Gay New York

Among the highlights of our April 17 auction of Vernacular Photography is a small archive of photographs and ephemera relating to transvestism and gay rights in New York City from the early 1970s.


The visual and printed materials pertain to the very public lives of Lee Brewster (hailed in his New York Times obituary as “Style Guru for World’s Cross-Dressers”) and Avery Willard (a.k.a. Bruce King) a photographer, filmmaker, publisher, performer and gay activist). There are 17 remarkable photographs and two contact sheets of Willard in drag that are likely self-portraits. 


Also in the archive are 18 photographs of contestants at Wigstock 1973, more than 60 photos of the NYC Gay Pride parade in 1974 and 18 photos of the Queens Liberation Front parade in 1973, as well as assorted ephemera from 1971-1974. 


Avery Willard (1921-1999) was a commercial photographer known for his theatrical portraits of Broadway’s leading stars. In the 1970s, he began photographing the “gay scene,” and published a newspaper of the same name. The pictures in this group are self-portraits in which he is dressed in historic and contemporary costumes. 


Lee G. Brewster’s (1943-2000) Greenwich Village boutique was legendary in the transvestite world. He staged elaborate balls for cross-dressers, both gay and straight, and, according to the Times, “financed a successful legal challenge to overturn a city ordinance that allowed people to be removed from public places for being gay.”