Gay lives in North America, UK & India remembered in unique photo show

Sunil Gupta
Sunil Gupta, Untitled#13,​ 2008, from the series ​The New Pre-Raphaelites (© Sunil Gupta)

Anyone in London over the fall and winter months might be interested in checking out an illuminating, and sometimes poignant exhibition at The Photographer’s Gallery.

Sunil Gupta, Untitled #22,​ 1976, from the series ​Christopher Street

Opening this week is From Here To Eternity, the first major retrospective of the work of Sunil Gupta. Born in India in 1953, Gupta relocated with his family to Montreal, Canada, in 1969. He came out as gay and set about taking photos of friends and lovers. He has continued taking portraits up until the present day.

Christopher Street in 1976
Sunil Gupta, Untitled #22,​ 1976, from the series ​Christopher Street

From Canada, Gupta relocated to the US in the 70s and became involved with the Gay Liberation Movement. His work includes street photography of Greenwich Village in 1976, capturing gay men and women going about their daily lives. The black and white images are all the more haunting given we know that AIDS was lurking around the corner and would surely have robbed us of many of those pictured.

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Following several years in North America, Gupta relocated to England and much of the exhibition includes photos taken in London.

One collection, entitled Lovers, captures same-sex couples in the mid-1980s. Gupta had split up with his own lover of ten years in 1984. He set about capturing other couples who had been together for a decade or more. At the time, there was no legal recognition for such relationships. Again, many of those pictured were to be deeply impacted by the growing HIV epidemic.

“I believe the relationship between gay men is an important but often neglected component central to their lives,” said Gupta of the images.

Sunil Gupta India Gate​, 1987 From the series ​Exiles
Sunil Gupta, India Gate​, 1987, From the series ​Exiles

Gupta also made several visits back to India. He hoped to start photographing gay men in his country of birth in the early 1980s but quickly discovered many would never agree to show their faces on camera. Instead, his images capture fleeting, intimate moments between men, their identities obscured from view. Thankfully, images from more recent years find men happier to stare directly at the camera.

Sunil Gupta, Manpreet ​from the series ​Mr Malhotra’s Party​, 2011

Other Gupta collections ape the pre-raphaelite painters, capture the dynamics of a gay bathhouse in South Africa (too risque for us to show you here!), and explore the experiences of ethnic minorities in the UK.

One series is entitled Memorials – with images ranging from shrines to Matthew Shephard in Chicago to London’s Admiral Duncan pub bombing: both examples of anti-gay hate crimes.

Sunil Gupta, Untitled​ #7, 2008, from the series ​The New Pre-Raphaelites

The show is both political but deeply personal, with one triptych juxtaposing an image of Gupta receiving treatment for HIV with images of well-known London gay sex venues.

The show runs from now until January 24, 2021. The Photographer’s Gallery is at 16-18 Ramillies Street, London, W1F 7LW. Tickets cost £5 ($6.50).