Gay Photog Releases Book on SF

  • by Seth Hemmelgarn
  • Sunday August 20, 2017
Share this Post:
After chronicling the LGBT community for 40 years, Daniel Nicoletta has published his first solo book of photographs
After chronicling the LGBT community for 40 years, Daniel Nicoletta has published his first solo book of photographs

For more than 40 years, gay photographer Daniel Nicoletta has been a witness to, and a participant in, LGBT history, capturing iconic moments with his camera - from the rise and death of his close friend, Harvey Milk, through the legalization of same-sex marriage and the film, "Milk," which brought Sean Penn an Academy Award for his portrayal of the slain gay rights leader.

Now, Nicoletta, 63, is sharing his first solo book - "LGBT San Francisco: The Daniel Nicoletta Photographs," published in July by Reel Art Press.

The book includes hundreds of photos, ranging from a man dressed as Marilyn Monroe with his blown-up skirt exposing his bare butt to the caskets of Milk and former Mayor George Moscone lying in state in the City Hall Rotunda in December 1978. (Former supervisor Dan White assassinated Milk and Moscone in City Hall the previous month, just a year after Milk became a city supervisor.)

Putting the book together and promoting it has been a "deeply poignant" process, said Nicoletta, and he's been "a faucet of emotion."

"I have pretty thick skin in that area," he said. "When you're a photographer covering a movement like that, we've had so much loss ... you kind of learn to live with the ghosts, and I had already been conditioned that way, but this was something else altogether."

Nicoletta, who spent about a year working on the book, said that after photographing the community for more than four decades, he found "many surprises" when looking back at his work. That included "a lot of sleepers" - photos that didn't necessarily have much "gravity" when he took them but have taken on more meaning.

One example is a two-page spread of the Twin Peaks Tavern in the Castro, known for its plate glass windows.

He recalled that as he rode the 24 Divisadero bus past the bar one day in February 1978, he thought, "Here's a cute shot of gay life. I'll just take this picture ... ."

Almost 40 years later, the photo, which shows men chatting and embracing, "is really interesting," and it was "a no brainer" for the book, said Nicoletta.

"You can even see the reflection of the bus that I'm on" in the window's reflection, he said.

Gus Van Sant, who directed the "Milk" biopic and wrote the forward to "LGBT San Francisco," stated, "Danny's photos are a treasured artistic record of the people who initiated a movement from within their own neighborhood and this work links that exuberant time to the larger history of LGBT people."

For just over four years, Nicoletta's lived in Grants Pass, Oregon.

"I love it here, partly because I wanted to change channels a little bit," and start putting together a book, he said of his life in the small city. Without the "somewhat monastic" environment, he said during a phone interview, "I probably never would have seen a book."

Nicoletta still returns to San Francisco but "I'm very much there as a visitor now," he said. "It's very clear to me that I'm no longer a part of the fabric of the city."

The change has more to do with him than the city, he said. When he comes to San Francisco now, he's focused on his itinerary, meetings, and travel arrangements.

"Of course, I have all these magical experiences, and a great history and romance with the city," said Nicoletta, but as with anyone who travels to another place, "you have this magical experience, and then you leave."

Nicoletta said that he and Reel Art editor Tony Norman have plans for the future.

"We're planning on several more books, so there's no stopping me, but there's a big sigh of relief that I got one out while I'm still living," said Nicoletta. "So many of my colleagues didn't get to do that, so in a way, it's something to honor them."


In San Francisco, Nicoletta will appear at 6 p.m. Thursday, August 24 at the San Francisco Public Library's Koret Auditorium, 100 Larkin Street. Doors open at 5:30. There will be a book signing and Q&A. Open seating is limited to 235.

There will be an after-party with Nicoletta hosted by Juanita More! with DJ John Fucking Cartwright (free entrance, hosted wine bar). The party will be from 7 to 10 in the Veterans Building Green Room, 401 Van Ness Avenue, second floor.

Related Topics: