Joseph Golden

b.1961

At the age of 19, Joseph Golden, armed with a borrowed 35mm camera, began photographing the New York City piers at the end of Christopher Street. Between 1981 and 1984 he chronicled the celebratory life of a post-Stonewall urban gay culture faced with the advent of the AIDS crisis, signalling a lifestyle that would be altered forever, Joseph achieves his surrealistic imagery with multiple processes that combine photographic negatives with darkroom techniques. Joseph is best known for his printed and woven designs for the fashion and home furnishings market, specializing in hand printing and hand dyeing processes. His work is a part of the permanent collection of The Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and has also exhibited at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Multimedia Art Gallery in New York and most recently, the HANDMADE exhibit at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

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THE PIER PROJECT (1981-1984) The New York City piers, along the Hudson River in New York City were part of its vibrant shipping industry in the 18th and 19th centuries, but by the late 1960s they fell into disuse and ruin and were closed for safety reasons. By the 1970s it became a haven for gay men, a site for anonymous sexual freedom and an important part of gay history: legendary, though nonetheless complex.

I came to New York in the late 1970’s and began photographing the piers in 1981 when I was 19 years old. I embraced promiscuity but also sensed the meaninglessness and absurdity of my hedonism; the emptiness of my reality. My photographs became a quest for artistic expression, identity and stability. Surviving on the streets, my work seemed crucial to the preservation of my dignity. This period of my life coincided with the onset of the AIDS epidemic and my intimate encounters with the illnesses and deaths of many around me. Annihilation at the age of 20 compelled me to ponder my life and my environment. The piers became an emblem of my existence; the world of the outsider, the loneliness and fears of those like me, the danger of life and the threat of death.

The piers, like the men I encountered, seemed beyond social control, and with its decay, I was inspired by its weakness. The piers were dangerous as well as permissive and it challenged traditional definitions of possession, privacy and civility. The deconstruction of its grandeur became symbolic of the deterioration that I saw around me. The interplay between earth, air, light, and water, both revealed and shadowed the structure’s fragility and its endurance. Many of my images have been lost or have decayed along with the subject matter. Some images, like those who witnessed this era, have survived.

As a long term survivor of HIV/AIDS, it’s hard to not associate my work with the onset of the disease. To me, these images are not a nostalgic view of the celebratory life of the post-Stonewall generation, but a look into the darker elements of the era, the loneliness, the follies and the promises of my youth. In restoring these long lost images, I imagine myself as an archaeologist, stumbling upon the museum of a civilization long ago. Chipped, water-damaged and graffiti marked walls look like cave paintings; long, crumbling hallways become a labyrinth leading to an ancient tomb; evidence of a forgotten civilization.

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