A life as a ‘professional photographer’ would have been a good choice had I not heeded an inner voice that pushed me into an activist career as a gay political organizer. It was important to me to make my life count. Eventually, my activism evolved into my livelihood as a gay bookseller.
Given the prejudices of the time as well as the dynamics of my class and family background, and what seemed to me to be the obvious need to initiate various gay projects, the path seemed a logical one. Cameras gave me a way of recording the history of the Movement that I felt I was part of, even though these efforts were never really appreciated at the time. At least I had the foresight to keep taking pictures!
Later, photography provided me with a way of responding to my lifelong fascination with nature, archeology, and the many cultures I explored over the decades. Alas, for so many years, my life was simply far too busy to spend the time necessary to print most of the images that I’ve taken. The days of photographic darkrooms are not missed when you consider the amount of labour involved in producing decent prints.
Now that I have retired from my 30 years in the book business, I have the time to examine the massive number of negatives taken since I first pushed the shutter button of a camera. I only wish I had either taken my photographic inclinations more seriously, or had more encouragement to hone both my skills and philosophy of photography.
My photographic endeavors began at around age 12 with a basic wind up motorized Brownie 8mm. In 1967, while attending Cornell University, I took a course in Black & White still photography and created a short photo essay on Toronto for my final project. Our class was supplied with Rolli twin-reflex cameras, which took 120 film rolls. Upon graduation – as a present to myself – I bought a medium format Bronica before moving to Canada where I was hired as a Research Assistant in the Medical Sciences division of the University of Toronto. During my first year in Canada, I took photos around my Kensington Market neighbourhood.
In 1970, after the University of Toronto fired me for my role in founding the University of Toronto Homophile Association (UTHA), I took off on my first trip abroad. It lasted nearly eight months, during which time I managed to hitchhike from Luxembourg to Sicily, on through Greece and over into Southwest Turkey (which initiated my lifelong fascination with the Muslim world).
On the return journey, I spent nearly three months in the then Communist countries of Eastern Europe. ( I even managed to visit Czechoslovakia the year after the Prague Spring invasion by the Soviet army). A selection of these early photos is gradually being scanned, worked with in Photoshop, and will be uploaded to this website.
I think many of these photos could not have been taken by anybody other than myself. Certainly even some of the more National Geographic-type shots have the ‘stamp’ of my eye and would likely never pass the editorial cleansing process National Geographic photos are invariably subjected. Of course, their self censoring tendencies, (more than likely those of an editor), reflect the dominant concepts of ‘political correctness’ in observance during any particular decade, whereas my eye was and is free to see – and my camera to record – what I personally find interesting and of aesthetic value.
Top Photo: Taken at Dar Balmira, Fes, Morocco, by Zouhir el Asery. 2012
Bottom Photo: Taken at Allegheny State Park, New York, by Heidi E. Mueller. 1964 or 1965
Born on August 9, 1946, in Niagara Falls, New York, I studied biological sciences at Cornell University, graduating in January, 1969.
When I was a sophomore in university, I finally confronted my homosexuality after years of denial. At the time, I was fortunate enough to read various authors who helped me gain a political and social perspective on the oppression of gay people in North American society. In essence, reading was my salvation and it played a critical role in forming my own radical analysis of sexuality. Just as importantly, it pointed me towards what would become my career … as a gay bookseller.
However, it wasn’t until the spring of 1968 that I took the formal step of acting on my new found convictions and create a gay student organization at Cornell. I had considerable angst, nevertheless, about what that would mean for my own future.
During the following decade, by using the positive reinforcement from that original activism, I went on – in Canada and again in the USA (in 1979) – to form a number of gay organizations and institutions that I knew were necessary to build an alternative political and social movement.
Upon graduation from Cornell I found work as a research assistant to a Physiologist at the University of Toronto. In the fall of 1969, after living in Canada for some 9 months, I decided to go ahead with plans to found a second gay student group at U of T. This resulted in my dismissal from the staff … at the bequest of the Chairman of the Department! The UTHA (University of Toronto Homophile Association), being new and not particularly political in its mandate, did nothing to protest this. My response was to embark upon my first trip abroad, an event that would create in me a lifelong wanderlust to see the world.
In November 1970, after an 8 month hitchhiking tour of Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the Western half of Anatolia, I returned to Toronto to find work. In late November or early December, I then took the first steps toward creating Glad Day Bookshop as my second project to help build Toronto’s fledgling Gay Movement. However, I was still a few years away (starting in 1974) from making the decision to become a serious, full-time gay bookseller. By 1979 the business was thriving such a way that I decided to open a second shop in Boston, Massachusetts.
In 1985, the Canadian government under then Prime Minister Brian Mulroney made it a priority to censor gay and lesbian materials entering Canada. The seizures of books, magazines, films, and even greeting cards escalated to the point where it became clear that the authorities were determined to put Glad Day out of business.
In 1986, Glad Day orchestrated a court challenge over the banning of The Joy of Gay Sex by Dr. Charles Silverstein and Edmund White. We won the case, but our success only further infuriated Canada Customs, which simply increased its assault on the bookstore using every trick in the book. By 1991, I had tired both of the unending harassment by the Canadian Government as well as the regular commutes between Toronto and Boston. I sold the Toronto operation to John Bruce Scythes that year.
John ran the store for the next 21 years. In 2012, he sold the Toronto Glad Day to a group of gay and lesbian investors. At 42 years of age, it may be the longest surviving gay institution in the world, let alone on that is a gay bookstore.
In the year 2000, the Boston shop lost its premises to developers and we were unable to find an affordable new location after many months of searching. At that point, I decided it was time to leave the book business and devote myself to other projects. John Mitzel, Glad Day Boston’s manager for more than 15 years, then went on to open his own gay and lesbian bookshop, Calamus Bookstore.
For the next few years, I continued to follow my wanderlust needs as well as devote myself to botanical and ornithological interests. Since 2005, I have been spending a fair amount of time in Morocco, where I am developing a photographic gallery, Dar Balmira, devoted to both my photographs of Morocco as well as the restoration of early photos documenting this Muslim country’s history.
This website’s initial purpose is to make available a large number of my own photographs, beginning with the early modern Gay Movement and moving on to images taken during my many travels abroad. However, this brief biography needs to be greatly expanded, and I hope it will grow to include more personal history … as well as my ideas about a multitude of subjects. With those intentions, this website begins as a visual statement of this Outsider’s photographic odyssey.