Sunil Gupta’s 1976 photographs of Manhattan’s long-gone Christopher Street inspires Helmut Lang’s FW20 campaign

Delhi-born Canadian photographer Sunil Gupta’s first encounter with Christopher Street in Manhattan was back in 1976 when he set out to photograph the neighbourhood’s LGBTQ community. History would remember the ’70s in America as a time when the Stonewall riots had just taken place and the Equal Rights Amendment Act had been introduced in the Congress. “Gay men were finally being allowed to come out and be themselves in public for the first time, and they were clearly very happy about it,” says Gupta, who was still an amateur and freshly transitioning from MBA to his photography course at The New School. “As a gay man myself, I decided to document my own tribe. But rather than making an anthropological study, I chose to photograph the people who caught my eye. It was a very straightforward approach using simple means— black and white film and normal lenses. I just walked up to people and clicked their pictures,” says Gupta. The initial collection of the images, which were shot over a span of six weekends, have been recently compiled into the book Christopher Street 1976 (2018). 

Forty-four years since then, the pictures have now inspired Helmut Lang’s Fall/Winter ’20 campaign for the first ready-to-wear collection helmed by creative director Thomas Cawson. And it all started when the brand’s team reached out to the photographer with a message on his Instagram account. “It seemed to be such an outlandish idea for me to take fashion pictures.” 

Gupta’s images hold at its core the exuberant and spontaneous mood of his photo series. The campaign was shot, edited, printed, and installed at the Helmut Lang store in New York for an exhibition over the span of a weekend. He looks back at his impression of working on his first fashion project and says, “I think I was expecting The Devil Wears Prada, but in fact people were very gentle, friendly and accommodating. I’ve had to rethink my prejudice about working in fashion, and may even consider doing it again.” 

Images courtesy the artist and Hales Gallery, Stephen Bulger Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery. © Sunil Gupta. All Rights Reserved, DACS 2020

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