Queer photographer Chloe Sherman documents San Francisco in the 1990s in her new book ‘Renegades’
JENNY BLOCK | Contributing Writer
Queer photographer Chloe Sherman has always been a sentimentalist. That’s an excellent happenstance for someone who has always had an eye for and a love of photography. “My love for photography began early looking through family albums at my father’s images,” Sherman said. “He is an excellent photographer.”
Sherman used to watch her father shoot. She viewed his photographs. And she loved using his 35mm film cameras.
Then came her more formal education with photography and darkroom classes in high school. “My parents and grandparents, aunts and uncles had art on the walls, and we had great printed photo books in the house,” Sherman said. “I remember being enamored by a book of photos by Dorothea Lange, and also a Bruce Davidson book.”
Sherman, born 1969, found her way to San Francisco in 1991 where she attended the San Francisco Art Institute, earning her BFA in photography. Her work has been exhibited internationally and featured in magazines, including Rolling Stone and Interview. Her first book, Renegades: San Francisco: The 1990s, is published by Hatje Cantz and launches on Monday, Sept. 18.
The book artfully and engrossingly holds between its pages the vibrancy and revolution that was lesbian culture in San Francisco at a time when the city and the queer women in it were transforming in a way never quite seen before. It was an era like none other.
Sherman was born in New York City, and spent her formative years in Chicago, and then in Portland, Ore. “I have fond memories and continued close family connections to all of those cities,” she said, “but I consider the Bay Area of California my home.”
Sherman said she was lucky to have grown up in a very artistic family: “Many of my family members are working artists, gallery owners, art collectors and art, music and dance aficionados.”
Sherman said she is both interested in and intrigued by people, noting “I take pictures of people who
I find striking, quirky, beautiful, emotional and important.”
And fortunately, the people she asks to photograph seem happy to be asked. “I try to make my good intentions known, and, usually, people are very receptive and respond well to being appreciated,” she said.
The power of photography as a medium is that it “captures a moment in time and can preserve it for others to witness,” Sherman explained. “Photographs can document history and can give people a view into a world they may not otherwise experience. Photography can connect the past to the present.
“All art can be powerful, but photography is a uniquely accessible relatable art form,” she added.
Like most artists, Sherman said she hopes her book will touch readers, saying, “I always like hearing that someone is moved or inspired by viewing my work in any form that takes.
“People have different experiences with art. When I get feedback that one of my photographs has had a positive impact on a person, it’s a very cool thing to hear,” she continued. “Also, I hope people enjoy and appreciate a slice of history in the pages of the book. The era holds deep significance as a cultural renaissance and a pivotal time in San Francisco’s queer history.”
Sherman is acutely aware that, as LGBTQ rights are being threatened across the U.S., we continue to be faced with a struggle for recognition and equality. Her work stands to help us win that fight.
“There has always been a need for collective efforts within LGBTQ communities. I feel that it is important for people to work collaboratively to fight for basic rights and for our well-being,” she said. “My photographs document the struggles and joy of a generation past. A queer community that was defiant, self-sufficient, bold and unapologetically celebrated each other.”
Sherman says she has spent this year fully immersed in “processing this decade of work” comprising her book. She has had two solo shows along with this book release,“So, it has been all-consuming.”
She also said she has a few projects and ideas in the works for the future just the same. However, she said, “I can’t reveal the details yet.”
The photos in Renegades are dynamic and raw. Viewers cannot help but become immersed in the stories they tell about a city rapt in emotion, activism and rising subculture that still hold relevance today. Renegades is 1990s San Francisco, the epicenter of all things queer, creative, and non-confirming at that pivotal time.
The work is candid. The stories as personal as they are universal. And the result is a window into history in the making that demands our attention. You can see the world changing in Sherman’s enthralling photos that capture a time, a place, a people and an evolution. Renegades is all things queer, and it makes looking away not an option.
Our place in history cannot be ignored. It will not be ignored. Renegades helps secure that place.
For more, visit chloeshermanphotography.com and follow her @chloesherman on Instagram. Find the book independent bookstores and specialty retailers as well as online booksellers including Amazon, Bookshop.org, Barnes & Noble online, and others.