South Florida’s gay photographers are visible, important members of our community, capturing through their cameras the scores of LGBT events saturating our lives.

This week, SFGN spoke with three of them, Pompano Bill, Steven Shires, and Michael Murphy. There will be more to follow, but these artists have a proven history of publishing work that is uniquely personal and at times titillating, or even lush.

Whether you are in a shirt and tie at the opening of the GLCC, or really lush at Matty’s on the Drive, these lens masters might catch you at the moment you least expect it.

The backgrounds of these photographers are as varied as the images they capture. Perhaps the best-known photographer—for anyone who imbibes, socializes, or dances the night away locally—is Pompano Bill, with an archive of over 100,000 images.

Pompano Bill

“I’m not a trained photographer,” Pompano said proudly. “What made you think I was a photographer? It’s not a business for me; it is a hobby that evolved. I retired from IBM in 1987, and got bored so I activated my hobby.”

Club Caribbean, the once legendary North Federal Highway Fort Lauderdale gay resort, is where Pompano got his start. On Sundays, he said, “poolside was packed with over a thousand men in various stages of dress, often sipping Bloody Mary’s in one of the club’s many bars.”

On a Sunday in 1992, Pompano snapped a picture of one of the hot bartenders. At the time, the gay bar magazine of record was Brad Casey’s popular “Scoop”. Casey, now a senior salesman for Mark’s List, thought so much of Pompano’s photo he ran it on the front page of the magazine.

“And,” Pompano says proudly, “I’ve been published ever since. When I started, all I knew about a camera was to look through the viewfinder and click. That’s all I knew.”

Today, his pictures appear regularly in Hot Spots, but there is arguably no gay publication in South Florida that he has not been his pictures published in. “We consider him a national treasure,” said Peter Clark, the publisher of Hot Spots.

His picture on the preceding page is of one of the first Gay Pride Parades ever in Fort Lauderdale, in 1992 on the 17th Street Causeway.

Steven Shires

Steven Shires’ became a photographer after teaching elementary school for 11 years in Richmond, Virginia “burned him out.”

“I’ve been taking pictures since I was 17,” Shires told SFGN. “After teaching, I went to Key West for three years. I worked odd jobs, and I wasn’t making enough money. Then I worked for a few photographers, learned what I needed to do then started working with gay publications. Then everything changed when I started working for The Express Gay News.” Having his pictures published on a weekly basis gave birth to his new career.

Today, Shires no longer considers himself to be a “scene photographer.” He is specializing in weddings, portraits, events, and interior shots.

“I belong to the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, and am moving into more mainstream work. I am trying to do it all though, work with the community, and develop my art.” He counts the Fort Lauderdale Gay Men’s Chorus as one of his prominent clients. It is his photos which appear on their website.

Shires has an active interest in the fine art side of photography. His website displays a collage of photos, as unexpected as the details of a banana skin to studies of Dale Chihuly’s glass forms. Someday Shires hopes to do an exhibition featuring the diversity of the work.

Michael Murphy

Michael Murphy has the energy—and schedule—of ten men. One trend uniting our three photographers is that they chose photography as a vocation after an earlier career. While Pompano retired, and Shires “burned out” as a teacher, native Miamian Murphy was a DJ and “didn’t want to be out until 5 in the morning every night.”

In 1990, after taking pictures as a hobby, with a friend, he decided to do something more creative. Without training, Murphy apprenticed with a few photographers in Fort Lauderdale.

Twenty years later, he is now an established and successful photographer, whose prolific work has become a staple of the gay community.

“My exposure comes from the charities and non-profits I support through service as a photographer. These are the people you want to be around,” Murphy exclaimed. “They love their community and want to support other people who are committed to it. It all comes back to you.”

His photographs strive to capture a common bond of comfort with the man behind the lens. “It is the core of my art,” Murphy says.

His studios feature an enormous collection of his covers from magazines, portraits of couples, newlyweds, pets, and children, as well as corporate events. Within the portraits, you can see the essence of Murphy’s art; his ability to make his photographic subjects, even canines, at ease with themselves—be that canine your ex, or of the four-legged variety.

Whether it’s a trade fair at the Westin Diplomat, a child’s bar mitzvah, or celebrities at play, the sports-loving, fun-loving Michael Murphy’s work exudes a love for his job.

As we left his studio Murphy, this self-described mercenary with a camera, said something that perfectly summed up why we need our photographers so much. “I love this job because at the end of the day it’s great to have people say, ‘Thank you for being there during the most important times in our lives.’”