1970s Fire Island Memories: The Photography of Meryl Meisler
Meryl Meisler, Chelsea resident and photographer, digs into her archive, black and white negatives dating back to 1973, to find image gems she’s created over the past 50 years. His current exhibition 1970s Fire Island Memorabilia at the Ice Palace Resort, home to the Ice Palace nightclub, runs through early September. These images are examples of gold in these hills— its archives.
Meisler spent countless weekends for three years in the late 70s in Cherry Grove. The area around the Ice Palace is where many of these fifteen Fire Island images, first exhibited, were made.
Serendipity led Meisler to correspond with Bobby Bonanno, president of the Fire Island Historical Society. They found a kindred spirit in each other.
Bonnano curated the exhibition, choosing 15 images from one of his three published photo books as well as previously unseen images.
Immediately upon her return from Vichy where she exhibited street portraits, Meisler took refuge in her studio in Woodstock to produce the archival black and white inkjet prints created expressly for the location of this exhibition. She installed them in the office of the Ice Palace.
The selection of depictions of life in The Pines and Cherry Grove reflect summer days filled with costumed fantasy, camp, a diverse population, abandoned fun and affection. The mood at Cherry Grove and The Pines celebrated freedom, a place of expression from a judgmental world. A post-Stonewall period, before AIDS, these images reflect a glimpse of that world, also at a time at the height of the disco era. “There are so many more images in my archive,” says Meisler.
Friends headed to Fire Island for the July grand opening reception where, poolside, Meisler signed copies of his latest book Paradise Lost.
It had been 25 years since Meisler had spent the night in Cherry Grove (although she had returned for day trips every year except 2020). Returning to Cherry Grove for her show, she spent five days. For her, it was an artist residency.
By rediscovering paradise, she made a slew of new friends. She danced on the dance floor of the Ice Palace. And every day, she never left her room without her trusty Norita Graflex film camera – 2 ¼ negatives on 120 film – which always updated her archives.
She even got a picture of Wanda Sykes.
Visually, except for the styles, not much has changed in the sense of community, she says. “I see the same thing.”
Judi Jupiter was Meisler’s sidekick on those weekend forays to Fire Island. Showing each image she boasts about, “I was there when most of these images were made”, remembering most of the circumstances that inspired each photograph.
She recalls: “It makes me happy to live the experience of the 70s. They were so free-spirited.
Robert Lassegue is the director of the Ice Palace office and has the advantage of living with the exhibition while it is in place, until September 6.
“People want to see more,” he says, directing viewers to where they can buy his latest book – the Barrier Beach store in Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines General Store (and some New York bookstores), or to ClampArt, NYC, the gallery that represents her and where larger collectible prints are available.
For Meisler, the exhibition is a homecoming. “They belong here, the photographs created in or near where they are taken. You can see how the quality of life was there, preserved and appreciated. You get a sense of LGBT culture; it’s so authentic. It’s cultural history. And, it’s such a recent story, that when she misidentified her location, someone in the community corrected her.
Will she have another show there? “I would love to have a residency and create more images,” says Meisler.