Take My Picture Exhibition at Wrightwood 659 Chicago Gallery

Caption: “Five”, 1985 by Patric McCoy (credit: wrightwood659.org)

“In the 1980s, Patric McCoy rode his bike around Chicago, always with his camera. From the lakefront to the Loop, McCoy found no shortage of black men wanting to get their photo taken. Over a period of 10 years, he took thousands of images at the request of his subjects. Patric McCoy: Take my picture is a selection of some 50 black-and-white and color photographs of this rich document of black gay Chicago in the 1980s.

“McCoy’s themes are neither raised nor directed; each has agency over how he is seen, elevating the humanity of the subject, reversing and subverting the gaze.

“HIV/AIDS hit black men especially hard. Thousands would die before the end of the decade, including many of McCoy’s friends, lovers, and subjects. Patric McCoy: Take my picture, curated by Juarez Hawkins, can be seen as a marker of place, time, and memory. It is an altar for the lost.

“Most of the portraits featured in Patric McCoy: Take My Picture were taken at the Rialto Tap, a now-defunct bar known for its house music and gay culture, during its 1980s heyday.”

The above is from the press release I received about the exhibit, Patric McCoy: Take my picture, so when I went to the gallery, I thought this would be, excuse the terminology, a cut and dry exhibit. I would walk around and see some great pictures and be on my way. It didn’t work that way.

Wrightwood Gallery 659 Chicago is the perfect location for the exhibition. It has an intimate and personal feeling. take my picture It is on the second floor in a closed gallery. As I stood in front of each photograph and read each panel, I became more and more involved in the lives of men, from all walks of life by their looks, poses, and nicknames.

I couldn’t wait to visit McCoy’s home, which is quite a conversation in itself, to speak with him and find out how he brought the lives and souls of these men to life through his photographs. His answer:

“I was 38 years old at the time. That I was going to continue learning photography on my own by taking this camera that I had bought, a 35-millimeter camera, I was going to take it with me everywhere throughout the year, and I was going to take at least one photograph every day that year. And then the third part of the engagement, which is what you’re seeing, I wrote, and I don’t know why, I wrote, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and take a picture of anyone who asked me to take a picture of them.”

When I asked him about the way the men were posed and photographed, McCoy explained that he never posed them. The subjects struck the pose and McCoy took their photos as they were presented.

“One, I think is that they are asking to be captured. And so, they’re not being watched by each other, someone else is taking their photo and essentially stealing, that’s what they’re looking at. And like I said, it was an interesting time. So it’s easy, and I’m a friendly person, so it’s easy to build a relationship with a person so they don’t feel uncomfortable, so they’re giving you that. And also, because it was transactional, people are trying to say, well, let’s see what we can come up with. So, they give you that look, they give you that look.”

Patric McCoy: Take my picture it is a must see. Take your time and look at each photograph as an individual experience.

To listen to my full conversation with Patric, visit www.mixcloud.com/bonnieseye.

The exhibit will be on view at Wrightwood 659 Chicago through July 15, 2023.

Until next time, keep your EYES on the sky.