Mark I. Chester

images from Outcasts

Cal Yeomans reading
12/1989

 

Cal was a gay southern writer with a voice as deep, sweet and mournful as the cry of a lone bird out on the water.  Poet.  Writer.  Playwright.  Photographer.  “Richmond Jim.”  “Sunsets.”  Cal was in San Francisco doing a reading at A Different Light bookstore.  I loved listening to Cal read his own work.  I get transported listening to Cal read.  The rhythm of the words and the music of his voice are entrancing.  The sound comes from some dark, lonely place in his soul.

After the reading, I had invited Cal to come to my flat to be photographed.  Cal had come to San Francisco with Berndt, this German lad with whom he was having a tryst.  I did some portraits of the two of them and took some photographs of Cal reading.

Later in the session, we put on some slow sad classical music and Cal said, “I have something I want to do.  Just photograph me.”  He undressed completely and then sat, stood and walked around the room in the nude.  Translating this into words doesn’t come close to describing the sadness, beauty and emotional devastation of those simple movements.  He didn’t really do anything.  But in the lights, lulled by the music, it was a performance.  A performance so open, so honest, so raw that all he did was to rip out his heart and hold it in his hands for the camera to see.

The photograph is titled “Cal - in memory of dead friends” and it is in my book, “Diary of a Thought Criminal.”  The negatives from this shoot were damaged in a 1991 arson fire against the property next door, that damaged the flat that I live in South of Market.  It was almost like the universe saying, “This goes too far.  Even a being of omnipotence couldn’t deal with such pain and sorrow.”  There are only two prints of this photograph in existence.  One is in Cal's collection archived at a University and, I have the other.