Mark I. Chester

the dream of my youth is dead
but I can't stop dreaming  1997-1998

a beautiful young man with eyes that drove me wild
came from new york, bought his first harness in san francisco
and discovered things about himself that he had never known
photo © Mark I. Chester

from "the dream of my youth is dead, but I can't stop dreaming"  1997-1998
29 photographs - 11"x14" matted to 16"x20"
with hand written text on the overmat


I believe in radical sexuality. I believe in sexual art. And I believe in hard dicks. (grin) Actually my fantasies are MUCH broader than that. (wicked grin) So why am I doing a series of sexual photographic *stories*? You certainly don't expect me to tell you all of my secrets. What fun would that be? Even if I DID have a clue as to what it all means.

There is something universal in the individual. Something primal hidden in the present. Something of dark mystery hidden in the face of the familiar. If I understood....., if I had ANY sense at all, I wouldn't be doing this. But what is life but the journey along the path?

The muse is a cruel mistress. I hadn't even finished coming when she presented me with the bill.


Those were my original thoughts when the work was too new for me to even understand it.  Many artists may be pre-conceivers.  I work intuitively in the moment.  Only over time do I begin to understand the underlying themes and styles that bind the work together and drive it.  So here are some additional thoughts.

On the approach of my 50th birthday, the coming millennium, after the deaths of so many men in my life that I can no longer even remember who they all are, after so much loss and pain and grief and struggle to survive, I realized that the dream of my youth was truly dead.  What drove me to come to San Francisco, to find and love and live with other gay men, had come to an end.... and a very bad end at that.  As I sat around the Thanksgiving and Christmas tables with my chosen family of other gay sex radicals, whatever it was that I was fantasizing is now as dead as the rest of my gay family.  Whatever future I had planned, as I hung my photographs in gay bars and gay performance galleries that have long since closed, whatever it was, is now just some dream out of my past.

Even having drowned in death and dying for so many years, I have not stopped dreaming.  There are just new dreams.  Different dreams.  My work has always been a diary and I've always relied on the photograph to say everything that had to be said.  But this time, the photograph was not enough.

A friend of mine, Steven, a sexy attractive man who was both an artist with my drawing group and a model for the group, suffered a near fatal bout of meningitis.  He came away with his life, but as a complication from the meningitis, the fingers on his right hand necrotized.  A few days before his fingers were amputated, I asked if I could photograph him, then, just as he was.  I will never know why he agreed, considering the devastation of his loss.  But he did.  It was one of the hardest photo sessions that I have ever done.  I had to keep putting down the camera and leaving the studio to compose myself.  The images are powerful and shocking, a combination of life and death, beauty and ugliness, all wrapped up in one.

But when I showed the photographs, people responded with odd questions as if the photograph was a joke, or his dying hand, faked with some kind of make-up.  I felt Steven's personal circumstances were so tragic and his loss was so real, that I didn't want people to think his personal tragedy was a joke.  So I wrote the title of the image in large text on the mat of the photograph, so that it couldn't be ignored.

And then the photographs started creating themselves and talking to me.  Speaking their names.  Driving me crazy with their poetry.  Demanding to be included in this unusual family of portraits.  I love their stories because they change the photographs into something else and once you know their story, you can't view them any other way.

I'll know when I'm dead, because I will have stopped dreaming.