I saw an article on Huffington Post about The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride long before I encountered the book in the New Release section of my public library. Not long after I read the article about The Invisibles, I encountered another article about male intimacy around the turn of the twentieth century, which uses pictures from around the same time frame as The Invisibles to suggest that male affection looked a lot different between the 1880s and 1920s than it did for most of the last half of the 1900s and on into the present. That second article made me a little skeptical of whether the images in The Invisibles could really be images of “pride.” However, while some of the pictures in The Invisibles may fall under the category of simply a different way of expressing the affection of friends than we are used to seeing today, most are clearly queer.
The images are arranged without text, except for a few introductory pages at the beginning of the book, and they contain a broad range of moments, from same sex couples in moments of intimacy to pictures of same sex marriage ceremonies to individuals and groups of men or women cross dressing.
As author/photo complier Sebastien Lifshitz writes, “With each discovery, I was stunned, for these images didn’t match the official history of homosexuality as it had been conveyed to us. As a teenager, when I dreamed of my adult life, if I stuck to the literature or the few films that existed on the subject, the future promised to be dark. To be gay or lesbian meant belonging to a genealogy of suffering, to have a dramatic, if not tragic, destiny. Despite the many battles and certain victories that ensued, the homosexual remained a victim in the collective consciousness; a hidden man. Yet these images, which I had found through the years, were telling another story, one about a homosexuality without inhibitions, gentle and playful. It’s always dangerous to generalize, but looking at these documents, I began to form a hypothesis: what if a majority of homosexuals from these different periods had, for the most part, succeeded in living a good life, despite who they were?”
I tend to be reluctant to read more into images or books or movies than is obvious, and without text, I have an instinct to throw up my hands and say, “We really don’t know anything about who these people were, we can’t make any claims about them.” At the same time, I find myself inventing stories for the couples of lives lived discretely, mainly out of the public eye, but quietly and contentedly, happy lives in which love was found, despite the odds. And I wonder about the cross dressers, the women in men’s clothing especially, if they were looking to start a revolution or simply dressing in ways that felt comfortable to them.
Ultimately, I think The Invisibles is exactly what Lifshitz describes it as: “a succession of images that questions us about the status of masculine/feminine, about homosexual desire, and also about identity in general.” And for that, it is worth browsing through the book, even if you can’t bring yourself to entirely believe Lifshitz’s conclusion that “despite difficulties, happiness did exist in the life of these homosexual men and women and continues still to run through their veins.”
Images from http://www.huffingtonpost.com.