The show “When Then Was Now,” at the Chicago Center for Photojournalism, gives a glimpse of early LGBTQ+ life in San Francisco—Harvey Milk, the “mayor of Castro Street,” was on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and gay activism was gaining momentum. It is appropriate in Pride month that Jerry Pritikin, a legend of reportage, takes us back to a time before AIDS and shows us how the movement looked all those decades ago. Pritikin, who is gay, says he outed himself via United Press International when he created the “Anita Bryant’s Husband is a Homo-Sapien!” t-shirt in the seventies, as another protest against homophobia and anti-gay attitudes.
Chicago-born Pritikin, who was a friend of Milk’s, fought with dedication alongside Milk and countless others in search of social justice and gay rights. The images in the show are striking for their honesty and detail. Pritikin, who is now eighty-six, moved to San Francisco in 1960, and worked as a photographer for newspapers and wire services.
At the beginning of the 1970s, Pritikin moved between Haight-Ashbury and the Castro, later to become the epicenter of gay life. He met Milk when he took his film to Milk’s camera shop for developing and was swept up into the movement.
The photographs, clearly the work of an accomplished photographer, are exciting in a way that gives one a “you were there” frisson. They are often untitled, but the action is clear. In one, “Gay Pride Parade, Polk Street, 1976,” marchers carry a fabric “tent” and a banner that says BLACK. In another, titled “Market Street Boys, 1978,” a crowd of bare-chested men cheer on the crowd below from the scaffolding in front of Bartel’s Coats.
There are also several images showing the aftermath of Milk’s assassination—thousands of mourners and hundreds of memorial bouquets that remind us of yet another shameful American event.
Pritikin moved back to Chicago in 1985 and soon became known as “The Bleacher Preacher” through his constant love and support of the Chicago Cubs, even acting as a paid consultant for a production of the play “Bleacher Bums.” Some of the signs he carried to Wrigley Field are part of the show, as well as the life-sized “voodoo doll” that Pritikin dressed in the uniforms of visiting teams and took to the games. He has been a Cubs fan since 1945 when his father took the then eight-year-old to his first game. Jerry Pritikin has lived long and well and been true to his ideals—this fascinating exhibition is the proof.
“Jerry Pritikin, When Then Was Now” at The Chicago Center for Photojournalism, 1226 West Wilson, on view through June 30.