Souvenirs Fire Island 1970’s: The photography of Meryl Meisler

Chelsea resident and photographer Meryl Meisler mines her archives, black and white negatives dating from 1973, for image gems she’s made in the past 50 years. Her current exhibition Souvenirs Fire Island 1970’s at the Ice Palace Resort, home of the Ice Palace nightclub,  runs until early September. These images are examples of the gold in them there hills—her archive. 

Meisler spent countless weekends for three years in the late 70s in Cherry Grove.  The  Ice Palace environs is where many of these fifteen Fire Island images, exhibited for the first time, were made.

Lucky happenstances led  Meisler to correspond with Bobby Bonanno, President of Fire Island Historical Society.  They found a kindred spirit in each other.  

Bonnano curated the exhibit,  choosing 15 images from one of her three published photo books as well as from never before seen images. 

With trusty film camera, Meisler’s eye at work.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Immediately on her return from Vichy where she exhibited street portraits,  Meisler hunkered down in her Woodstock studio producing the black and white inkjet archival display prints created expressly for this exhibition’s locale. She installed them in the office of the Ice Palace. 

The select of depictions of life in The Pines and Cherry Grove reflect summer-filled days of costumed-whimsy, camp, diversity of a population, abandoned fun, and affection. The vibe in  Cherry Grove and The Pines celebrated freedom,  a place for expression from a judgmental world.  A post-Stonewall time, before AIDS, these pictures reflect a glimpse of that world, also a time at the height of the disco era.  “There are so many more images in my archives,”  Meisler affirms.

Friends trekked to Fire Island for the July opening reception where poolside, Meisler signed copies of her latest book Paradise Lost. 

It had been 25 years since Meisler overnighted at Cherry Grove (although she returned for day trips every year except 2020). Back in Cherry Grove for her show, she spent five days. For her, it was an artist’s residency.  

One wall of Meisler’s pictures—Sunglasses Kiss, Exchange Booth, G String & Bent Knee.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

While rediscovering paradise, she made a slew of new friends. She danced on the Ice Palace dance floor. And every day she never left her room without her trusty Norita Graflex film camera —2 ¼ negatives on 120 film—always updating her archives. 

She even got a photo of Wanda Sykes. 

Visually, except for styles, not that much has changed in the sense of community,  she says. “I see the same way.”

Judi Jupiter was Meisler’s sidekick during those weekend forays to Fire Island.  Pointing to each picture she boasts,  “I was there when most of these images were made,” remembering most of the circumstances that inspired each photograph. 

She reminisces, “It makes me happy to have the experience of the 70s. They were so free-spirited.”

Two fellas enjoying Four on Deck at Star Wars Party.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)

Robert Lassegue is the office manager at The Ice Palace and has the advantage of living with the exhibition while it’s up —through September 6. 

“People want to see more,” he says, directing viewers to where they can buy her latest book— Barrier Beach shop in Cherry Grove and Fire Island Pines General Store  (and select NYC bookstores),  or to ClampArt, NYC,  the gallery that represents her and where collectible, larger prints are available.

For Meisler, the exhibit is a homecoming. “They belong here, the photographs created in or near where they are taken. You can see how much of the quality of life was there, and preserved and appreciated. You get a sense of the LGBT culture; it feels so authentic. It’s cultural history.”  And, it’s such recent history, that when she made a place mis-identification, someone in the community corrected it.  

Will she have another show there?  “I would love to have a residency and create more images,” Meisler says. 

HS friend Nina Israel & daughter Mel holding photo of her mom & grandmother in Meisler book SASSY’70s.(Photo by Tequila Minsky)