Image Above: ©Sage Sohier (Jean & Elaine, Sante Fe, 1988).
Sage Sohier started taking portraits and interviewing gay and lesbian couples in the 80s during the height of the AIDS epidemic. Shot in black and white, these domestic portraits show the ordinariness of same-sex couple’s relationships while also capturing the struggle of acceptance.
During the 80s the gay liberation process was slowed down by the misinformation about AIDS that caused fear and hatred to grow towards the gay community. Many same-sex couples felt they had to hide their relationships due to the social stigma and Sohier’s project was therefore viewed as controversial and culturally “edgy”.
©Sage Sohier (Left: Andrew & Patrick, Fire Island, NY, 1988; Right: Ron & Jose, Provincetown, MA, 1986).
Sohier’s photos portray gay and lesbian couples in ordinary domestic situations normalizing relationships that were regarded as abnormal at the time. One of the strongest examples is the portrait of Bill and Ric making pancakes with Ric’s daughter Katie. The only difference in this photo compared to a traditional American nuclear family is that there are two men instead of a man and a woman. Still to this day these types of photos serve as an important reminder that same-sex relationships are no different than heterosexual relationships.
©Sage Sohier (Bill & Ric, with Ric's Daughter Kate, San Francisco).
Even though the photos serve to normalize same-sex relationships they don’t ignore the hardship of the AIDS epidemic on the LGBT community. The portrait of David and Eric is such a photo. A bandaged Eric is sitting on his bed, holding David’s hand. A CPR doll and an IV-stand are shown in the background clearly marking the presence of disease. The photo speaks about how one should not take the time we have with our loved ones for granted. Eric died within 6 months after the portrait was taken.
©Sage Sohier (David & Eric, Boston, 1986).
©Sage Sohier (Michael & David, Newburyport, MA, 1986).
©Sage Sohier (Stephanie & Monica, Boston, 1987).
Photos like these are important because they add historical value by creating identity and awareness of a minority in society. They portray the normality of everyday lives and individuality within a group without looking away from the struggles and obstacles caused by social stigma. Like Sohier says herself, the generation in the 80s had to have a lot more courage than many same-sex couples in America today, and that struggle and courage needs to be remembered. While documenting these hidden lives these photos also poses the question of how much society has really changed in the last 30 years. Even though a lot of progress has been made, hidden relationships, fear of aids, ignorance and discrimination still exists. Today Sohier’s portraits are a historical documentation but at the same time they still serve the same educational purpose as they did 30 years ago.
by Helena Calmfors