Partner Larry Lara

Crawford Barton (June 2, 1943 in Georgia – June 10, 1993 in San Francisco) was an American photographer. His work is known for documenting the blooming of the openly gay culture in San Francisco from the late 1960s into the 1980s.

Born and raised in a fundamentalist community in rural Georgia, Barton was a shy, introspective boy. His artistic interests and fear of sports alienated him from his father, a struggling farmer. He escaped family tensions by creating a world of his own imagination, which eventually led him to receive a small art scholarship at the University of Georgia.

It was there that Barton fell in love with a man for the first time. His feelings weren’t reciprocated and, after one semester, he dropped out and returned to the farm.

A couple of years later, at age 21, he enrolled in art school in Atlanta. He made new friends and found outlets for his pent-up sexual energy in that city’s gay bars and clubs. During this time in Atlanta Barton received a used 35mm camera as a gift and learned basic darkroom techniques. He found his true calling in life — photography.

Barton moved to California in the late 1960s to pursue his art and life as an openly gay man. By the early 1970s he was established as a leading photographer of the “golden age of gay awakening” in San Francisco. He was as much a participant as a chronicler of this extraordinary time and place.

“I tried to serve as a chronicler, as a watcher of beautiful people — to feed back an image of a positive, likable lifestyle — to offer pleasure as well as pride,” he explained.

By the early 1980s this period was over. San Francisco and the gay community were devastated by the onset of the AIDS epidemic. Barton’s lover of 22 years, Larry Lara, died of complications from AIDS before Barton himself succumbed at the age of 50 in 1993.

Many of Barton's images documenting long-haired freaks dancing in the street, love-ins in the park, "dykes on bikes," cross-dressers in the Castro, and leather men prowling at night have become classics of the gay world. He photographed some of the first Gay Pride parades and protests; Harvey Milk campaigning in San Francisco; and celebrities including poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti and actors Sal Mineo and Paul Winfield.

It was his circle of friends and acquaintances that inspired his most intimate erotic photography, especially his lover, Larry Lara. Barton described Lara as the “perfect specimen, as crazy and wonderful and spontaneous and free as Kerouac, so I’m never bored and never tired of looking at him.” Considered as a single body of work, his photographs of Lara dancing in the hallway of their flat on Dorland Street, a bearded hippie in the door of a cabin in Marin, a sensual nude in the hills of Land’s End, suggest the fullness, richness and complexity of the man he loved most.

In addition to his fine art photography, Barton worked on assignment for The Advocate and the Bay Area Reporter, as well as The Examiner, Newsday', and the Los Angeles Times.

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