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Tom Bianchi on His Collaboration with Bianca Chandôn

"The collaboration was a 50/50 exercise. We both wanted the clothes to be bold and beautiful and have something to say."
Reading time 7 minutes

American writer and photographer Tom Bianchi is more than just a photographer who specializes in male nude photography — but rather allows those who view his work an intimate and raw look at the complexities and beauty of the gay male experience. Of course, there is another side to the gay male experience, one which Bianchi faced head-on when he was diagnosed as HIV-positive, which called him to become active in several projects devoted to the fight against AIDS. Notably, he is the co-founder of a biotechnology company researching treatment and manages the funding for the development of new AIDS medication.

But Bianchi's activism doesn't stop there. He recently teamed up with Bianca Chandôn for a collection of colorful t-shirts inspired by his legendary book of photographs Fire Island Polaroids: 1975–1983. Of which a portion of the proceeds will go to Visual AIDS, a non-profit dedicated to fighting AIDS and supporting artists who are living with HIV. 


We spoke to Bianchi about the exciting collaboration, the spirited and revolutionary decade that was the 1970s, and the reality of being queer today. 

Can you tell us how your collaboration with the brand came about?

Alex Olson was given my book, Fire Island Polaroids: 1975–1983 and made contact because he wanted to feature it in a Nowness video in which he was a subject. He started the dialog that led to our collaboration.


Were you a fan of the brand before your collaboration?
I was. My husband Ben has bought a few shirts; several Lover Ts and one with the logo of the Blue Parrot — a gay bar in West Hollywood that was popular during the 80s. I thought it was very cool of Alex to reference our lives in this way.


How does your sex-positive and forward work fit into the skateboarding culture that Bianca Chandôn is a major part of?

My work speaks to anyone interested in living a more free and responsible life. Homophobia is neither a free nor responsible mindset. Often, we identify with our interests, shared sport, for example, is a community. If my messages reach a community that might not have thought much about what I have to say in the past - I’m all for that because my messages are universally valuable.

A lot of the culture that Bianca Chandôn pulls from is inspired by the 70s — and your work has a very retro feel to it as well, not to mention the fact that you’ve been putting out art since then — so it seems like you guys have a similar vision. Were you given free reigns on direction and creativity?

By definition, my work in the 70s was contemporary. The 70s were a time of revolution and resistance: the anti-Vietnam war movement, the civil rights movement, the feminist movement, the gay rights movement. These are ongoing and timeless — as relevant today as they were then. Alex understands their importance and he understands that style can reflect social movements. So our visions are aligned. The collaboration was a 50/50 exercise. We both wanted the clothes to be bold and beautiful and have something to say.


A portion of the proceeds from this capsule collection will be donated to Visual Aids- can you tell us about this idea and why it was so important to you and founder Alex Olson?

Visual Aids is an organization that supports artists who deal with HIV in their personal lives and combat AIDS in their work. We feel strongly that we can and must use our talent and resources to address social issues and make the world more informed and thereby, more tolerant. Art has this power.


You've said that your work “has always been about accepting who we are and shedding sexual shame.” Why is it important that we continue to create images that reinforce this acceptance of self?

The sickness of our society is a reflection of the sickness buried within ourselves. You can’t have a healthy culture when sex is twisted and deformed. So it’s critical that we come to an appreciation of sex as a divine energy. My work is intended to appreciate the goodness of ourselves as sexual beings, living in love and light.

In the 70s and early 80s, you documented New York’s Fire Island Pines - a hot spot for local gay men. What was it like back then? Can you take us back to a time before the AIDS crisis began?

My Pines: Polaroid book is a comprehensive discussion and looks at our world than in that place. If I were to sum it up in a sentence or two I’d say, a group of imaginative and brave men and women created a beautiful place where we could be free to be our queer selves. We went on a hugely fun and sexy trip and we created a world better than the repressed homophobic world we came from.


Why is it important to remind this generation of LGBTQ+ about what their community went through during the AIDS crisis? What do we have to learn today?

A wise gay voice once said, “They will not become healthy when they come to accept us. They will be healthy when they come to revere us.” The LGBT community responded to the AIDS crisis with enormous bravery, confronting unimaginable suffering with empathy and focused action. Today we still confront the myriad evils of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and authoritarianism. We live in dangerous times for democracy and the idea of inclusiveness and justice for all. We queer people have experienced the pain of those forces and are, as a result, particularly armed to combat them. We have incredible power when we believe in ourselves.


Finally, how should we wear these Bianca Chandôn pieces? How would you wear them?

Wear them in joy — carry the message forward.

You can purchase pieces from the collection now at Dover Street Market London and Bianca Chandôn

View the entire range, below. 


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