Hope, Art, Harvey Milk and a New Exhibit on the Meaning of San Francisco

P1010916The first time I ever consciously thought about Harvey Milk was at a party in San Francisco. I was talking with someone old enough to remember Milk and mentioned that I was from Altoona. It turns out my hometown was mentioned by Milk in a speech to be played in the event of his death. Soon thereafter I took the documentary film “The Mayor of Castro Street” out of the Eureka Valley/Harvey Milk Library and watched it.

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that’s what this is all about. It’s not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it’s about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

On seeing the new movie Milk, I was happy the clip was included.

A Streetcar in the Castro
A Streetcar in the Castro

Last night at the opening of San Francisco: The Making of a Queer Mecca featuring early works by photographer Rink Foto at the Leslie/Lohman Gallery in SoHo the gallery was about 25 percent filled with people probably old enough to remember Milk. I wondered what the rest knew about him, if the movie Milk was their first encounter, or how far inside the photos from that very turmultous time in San Francisco were able to penetrate. Then, in the long and slow moving wine line, I overheard someone ask “Do you think anyone can look at these and feel pleasure?” It was a good question. Photojournalism, by its nature, tells a story. This story, for a lot of people, is about the meaning of San Francisco. It’s not created for the sake of art, but sometimes we find art there. But first we find curiosity, anger, frustration and at times empowerment. Then comes the art, which some may find sooner than others.

The exhibit runs through October 24 at the Leslie Lohman Gallery, 26 Wooster Street, New York, NY

About Eric Miller

Eric Miller is co-founder and contributor to Urban Art & Antiques. His website is ericmiller.me

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