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Wendy Mukluk Gallery      

The Photography of Wendy Mukluk (aka Wanda Ashman)
The Mad Mystical Merry Mukluks

"Everything is alive. The world is full of magic and wonders. There are things going on all the time that we don't know about. One role of the artist is akin to that of a shaman; bringing things from other realms for the benefit of all; acting as a conduit to the unconscious world, to racial memory, to a psychic pool shared by all sentient beings." -Wendy Mukluk

Exclusive to the QAR by Lionel A. Biron

During her entire career as a photographer which stretches back to the early 1970s when she first exhibited her work at Harvey Milk's Castro Camera in San Francisco, Wendy Mukluk has focused her camera on the friends that surround her and has created a patchwork of intimate, ephemeral moments preserved on film and paper. Mukluk early admired the work of Brassaï (Gyula Halász, 1899-1984) and set out to make The Secret San Francisco of the 70s as he had done in The Secret Paris of the 30s. In 1975, she saw Larry Clark's book Tulsa and Bruce Davidson's photographs of residents in East Harlem which deepened her resolve to make a photojournalistic record of her life and friends. She once said: " I only want to take pictures of people I like and especially of people I love."

The photographs in this QAR Gallery were all taken in the 1970s, when Wendy Mukluk lived in the gay commune in San Francisco aptly named The Mad Mystical Merry Mukluks. Members of the Mukluk commune and their friends rarely missed an opportunity to dress up for parties, bars and shows or simply, on a whim, to entertain themselves at home. They lived out their fantasies through their drag, as reflected in the photographs "Jason, Jon and Daisy at a Tupperware Party" and "Billy and Marce, Market Street." Daily life was theatrical, filled with spontaneous parody, role playing and wish fulfillment.

The commune and friends who often visited included actors, musicians and dancers whose everyday fantasies soon evolved into full blown stage performances. Wendy Mukluk was an active participant as well as a photo chronicler of these happenings. She herself designed and made many of her own clothes, and worked on the designs and creations of costumes for other performers. She even appeared in a few small roles in the legendary productions of the Cockettes and the Angels of Light. "Getting dressed in the morning," she once declared, "should ideally be conceptual or performance art."

In her self portraits, such as "Self Portrait with Vegetable Headdress" and "Self Portrait in Wedding Dress," she underscores the fact that she inhabits the same fantasy world as those she photographs. Consequently, as an insider, her images are genuinely sympathetic to her subjects and present the bizarre as "normal" and the everyday as otherworldly. The outside, non-gay, non-communal, non-fantasy world isn't seen at all, or only creeps in at the edges as an alien intrusion. What is left is a vision of a moment in American life that will never entirely fade away because of the irrefutable evidence of these intimate artistic photographs.

On the technical side, Mukluk uses available light almost exclusively and rarely photographs in a studio. She has always taken her cameras (including an old Roliflex which produced the beautiful square images at the end of our gallery) to parties, bars, the beach, or kept it on hand at home as she continues to do. Often she takes pictures in low light conditions indoors and at night. "I use the opposite of the zone system;" she explains; that is, she overdevelops her underexposed film and uses whatever darkroom techniques she can muster to draw the information hidden in her negatives.

During the 1970s, Wendy Mukluk had a sense of foreboding and doom and felt an obsession to record the counter culture lifestyle in San Francisco. This foreboding unfortunately proved true for many of the people pictured here died of AIDS during the 1980s and 1990s (Memorial to Dead Friends). These photographs celebrate with a mix of affection and amusement their playfulness, gender confusion, theatricality as they lived it fully among the San Francisco hippie culture of the '70s. Wendy Mukluk's photographs of her friends and herself are not mere snapshots; they are the artistic creations of a highly skilled sensitive photographer as well as important historical artifacts of a lost time, but most of all they are a genuine expression of love.    -April 14, 2007

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