Once On This Island

9.16.2008

By Tim Murphy

Over the next five summers Bianchi took roughly 6,000 Polaroids of hundreds of gay men -- friends, lovers, and near-strangers -- who were posing, partying, or having group sex in the idyllic disco- and Quaalude-fueled setting of pre-AIDS Fire Island. In that more closeted time, few let him shoot their faces directly -- especially, he says, those who feared losing high-powered jobs. Still, Bianchi brought his camera everywhere, popping out pictures at poolside parties and midday orgies in the secluded dunes of the infamous 'Meat Rack,' which separates the Pines from Cherry Grove. 'I'd throw the Polaroids out on a table so that people could see exactly what it was I was doing,' he says. 'I was like one of those anthropologists who the gorillas realize isn't a threat, so they let him hang out with them,' he says, laughing. Once, he snapped pics at an alfresco sex party he participated in that was organized by Casey Donovan, the blond beauty famous at that time for his star turn in the 1971 gay porn landmark Boys in the Sand. When plans to publish a book of the images fell through, Bianchi stored them in one large box. He went on to bury a longtime lover (David Peterson, who died of AIDS complications in 1988) and received his own HIV diagnosis shortly thereafter, but he benefited from the lifesaving new medications of the 1990s and became a successful photographer of beautiful naked men.

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