San Francisco’s gay scene remembered with new, archive photo account

A new Instagram account is presenting a vast archive of images from San Francisco’s bar, club and festival scene from the mid-90s to mid-00s.

It comes from photographer Eric “ShutterSlut” Stein, who originally comes from Arizona but has lived in the Californian city for 30 years. The new ShutterSlut archive is on Instagram as @RetroQueerSF.

“I’ve been in San Francisco since I fled Arizona in 1991, and started taking photos in nightclubs in 1995,” he told GayCities. “However, shots from ’95 are really bad because I was trying to be an artiste, and there was no YouTube to teach me lessons.

“I’m an SF lifer. The only way I’ll ever leave is if they drag my body out of my 30-year rent-controlled apartment when I get old,” he added.

“I love this city. Even with the damage wrought by the latest wave of tech companies and their employees, combined with the destruction of nightlife venues by Covid, I’ll be here when she rises again like a phoenix as she’s always done. Different, but always vibrant.”

Related: Gay bars in San Francisco

Sr Timothy at SF Pride (2003)
Sr Timothy at SF Pride (2003) (Photo: ShutterSlut)

Stein’s most recent job was at the long-running club Bootie Mashup.

“I literally did everything but produce the club and DJ that wasn’t the responsibility of the DNA Lounge, the bar the party was held at. I took the pictures, set up the club, made our background videos, filled our supplies, etc. I lost my job due to Covid, and I’ve been unemployed since. The good news out of this is that I’ve had time to start this photo project.”

Fun at the Stud, 2005 (Photo: ShutterSlut)

Stein says he has about 25,000 prints from the period 1996-2005, when he switched from film to digital. He then has around 240,000 digital images since that time.

“During my heyday, I was taking pictures at least every Saturday (usually at a party called Sugar) and every Tuesday at Trannyshack at the Stud.

The latter, seminal club night was launched in 1996 by the drag queen, Heklina. It ran for 12 years as a weekly night at The Stud, then returned as a monthly party in 2010 at DNA Lounge. It changed its name to Mother in 2015 out of respect to the increasing number of people in the trans community who objected to its original name.

“I shot Trannyshack pretty solidly from its first year to its 10th anniversary, as well as the Trannyshack Reno bus trip to Reno every Easter weekend and the occasional boat parties in SF Bay.”

Related: Beloved San Francisco bar Virgil’s Sea Room announces closure

Stein also covered Pride and Folsom Fair events.

Kielbasia, Queen of Poland, at Juanita More’s Pride Party, 2005 (Photo: ShutterSlut)

“Most weeks I was out 3-4 nights shooting, while holding down a full-time retail job. Youth is a wonderful thing! Starting in 2012 I started working full time for Bootie Mashup, but I’d sneak off to other clubs when I could.”

Over the years, he’s seen many changes on the scene, and many closures. He says the scene is definitely not what it was but remains hopeful for the future.

“Recently I think the club scene has become a little more stagnant,” he reflects. “You don’t see the inventiveness that promoters used to have to make their events different, to stand out. I’m hoping that after this year with the lights out nightlife will come back better and stronger.

“DJs and performers are dying for audiences that aren’t just on a screen. Crowds are dying for the energy that you only get in a room full of people watching and dancing to the same thing. Talking to producers I know, they’re itching to get back to work. I’m looking forward to the renaissance this brings, whenever we can finally open up again.”

Check out more of ShutterSlut’s images at RetroQueerSF, where you can also order prints.

Don't forget to share:

Your support makes our travel guides possible

We believe that LGBTQ+ people deserve safe vacations that allow them to be their authentic selves. That's why our City Guides aren't locked behind a paywall. Can you contribute today?

Cancel anytime · Proudly LGBTQ+ owned and operated