Fire Island is not just a popular LGBTQ destination, it is an experience. Basque-American photographer koitz (spelled in lowercase) has taken that idea and created a series that captures not only the natural beauty of the gay haven but the people who travel there.
From July 17 through July 18, his exhibit titled Gay Fire Island will be on display at the Community House of Cherry Grove.
Exhibit curator Parker Sargent says this show comes at a particularly profound time in history. “What is wonderful about this collection is that it features the celebration and community of Fire Island and reflects a time of joy and togetherness that we are all ready to recreate in our worlds once again.”
From his first ferry ride to the island 16 years ago, koitz says he never intentionally tried to capture its character, "I simply started taking pictures of everything that interested me: drag queens (amateurs and professionals), go-go boys, beachgoers, the scenery, different events.... A few years passed, and I realized that I had a pretty nice body of work, and a couple of friends suggested I publish a book. That's how koitz Gay Fire Island came to be."
That book came out last year and courts koitz's 14-year love affair of Fire Island Pines and Cherry Grove. It has become a popular souvenir for visitors and collectors.
"Fire Island is a fascinating place where pretty much anything can happen—you just have to be careful not to lose your mind," laughs koitz. "I have a pretty cool head, which I think has helped me photograph all kinds of wild events there while keeping my sanity."
The book features both impromptu and editorial photos. The artist says he does both depending on his mood. Capturing parties, performances, and events is gratifying, "but I also like to photograph models in different locales on the island, like the Meat Rack, the Sunken Forest, and the Great South Bay."
Candid, provocative, and often intensely polychromatic, koitz's images display a wide array of personalities, though the artist himself is unobtrusive. Turning the camera on himself gets complicated both figuratively and literally. Add a global pandemic and a lockdown into the scenario and you have a recipe for an artist's worst enemy: self-deprecating and toxic inner feedback.
"I do not like to photograph myself," koitz says making clear that he prefers to put the spotlight on others while still focusing on his work. "The lockdown was really challenging in many ways. Fortunately, my husband and I have a big enough house that we did not have to be on top of each other, but it was still hard. I completely lost all my creativity, which, looking back, is hard to admit. I even thought to myself, 'Is this over? Am I going to ever take pictures again?'"
COVID nearly killed him; not because he caught the virus, but his isolation was binding all creativity. "I did not feel like taking photos," he says.
Fortunately, with help, he didn't let his harsh inner critic gaslight his career.
"Some friends forced me to do something, which motivated me to grab my camera and shoot when the lockdown was over, but it did not feel 100% right," he explains. "Then May arrived, things started to relax in New York City and on Fire Island, and, suddenly, everything came back! I just felt like taking photos, and I have not stopped since, which is what makes me really happy!"
The photographer's work may---more often than not---expose the frenetic buzz that is Fire Island in the summer. But his work also depicts a layer of emotional vibrancy in the eyes of his subjects which can be the result of a night of partying or, more importantly, the toll of a year, or maybe even a lifetime, of isolation.
For this exhibition at the Community House of Cherry Grove, Sargent has compiled 14 of koitz’s photographs taken between 2011 and 2020. The majority of them were taken
before the COVID-19 pandemic shook the world, affecting so many of our friends
and family members.
The 14 color photographs are framed in white and un-matted. All the works are archival pigment prints made in 2021 and are signed and numbered.
You can see this exhibit on July 17 & 18, 202at Community House of Cherry Grove; 180 Bayview Walk, Cherry Grove, Fire Island, New York.
Or you can grab a copy of koitz's Gay Fire Island HERE.
Header image: "Madly Hatted" Courtesy of koitz