Any gay man of a ‘certain age’ who grew up in the Chicago area in the 1970’s & 1980’s would have most certainly spent some summer days at Belmont Rocks the city’s lakeside gay cruising area. On a large grassy expanse punctuated on one side by a series of tiered limestone blocks that separated the city from Lake Michigan, there were gay men sprawled out on the grass and rocks canoodling in the hot sun.
This was considered a gay paradise where the queer community could mix and mingle in broad daylight all summer long unhindered, and for those few hours, seemingly without a care in the world.
The AIDS epidemic would change that of course. It was the reason that photographer Doug Ischar had escaped San Francisco to move to Chicago in the first place, and once there he found a certain resonance with the guys that hang out on Belmont Rocks and so spent the summer of 1985 photographing them. The result is a stunning body of work that uniquely captured this essential part of LGBT history of that community. It would soon afterward disappear : the boys to the ravages of the pandemic, and the rocks would be cemented over by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Ischar now an associate professor of photography at the University of Illinois at Chicago, called these series of photos Marginal Waters. It is a naval term referring to waters off the coast of a country that remains outside its jurisdiction, and here serves as a metaphor for a marginalized subculture.
All photographs © Doug Ischar