The photographs shown here capture Ron William’s comprehensive work documenting San Francisco Pride events from 1975, when it was called the “Gay Freedom Day Parade,” to 2009. Ron’s vision and photographic art is a melding of technical experience, aesthetic expression, and the lust for that perfect image. As a “witness to history,” he started documenting LGBTQ Gay Freedom Day parades in 1974 while working as a freelance graphic artist and photographer for the Bay Area Reporter. All his documentary work before 1980, was lost in a Russian River Flood. He then returned to his beautiful City, and resumed photographing San Francisco’s Pride events.
A San Francisco native, Ron Williams came out during pre-Stonewall era of the 1960s. In 1971 he moved to Castro Street just as the big migration to the Castro started. Those first Pride events in the 1970s were like major milestones in the struggle for equality, they allowed the fledgling Gay culture an opportunity to express latent political power and solidarity under the protection provided by, safety in numbers, to flourish in a world full of hatred and prejudice. He experienced the wondrous exhilarating feeling of marching in a group, where everyone is a Star for those few hours, including the observers and bystanders.
In 1974, having trained in graphic arts and having developed a substantial body of documentary photography, Ron started working for the Bay Area Reporter. In 1977 he was offered an attractive position at a Sonoma County winery working in their marketing department as a graphic designer. Moving to the Russian River was an added perk, considering the burgeoning new LGBTQ community developing on the River during the 70s.
During Russian River Flood of 1982, Ron lost his entire body of photography, including all the the negatives to the ferocious river. His only images from the 1970s, now live in the archives of the Bay Area Reporter. Luckily, 5 rolls of film of the 1980 Gay Freedom Day Parade, escaped the flood waters and were found in 2010. In June 1989, Ron photographed the Gay Freedom Day parade, which was staged in the Castro, then proceeded down Market Street, to Civic Center, it was the 20th Anniversary of Stonewall. 2007 is the first year Ron switched from film to digital, opening up a whole new world of images with quality improvement, computer programs, hard drive storage of thousands of images.
His book, “Capturing Our Diversity – Three Decades of Pride,” is a testament to his work as a photographer, activist, and documenter of our proud heritage.
All images © Ron Williams, all rights reserved.