“I tried to serve as a chronicler, as a watcher of beautiful people - to feed back an image of a positive, likable lifestyle― to offer pleasure as well as pride,” he explained.
By the early 1980s this period was over. San Francisco and the gay community were devastated by the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Barton’s lover of 22 years, Larry Lara, died of complications from AIDS before Barton himself succumbed at the age of 50 in 1993. (Picture: Larry Lara On The Rooftop In San Francisco By His Lover Crawford Barton)
Born and raised in a fundamentalist community in rural Georgia, Barton was a shy, introspective boy. His artistic interests and fear of sports alienated him from his father, a struggling farmer. He escaped family tensions by creating a world of his own imagination, which eventually led him to receive a small art scholarship at the University of Georgia.
It was there that Barton fell in love with a man for the first time. His feelings weren’t reciprocated, and after one semester, he dropped out and returned to the farm.
A couple of years later, at age 21, he enrolled in art school in Atlanta. He made new friends and found outlets for his pent-up sexual energy in that city’s gay bars and clubs. It was during this time in Atlanta that Barton received a used 35mm camera as a gift, and learned basic darkroom techniques. He found his true calling in life — photography.
Crawford Barton was an American photographer. His work is known for documenting the blooming of the openly gay culture in San Francisco from the late 1960s into the 1980s. Barton’s lover of 22 years, Larry Lara, died of complications from AIDS before Barton. Barton described Lara as the “perfect specimen, as crazy and wonderful and spontaneous and free as Kerouac, so I’m never bored and never tired of looking at him.” Beautiful Men was published in 1976. Crawford Barton, Days of Hope was published posthumously in 1994.
Malcom Boyd and Mark Thompson
Barton moved to California in the late 1960s to pursue his art and life as an openly gay man.
Many of Barton's images documenting long-haired freaks dancing in the street, love-ins in the park, "dykes on bikes," cross-dressers in the Castro, and leather men prowling at night have become classics of the gay world. He photographed some of the first Gay Pride parades and protests; Harvey Milk campaigning in San Francisco; and celebrities including poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and actors Sal Mineo and Paul Winfield.
It was his circle of friends and acquaintances that inspired his most intimate erotic photography, especially his lover, Larry Lara. Barton described Lara as the “perfect specimen, as crazy and wonderful and spontaneous and free as Kerouac, so I’m never bored and never tired of looking at him.” Considered as a single body of work, his photographs of Lara dancing in the hallway of their flat on Dorland Street, a bearded hippie in the door of a cabin in Marin, a sensual nude in the hills of Land’s End, suggest the fullness, richness and complexity of the man he loved most.
In addition to his fine art photography, Barton worked on assignment for The Advocate and the Bay Area Reporter, as well as The Examiner, Newsday, and the Los Angeles Times.
In 1974, the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum featured Barton's prints in a show entitled "New Photography: San Francisco and the Bay Area." His work was praised by The New York Times reviewer. Other critics labeled it “shocking” and “vulgar.”
Barton's photography has continued appearing periodically in exhibitions since his death, notably in one-artist shows at the GLBT Historical Society in San Francisco and the San Francisco LGBT Community Center in 2004 and at the Magnet men's health center in the city's Castro District in 2005. Barton's photographs of Harvey Milk also were featured in a historical exhibition cosponsored by the GLBT Historical Society at the Nouveau Latina Cinema in Paris in 2009 in conjunction with the French release of Gus Van Sant's Milk (film).
A book of Barton's work, Beautiful Men, was published in 1976. In addition, his photographs were used to illustrate a collection of short stories of Malcolm Boyd.
Crawford Barton, Days of Hope was published posthumously in 1994 by Editions Aubrey Walter. The book features more than 60 of Barton's black and white photographs that capture the look and optimistic spirit of '70s gay San Francisco: the freedom and joy of the sexual revolution (pre-AIDS), the intimate bonds of lesbian and gay couples, and like Beautiful Men, homoerotic portraits of men.
The GLBT Historical Society, an archives, research center and museum in San Francisco, holds the complete personal and professional papers and studio archives of Crawford Barton; in addition, the society owns the copyrights to Barton's work, which were transferred to the institution by the Barton estate.
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
Paperback: 760 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (July 1, 2014)
Amazon: Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time
Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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