French filmmaker Sébastien Lifshitz has collected stunning archival photographs of gay, lesbian, and sexually ambiguous couples from the 1900s up to 1960 for his latest book: The Invisibles: Vintage Portraits of Love and Pride.
An avid photography collector, Lifshitz began to discover the photographs purely as a hobby from various flea markets and garage sales.
"With each discovery I was stunned," Lifshitz remarked. The filmmaker soon found himself obsessed with the the anonymous faces looking back at him through the photographs.
He also found himself inspired by the bravery of these couples, to document their unique relationships at a time when these lifestyles were anything but public.
In the book's introduction, following an early discovery of photos portraying an older mid-century lesbian couple, Lifshitz notes:
... to obtain these images, they had to have gone to a small neighborhood photo lab to develop the film and then go back to pick up the prints. They, therefore, had to run the risk of exposing themselves socially. The need to keep a memory of their love was certainly stronger than the disapproval of some business or any concerns about what others might say."
In an interview, Lifshitz pointed out that there is no way of knowing for certain the orientations of the individuals photographed beyond speculation.
To Lifshitz, there are three ways to "read" the photographs:
The first one is the pictures of obviously gay single people or couples, the second is the pictures of people which can be seen as 'undefined' (we're not sure) and the third level is the ones that are obviously not gay but playing with a gay attitude (cross-dresser, some 'garçonnes,' etc.)