‘Outcasts and artists flocked to the city.’
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Published in: March-April 2024 issue.


CHLOE SHERMAN’S Renegades: San Francisco: The 1990s (published by Hatje Cantz) captures the city’s lesbian and queer life in sexy, buoyantly expressive photos. The heavily saturated colors in many of the pictures give birthday parties and bar meetups a mesmerizing glamor, and the young women in the photos, mostly friends of Sherman’s, exude self-confidence in themselves and trust in their chronicler. That sense of trust and connection strikes me as one of the book’s most distinctive qualities, and it is one that Sherman herself greatly values.

            I caught up with Sherman recently to learn more about her and the lesbian and queer subculture in and around San Francisco’s Mission District when it was still possible to move there on a youthful whim and, by closing time at the Bearded Lady, have a decent place to live and at least one friend to sleep with. This interview was conducted by email in late December 2023.

Hilary Holladay: Since the theme of this issue is “San Francisco,” let’s start with a question about the city. You moved to San Francisco when you were 21 at the beginning of the 1990s, which is the decade that you chronicle in Renegades. What did you do before you enrolled at the San Francisco Art Institute and earned your BFA in photography?

Chloe Sherman: I was a bike messenger for a bit; I worked in produce at a health food store; I worked some at the Bearded Lady Cafe. I traveled when opportunities arose. I went on a European and a U.S. tour with the band Tribe 8 in my earlier years. There were so many bands at the time—most of my friends were in a band at some point. I started a band with six other people in the mid-’90s called Cypher in the Snow. I played bass, and we recorded a few albums and also toured the U.S. and had a few West Coast tours. There was a “queercore”/“homocore” music movement. There really was room in San Francisco to collaborate and make things come to fruition.

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Hilary Holladay, a frequent contributor to these pages, is the author of The Power of Adrienne Rich: A Biography.