Chloe Sherman’s ‘Renegade’ Photography Captures ’90s Queer Culture in SF

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A person with braided chin hair looks into the back seat of a vintage car.
Chloe Sherman, 'View from the backseat,' 1997. (Courtesy the artist)

Thirty years ago, San Francisco was a place where people who were misfits everywhere else—queers, punks and artists alike—could come and find their chosen families regardless of how much money they had. Chloe Sherman’s new exhibit at Schlomer Haus Gallery, Renegade San Francisco: The 1990s, is a vibrant snapshot of what happened after they got here.

With her camera’s lens focused primarily on the lesbian community, Sherman captured the sticky dive bars, messy bedrooms and freewheeling couples of the era who lived unapologetically on their own terms.

Five butch women with short hair and leather accessories stand at a lunch counter, casually waiting to be served.
Chloe Sherman, 'Folsom St Fair,' 1994. (Courtesy the artist)

The freedom Renegade’s photos capture is still a joy to behold. It’s a journey through the Mission District, Castro and SoMa; through parties, street corner hangouts and car rides. The locations—the Lexington, Hole in the Wall and Folsom Street Fair included—remain secondary, however, to the characters on show and the tight-knit community they represented.

Whether they were lounging at home in silk gowns or donning duct tape bustiers to hit the town, these butch and femme rebels were clearly having the time of their lives. Their closeness and casual elation in that feeling of community is palpable throughout. And the things that were incidental to them at the time—talking on landlines, smoking cigarettes indoors and embodying a relentlessly thrifty fashion sensibility—are a delight to look back on.

A woman in a red halter neck maxi dress sweeps her long hair behind her neck, while standing next to an old red car in San Francisco. In front of the woman stands a butch person in a black and red cowboy shirt. A friend crouches next to them on the sidewalk, almost out of shot.
Chloe Sherman, 'The Heist,' 1996. (Courtesy the artist)

Chloe Sherman first moved to the city in 1991, before studying fine art photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. That she had the foresight to document her community at the time is fortunate. That she’s sharing those images with the world now is a gift.

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Chloe Sherman’s ‘Renegade San Francisco: The 1990s’ is on view at Schlomer Haus Gallery (2128 Market St., San Francisco) through July 30, 2022. Exhibition details here.