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Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
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Catherine Opie (b. 1961) combines her documentation of the queer leather community with a larger interest in community and identity. She sees lesbian identity as fluid and expanding, offering opportunities for playing with gender-bending through performance and cross-dressing.

In her "Portrait" series, Cheryl Smith explores the tension between absence and presence, between gaining and losing a sense of community.

Opie, Chloe Atkins (b. 1954), and many other lesbian photographers have produced lesbian pornographic shots for magazines such as On Our Backs. These images, and the sexual activities they depict, are often the subject of bitter controversy among lesbians.

In 1990, Kiss and Tell (Susan Stewart, b. 1952; Persimmon Blackbridge, b. 1951; and Lizard Jones, b. 1961), an art collective in Vancouver, used the intense debates around sexual practice to create the photographic exhibition "Drawing the Line." Their photographs depicted a continuum of lesbian sexual practice ranging from kissing to whipping, bondage, and voyeurism.

This project encouraged viewers to comment by writing directly on plastic over the prints. The collective hoped to allow a wide and diverse range of views to be expressed.

Advertising Images

Since 1990 the increasingly conservative climate in many parts of the world, censorship in the United States, and political action around AIDS have generated a refocussing on the body and a new style of visual activism.

Through the lesbian arm of Queer Nation, the Dyke Action Machine (DAM) team of Carrie Moyer (b. 1960) and Sue Schaffner (b. 1964) used slick photographic designs on bus and telephone kiosks to critique the marketing of family and the construction of difference through advertising.

In Australia the Word of Mouth collective used the "Lovely Mothers Project" (1993-1994) to oppose lesbians losing custody of their children. To change public perceptions of lesbians as mothers and daughters, they used street posters and billboards.

Similarly, Chloe Atkins won an award in California for a billboard showing a lesbian couple, one of whom was very pregnant, with the caption "Another Traditional Family." Lesbians also challenge ideas of "individual genius" when they use various modes of collective photographic practice.

Lesbian photographers have also transformed advertising to make a lesbian presence visible. In Australia, for example, Kay Schumack (b. 1953) has utilized the format of advertisements to examine lesbian pool room culture and street presence, while Marion Moore (b. 1958) used her series "Centrefold" (1996) to subvert the stereotyped perception of lesbian body image.

Jill Posener, formerly of London and now in San Francisco, was photo editor of On Our Backs for two years and in 1996 co-edited Nothing but the Girl with Susie Bright. She has produced two books of political graffiti photos (Louder than Words [1986] and Spray It Loud [1982]) that include lesbian graffiti attacking mainstream advertising.

Tessa Boffin's series of photographs called Angel Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex (1989) considers the influence of AIDS on lesbians and how they can maintain their sexual expression despite the vilification of homosexuals by the mainstream press. Boffin frequently performed in the London nightclub scene as her lifestyle became her art practice as a "queer pervert faggot boy-girl drag queen."

Non-Anglo Lesbian Photographers

Non-Anglo lesbians are increasingly active in exploring the multiple problems of cultural displacement.

In 1986 Laura Aguilar (b. 1959) began her Latina Lesbians series intended to document postive images of Latinas to counteract negative stereotypes and increase racial understanding. She recently exhibited 33 black and white prints of her own corpulent body posed against a landscape of other women of various body types. Her images are at once defiant and subversive.

Photographers such as Gaye Chan (b. 1957), Hanh Thi Pham (b. 1954), Jean Weisinger (b. 1954), Zone Paraiso Montoya (b. 1966), and Hulleah Tsinhnanjinni (b. 1954), in the United States, and Mumaz Karimjee (b. 1950) and Ingrid Pollard (b. 1953), in the United Kingdom, produce images that establish non-Anglo lesbian identities.

The aboriginal artist Rea (b. 1962) uses her digital photography to address the racist treatment of Koori people in Australia. She likens the black woman's body to that of the lesbian's as equally invisible.

Sometimes at odds with their ethnic communities' beliefs and values, these artists work across a range of oppressions, including especially homophobia and racism, to assert their racial, political, and sexual identities.


The rapidly expanding range of lesbian photography is beginning to redress the paucity of images available to lesbians and other members of subcultures that remain largely invisible or misrepresented in mainstream culture.

Elizabeth Ashburn

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arts >> Overview:  African-American and African Diaspora Art

Gay and lesbian artists of the African Diaspora have recently begun to explore issues specific to gender and sexuality; often relying on self-portraiture, they address homophobia and racism as well as desire and longing.

arts >> Overview:  American Art: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall

Since Stonewall, lesbian artists in America, from installation artists to filmmakers and photographers to performance artists and painters, have become increasingly diverse and visible.

arts >> Overview:  Canadian Art

Since the rise of the homosexual emancipation movement three decades ago, a handful of Canadian artists have confronted issues of gay and lesbian sexuality in their work.

arts >> Overview:  Drag Shows: Drag Kings and Male Impersonators

A recent arrival in the drag arena, drag kings are part of an international drag movement that emerged in London and San Francisco in the mid 1980s.

arts >> Overview:  Erotic and Pornographic Art: Lesbian

Considering the unique set of problems facing lesbians who want to produce erotic art for the enjoyment of other lesbians, it is remarkable that so much lesbian erotica has been produced in so brief a time.

arts >> Overview:  Photography: Lesbian, Pre-Stonewall

The most significant examples of pre-Stonewall lesbian photography convey relationships, reflect lesbian iconography, or show the photographer looking at and recording her beloved.

arts >> Biren, Joan Elizabeth (JEB)

During the 1970s and 1980s, the photographs of Joan Elizabeth Biren, better known as JEB, defined and set the standard for lesbian feminist image making in the United States.

arts >> Boffin, Tessa

British performance artist and photographer Tessa Boffin was the first British lesbian artist to produce work in response to the AIDS epidemic.

arts >> Corinne, Tee

The shy superstar of lesbian erotica, American artist Tee Corinne is especially known for her frank and sensuous depictions of lesbian sex.

arts >> Edison, Laurie Toby

Best known for three collections of photographs featuring, respectively, fat nude women, nude men, and women in Japan, Laurie Toby Edison turned to photography as a medium that could combine art and social activism.

social sciences >> Gittings, Barbara

A pioneer in the American gay rights movement, Barbara Gittings worked tirelessly within the American Library Association to make material with glbtq content more accessible to the reading public.

arts >> Grace, Della (Del Lagrace Volcano)

The work of photographer Della Grace, also known as Del Lagrace Volcano, confronts questions of the performance of gender, especially the performance of masculinity by lesbians.

arts >> Hammond, Harmony Lynn

Harmony Hammond is a significant artist whose lesbian feminism is integrated into her painting and sculpture, teaching, writing, and curatorial work.

arts >> Leibovitz, Annie

Perhaps the most famous of contemporary American photographers, Annie Leibovitz has evolved a personal style characterized by imaginative poses, bright colors, and intense lighting.


Ashburn, Elizabeth. Lesbian Art: An Encounter with Power. Sydney: Craftsman House, 1996.

Atkins, Chloe. Girls' Night Out. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998.

Biren, Joan E. Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians. Weatherby Lake, Mo.: Glad Hag Books, 1979.

Blake, Nayland, et al., eds. A Different Light: Visual Culture, Sexual Identity, Queer Practice. San Francisco: City Light Books, 1995.

Blank, Joani, ed. Femalia. San Francisco: Down There Press, 1993.

Boffin, Tessa, and Jean Fraser, eds. Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs. London: Pandora Press, 1991.

Bright, Deborah, ed. The Passionate Camera: Photography and Bodies of Desire. London: Routledge, 1998.

Bright, Susie, and Jill Posener, eds. Nothing but the Girl. New York: Cassell, 1996.

Goldin, Nan. The Battle of Sexual Dependency. New York: Aperture, 1986.

Grover, Jan Zita. "Dykes in Context: Some Problems in Minority Representation." The Contest of Meaning: Critical Histories of Photography. Richard Bolton, ed. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1989. 163-203.

Hammond, Harmony. Lesbian Art in America: A Contemporary History. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 2000.

Kelley, Caffyn, ed. Forbidden Subjects: Self-Portraits by Lesbian Artists. North Vancouver, B. C.: Gallerie, 1992.

Kiss & Tell (Susan Stewart, Persimmon Blackridge, and Lizard Jones). Drawing the Line: Lesbian Sexual Politics on the Wall. Vancouver, B. C.: Press Gang Publications, 1991.

Neumaier, Diane, ed. Reframings: New American Feminist Photographers. Philadelphia, Penn.: Temple University Press, 1995.

Smyth, Cheryl. Damn Fine Art. London: Cassell, 1996.


    Citation Information
    Author: Ashburn, Elizabeth  
    Entry Title: Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2002  
    Date Last Updated February 23, 2005  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2002, glbtq, Inc.  


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