Nowadays we live in a relatively tolerant society where LGBT people enjoy equal rights under the law. But it wasn’t always like this. As many books and films from the early to middle 20th century show, life for lesbians and gays was all about pain, suffering, abuse and prejudice.
Or was it? The photographer Sebastian Lifshtiz would beg to differ. His new book of photographs entitled The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride shows dozens of LGBTs from the first few decades of the 1900s – and many of them look positively proud and content with their lives.
According to Lifshitz, cross-dressing was popular in Britain and the US in the Roaring Twenties and sexual ambiguity seemed to dominate the nightlife of that period. Even during the conservative post-World War II years LGBTs were able to be themselves, although they had to be a little quieter about it than their contemporary counterparts.
Lifshitz found the old photos in flea markets and jumble sales and, brought together, they form a ‘gentle and playful’ narrative that reveals ‘homosexuality without inhibitions.’
Much is left to the viewer’s imagination as the pictures come with no captions or any contextual detail at all. We don’t know who these people are and we don’t know the true nature of their relationships. The chapters have not been organised chronologically or according to different themes.
The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride is also the name of Lifshitz’s Cesar Award-winning film which does offer a little more background information than the book.