If the photographer Reynaldo Rivera didn’t exist, a Hollywood more interested in queer and Latinx people might have invented him. As detailed in Reynaldo Rivera: Provisional Notes for a Disappeared City (2020), Semiotext(e)’s marvelous new monograph, Rivera sidestepped tragedy through talent and will. He made transformational photographs of subjects transforming themselves, many now dead in places now shuttered or, worse, disappeared. What separates Rivera’s work from that of his peers—the loving slums of Nan Goldin, the horny social-butterfly lepidopterarium of Christopher Makos, Alvin Baltrop’s formal observations, the personality crises of Peter Hujar—might be a rejection, or perhaps disinterest, in distance. Rivera’s photographs of trans women and drag artists, of artists and scenesters and lovers and friends, in and out of LA’s legendary Latino bars and party houses, thrill with presence without flaunting their access. “If people are busy living out myths you don’t like,” Samuel R. Delany writes in his wild epic novel Dhalgren (1974), “leave them to it.” Rivera’s subjects were busy. They were living. He clearly loved them. He made real myths with them.
The Glamorous World of LA’s Vanished Queer Underground
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