The freelance photographer reflects arriving as a teen in The City, meeting Harvey Milk, seeing the world through a lens and watching himself being portrayed on the silver screen.
Who had the biggest influence on you in your life?
My lover of 28 years: Michael Pinatelli Jr. Though I have been wildly independent since I arrived on San Francisco’s shores in 1974 at age 19, meeting Mike in 1982 at the threshold of the AIDS epidemic has been one of the most graced and stabilizing unfoldings of my life.
Where do you find inspiration?
I love a good poem or prayer or philosophical quote. My favorite these days is Wallace Stevens’ stanza 15 from “Esthétique du Mal.” You can find it on the home page of my website — www.dannynicoletta.com.
How did you get into photography?
Our family life in Utica, N.Y., was full of Instamatic moments, and at age 17 my parents gave me a Super 8 camera, and I won a Kodak teenage movie award. So whether making movies or doing stills for the high school yearbook, I was well on my way to a profession in still or motion photography.
How did you begin working at Harvey Milk’s camera store? What did you do there?
I was asked to work at Castro Camera by Harvey and [his boyfriend] Scott. I was primarily a customer service person, but I answered phones, decorated the windows, fetched our lunch, did the banking. ... It was also my initiation into both freelance photography and political activism.
How would you describe Harvey?
Harvey was a mensch [a good person, in Yiddish]. He took a genuine interest in me as a friend, artist and employee. He came to my shows to support me, and he was a good listener.
This year would have been Harvey’s 80th birthday. What do you think he would have been like today?
He would continue to apply pressure on our elected leaders for LGBT civil rights worldwide. He was restless then, and he would have remained so today — near hyper-vigilant in today’s rhetoric.
What was it like watching yourself portrayed in the movie “Milk”?
I’ll never forget the first viewing — reviewing the work-in-progress interviews on the DVD add-ons that I was part of. They had done it and done it well, but it wrecked me and reawakened my mourning for Harvey and Scott that was deeply buried in my consciousness. Gus [van Sant] set up a private screening for four or five of us key Milk colleagues depicted in the film. Gus realized that we really needed to have our hand held in that moment so we got to see the film together privately, which was really therapeutic.
Tell us about your current photo exhibit.
This exhibit is my most sumptuous display of my work photographing the LGBT journey as I have photographed it over the last 35 years. Electric Works is an elegant setting, and I have given San Francisco audiences some of the chestnuts from over the years as well as cool stills I took on the set of the film, Milk. There’s a third section devoted to my current work, and how my artistic vision resonates today. www.sfelectricworks.com.