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Portraits of American Same-Sex Couples from the 1980s at Home with Themselves

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Bill and Ric, with Ric's daughter Kate, San Francisco, 1987.
Bill and Ric, with Ric’s daughter Kate, San Francisco, 1987.

At the height of AIDS hysteria in the 1980s, when some people still wondered if the disease could be passed to others through day-to-day contact, photographer Sage Sohier was going into same-sex couples’ homes and photographing them for a series and photo book that came to be known as At Home With Themselves: Same-Sex Couples in 1980s America.

The project captured an intimate portrait of the gay community that was at odds with the headlines of the day, and made all the more poignant by the backdrop of the AIDS epidemic against which it was created.

The project began in 1986, but at the time, Sohier admits she didn’t understand the underlying reason behind the portraits. It wasn’t until months later that she realized why she had started it.

Her father, a WWII veteran and lawyer, was gay, though he never openly admitted it. For that reason, she realized, this series was a way for her to connect with him. “After a few months I thought, of course, that’s why I’m doing it,” she recently told the New York Times. “That’s one of the things that grabs me about it. I’ve always had this yearning and curiosity for him.”

Cindy & Barb's Wedding, Boston, 1986
Cindy & Barb’s Wedding, Boston, 1986

Finding subjects for the project began with friends, but eventually, she took to the road and began photographing couples all over the United States, finding them by putting ads in gay newspapers and going to gay pride parades and gay bars.

Some were hesitant, but she tells Slate that the couples who agreed were excited, even eager to have their relationships validated and recognized in this way.

The book, which you can find on Sohier’s website, contains 56 black and white photographs of same-sex couples at home, alongside extensive interviews with many of the couples that offer further insight into their lives.

Here is a small selection that Sohier was kind enough to share with our readers:

Herb & Dana, Quincy, MA, 1988
Herb & Dana, Quincy, MA, 1988
Sheia & Dorothy, Santa Fe, 1988
Sheia & Dorothy, Santa Fe, 1988
Doris & Debie, with Junyette, Los Angeles, 1987
Doris & Debie, with Junyette, Los Angeles, 1987
David & Eric, Boston, 1986
David & Eric, Boston, 1986
Gordon & Jim, with Gordon's mother Margot, San Diego, 1987
Gordon & Jim, with Gordon’s mother Margot, San Diego, 1987
Marty & Rip, New Orleans, 1988
Marty & Rip, New Orleans, 1988
Brian & Hanns, Key West, 1988
Brian & Hanns, Key West, 1988
Trip & Alan, Key West, 1988
Trip & Alan, Key West, 1988
Chris & Cris, Provincetown, MA, 1986
Chris & Cris, Provincetown, MA, 1986
Stephanie & Monica, Boston, 1987
Stephanie & Monica, Boston, 1987
Reno & Lee, Fire Island, NY, 1988
Reno & Lee, Fire Island, NY, 1988
Pinky & Diane, with 2 of Diane's 8 children, Kenner, LA, 1988
Pinky & Diane, with 2 of Diane’s 8 children, Kenner, LA, 1988
Jean & Elaine, Santa Fe, 1988
Jean & Elaine, Santa Fe, 1988
Tim & Chuck, Key West, 1987
Tim & Chuck, Key West, 1987
Sue & Shelley, with 4 of Shelley's 5 children, San Carlos, CA, 1988
Sue & Shelley, with 4 of Shelley’s 5 children, San Carlos, CA, 1988
Sue & Shelley, with Keshet and Mical, Belmont, CA, 2002
Sue & Shelley, with Keshet and Mical, Belmont, CA, 2002
Lloyd & Joel, San Francisco, 1987
Lloyd & Joel, San Francisco, 1987
Lloyd & Joel, Stockbridge, MA, 2002
Lloyd & Joel, Stockbridge, MA, 2002

Sohier did eventually show the images to her father, encouraged by her father’s boyfriend at the time, who actually facilitated some of the portraits she took in New York. That experience, nerve-wracking as it was, ended up being incredibly rewarding as well.

“After I showed my father the pictures, he teared up, he looked moved, and seemed grateful,” she told the Times. “There was a sense of relief. I felt that I was sort of saying to him that I understood what was going on and that I was O.K. with it.”

To see more of Sohier’s work, be sure to visit her website. And if you’d like to purchase a copy of At Home With Themselves: Same-Sex Couples in 1980s America, you can find both the signed ($30) and unsigned ($25) versions at this link.

(via NYTimes | Lens)


Image credits: All photographs © Sage Sohier 2014, and used with express permission

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