Aug 8, 2017

The Gay Photographer in Eastern Kentucky

In 1964, gay documentary photographer William Gedney, known for documenting the Bohemian subcultures of New York and San Francisco,  traveled to the Blue Diamond Mining Camp in Pike County, Eastern Kentucky, about 60 miles from where my mother's family lived.

He wrote that he was looking for poverty and despair at the collapse of the mining industry, the "mental and physical depression of the people, almost complete lack of future and hope"






He met Willie Cornett, recently laid off from the mine, and ended up staying with Willie, his wife Vivian, and their twelve children in Big Rock, Kentucky.

He found poverty and pain, but not a "lack of future and hope."

He found resilience and strength and beauty.












He found a complex masculinity: cars, guns, country-western music, and redneck machismo, but also tenderness, physical intimacy, strong emotional bonds.

And, a thousand miles away from the gay community of New York, a blatant homoeroticism.













Photographs from his days with the Cornett family were displayed at a one-man show at the Metropolitan Museum of Modern Art in 1968 and 1969.














Gedney stayed in contact with the Cornetts, and photographed them again in 1972.

He didn't publish the photographs during his lifetime, except for one of the girls in the kitchen, for $35.













They were private, depicting the unexpected joy he found in the hills of Eastern Kentucky.
















Gedney died of AIDS in 1989.  Today his reputation is based chiefly on the moments he captured in the Kentucky photographs.












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