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Photography: Lesbian, Post-Stonewall  
 
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Since Stonewall, the photographic representation of lesbians has been increasingly recognized as an important subject. The strong emphasis on photographic practice in the last twenty years and the growing access of lesbians to photographic and digital technologies have made possible the development of a significant body of lesbian photography.

While much of this work has been consciously political, Harmony Hammond points out that any lesbian imagery inevitably has a gendered and sexual particularity that questions and disrupts modernist ideas of universality.

Sponsor Message.

The Categories of Post-Stonewall Lesbian Photography

Although the period of lesbian chic in the early 1990s briefly created a palatable and de-politicized lesbianism for the mainstream, it also drew attention to previously ignored lesbian artists. Their work appeared in specifically lesbian exhibitions and in publications such as Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs by Tessa Boffin (1960-1993) and Jean Fraser (b. 1955).

In this 1991 book, Boffin and Fraser usefully divide post-Stonewall lesbian photographs into four categories: documentation of individuals and activities within the various lesbian communities, images of lesbians in the mainstream heterosexual press, photographs that explore a lesbian sensibility, and photographs that deal overtly with lesbian issues.

These categories are useful, but they are not exhaustive. Nor are they mutually exclusive; that is, any particular photograph might fall into more than a single category. Particularly interesting are those images that counteract the traditional invisibility of lesbians and lesbian communities; those that attempt to capture a particular lesbian sensibility; and those that confront specific problems and issues within lesbian communities.

Documentation of Lesbians and Lesbian Communities

Boffin and Fraser point out that, in response to the historical invisibility of lesbians, there has been a concerted effort by lesbian photographers to document all aspects of lesbian existence. Many lesbian photographs fill family albums and have been influential in extending the meaning and definition of family. Through photographing their social lives, significant events, and political actions, lesbian photographers have used the gay press and other publications to create an enduring lesbian archive.

In North America during the 1970s, lesbian photographers such as Cathy Cade (b. 1942) and JEB (Joan E. Biren, b. 1944) documented lesbians of various ages, races, and classes in order to deconstruct the stereotypical images of lesbians that prevailed at that time.

Cathy Cade originally began taking photographs to document her concern for social justice. The Women's Liberation Movement gave her both an ideology and a subject--political demonstrations against the oppression of women. Similarly, Bettye Lane traveled around the world photographing women's demonstrations, meetings, and events.

At the same time, JEB toured America with slide shows that illustrated the history of lesbian photography. For over twenty-five years, she has been photographing lesbian mothers, a preoccupation she shares with British photographer Brenda Prince (b. 1950).

Other post-Stonewall photographers who document individuals and activities within the various lesbian communities include Judy Francesconi (b. 1959), Chloe Atkins (b. 1954), and Linda Kliewer (b. 1953).

In her series Women with Women, Francesconi captures loving and positive images of lesbians. Atkins documents nightclub events in San Francisco and has developed series of photographs of Drag Kings and lesbian athletes. Kliewer has photographed middle-American lesbians and served as the cinematographer for Ballot Measure 9 (1993), an award-winning film about the fight against anti-gay politics in Oregon.

Theresa Thadani (b. 1960) also contributes to the photojournalistic documentation of lesbians. Trista Sordillo's (b. 1970) photographs in her Lesbian Invisibility Series, including "Butch/Femme" (1995), is a continuing project, documenting and honoring friends from her lesbian community. In Sydney, Mazz and C. Moore Hardy (b. 1955) have also extensively documented lesbians, , and bisexuals and their community events.

In the 1970s, Nan Goldin (b. 1953) began taking photographs of the gritty reality of those who live outside the spaces of conventional sexual identity. Her slide show of 700 images, The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1982), later excerpted in her book of the same name (1986), told the story of her life as a bisexual, intertwined with the stories of her friends. She portrays a morally ambiguous world inhabited largely by drag queens and transsexuals.

Universal versus Specifically Lesbian Images

Images of lesbians have also appeared in heterosexual and mainstream galleries and magazines. These photographs were particularly visible during the brief period of lesbian chic. They were often produced by lesbian photographers who felt that their images were aesthetic and universal and transcended issues of sexuality and politics.

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