Narrator: Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist, who soon became one of the first openly gay politicians in the U.S. Pritikin: From that point in time, I usually bought all my film at Harvey’s store or had it developed at Harvey’s store It just was not, just, gay people. They were very influential in the neighborhood Narrator: Although Pritikin exhibited his photos in a few galleries in the past thousands of his photos still remain unseen in a small makeshift museum in Chicago …his apartment. Pritikin: This is one of the ones I shot the early 1970s with. Narrator: Whenever Pritikin looks at his camera he remembers a time before the movement. Pritiken: It’s hard to believe that (laughing) so many years have gone by Narrator: There was a time when gay bars were raided by police a time when he had to move from Chicago to San Francisco just to be himself Pritikin: Gays didn’t get respect. People didn’t wanna know them, didn’t want to understand them Pritikin: So much has happened since the ’70s. It didn’t happen overnight. Today, people don’t have to move to San Francisco to be themselves Chicago was not a gay-friendly city when I was growing up, but I can vouch for ’em now. This is a gay-friendly city. I’m content… … but you shouldn’t be content. Protester: Show me what democracy looks like Protesters: This is what democracy looks like (chanting) Pritikin: It’s your time to battle and go forth Whether they’re politicians or religious groups. We got to be aware of what they’re doing But we also got to be able to be aware that we must make ourselves be seen Protester: Marriage equality fails to address many major issues It doesn’t get to the root of why black, trans, non-gender conforming people continue to suffer from some of the highest rates of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, and hate-motivated violence (chanting) Black Trans Lives Matter Pritikin: One thing Harvey and that era has taught us is that once you come out of the closet There should be no reason ever to go back in the closet Narrator: As Pritikin arranges photos in his apartment, he does not think of selling them. Pritikin: I am looking for repositories, because some of it is baseball, some of it is gay, some of it is politics. There’s many different aspects, and I would like it to be seen and people who want to know about it could find it. Pritikin: I’d like to think that that there’s somebody out there who might read something about me, that I might have some bearing on, there, where they are happy with themselves

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