Capturing the spirit of protest and parade in one of America’s most liberal cities during a historic era of political conservatism, these photographs by Janet Delaney have many interesting angles.
Aside from the 1980s shoulder pads, big hairstyles and dodgy moustaches, there’s the political and social context of San Francisco during the Reagan-era, making the release of the series a timely eyeopener.
Available in a new photobook, Public Matters, the images of public protest at a point in history that was struggling with record-breaking immigration takes on a new meaning in the Trump era.
“The current political narrative that paints immigrants as invaders has been a part of our national conversation for a long time. I want people to be reminded that there is a long and deep history of immigration that forms the basis of our country’s strength,” Delaney told ASX.
These photographs have remained unseen for nearly three decades as Delaney considered them a personal record of her time living in the Latino neighbourhood of the Mission District in San Francisco. She would spend the weekends photographing public gatherings, from the annual Cinco de Mayo parade to the Peace, Jobs and Justice marches, which rallied against the US invasion of Nicaragua and other issues of the day.
If political governance was regressing, the West Coast city was a place where, as Delaney remembers, “progressive ideas would always be upheld.” Celebrating multiculturalism and collective struggles for social justice, Public Matters surfaces at a juncture when the message of building bridges is needed now more than ever.
In the vintage glow of her sun-drenched images, Delaney leads us in and out of crowds – among demonstrators, fair-goers, crossdressers, union organisers, beauty pageants, dancers, salesmen, mothers, kids, and market punters – searching for as many intimate moments as she found collective voices.
Fearlessly upbeat, her photographs nevertheless intimate a time when, as Delaney recollects, people “were reeling from the shift to a conservative government. The demands of the 1960s were addressed in the ’70s: the end of the Vietnam war, women’s rights, environmental issues, gay rights, to name a few. Then when Reagan was elected all this came to a halt.”
And as soon as the streets were filled with placards – “babies are for loving, not for bombing”; “Hatred can never cure the disease of fear, only love can do that” – Delaney was there, in the middle of the maelstrom, taking pictures of public matters.
Dominque DiPrima, on Stage, 1985 © Janet Delaney
Reserve Officers’ Training Corp, Cinco de Mayo Parade, 1983 © Janet Delaney
Foxy Lady, 1983 © Janet Delaney
Three Contestants, 1988 © Janet Delaney
AIDS Activists, First Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, 1986 © Janet Delaney
“Cookies not Contras”, Peace, Jobs and Justice Parade, 1986 © Janet Delaney
Dancers on Stage, 1984 © Janet Delaney
Mother and Daughters Behind Barricade, 1986 © Janet Delaney
Two Young Teens, 1985 © Janet Delaney
Pawnshop, Mission Street, 1984 © Janet Delaney
Woman in Brown Suit, 1983 © Janet Delaney
Baby with Laotian Hat, 1983 © Janet Delaney
Mother and Daughter with Baby Carriage, at Peace, Jobs and Justice Parade 1986 © Janet Delaney
Socialism!, 1986 © Janet Delaney
Crowd Waiting, 1986 © Janet Delaney
Man and Woman at Carnaval, 1985 © Janet Delaney
Masked Man Selling Newspapers, 24th Street, 1984 © Janet Delaney
I May Not Get There… First Martin Luther King Jr. Day Parade, 1986 © Janet Delaney
Movie Posters, Mission Street, 1984 © Janet Delaney