Photo journalistic imagery serves many agendas. Because of its aura of truth-telling, it has a high immediate impact. Often though, it is valued initially as documentary rather than art. Time shifts this balance as it filters images and reexamines historical importance, cultural relevance, and the overall body of an artist's work.
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Sacramento, Portland, Seattle, Victoria, and Vancouver have all had openly lesbian photographers associated with publications and bookstores in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s. In many ways it has been a publishing failure that virtually no scholarly or monographic studies have come out of this rich melange. Yet this very absence offers opportunities for the next generation of scholars.
Documentary photographer and filmmaker Linda Kliewer (b. 1953) studied studio art in Virginia before moving west in 1980. Since 1990, she has been associated with the Portland, Oregon, gay and lesbian bi-monthly Just Out. Kliewer was the cinematographer for Ballot Measure 9 (1993), the award winning film about the fight against reactionary, anti-gay politics in Oregon.
fig. 28: Portland Lesbian Choir on the Deschutes River, July 1993
© Linda Kliewer
Theresa Thadani (b. 1960) has produced images of working women, authors, and activists. Her publicity photographs of and book cover photos for Chea Villanueva have an almost palpable resonance. Character and individuality also mark even her group studies such as images of the Asian/Pacific Lesbians contingent at the Chinese New Year Parade in San Francisco in 1994.
fig. 29: Asian/Pacific Lesbians at the
Chinese New Year Parade, 1994
© Theresa Thadani
Chloe Atkins (b. 1954) initially studied ceramics before turning to photography. Published in lesbian periodicals like Deneuve, On Our Backs, Girlfriends and Curve, her photographs reached an international audience in Nothing But the Girl. She is regionally well-known for recording the contemporary San Francisco lesbian nightclub scene including gender-bending drag kings (women cross-dressing as men). Her club photos, published in Girls' Night Out, have a hot, jittery energy, whereas some of her portraits - like that of Jenni Olsen, film and producer of the PopcornQ lesbian and gay movie website - are coolly intellectual.
fig. 30: Jenna and Joy
© Chloe Atkins
Catherine Opie, often identified with the lesbian sex radicals, documents subcultural ambiance in Los Angeles, pushing the limits of propriety with self-portraits in sadomasochistic leather, chains, and piercings and with images or words scratched into her skin. Although her images are often life-sized color prints, lesbians more often encounter the images reproduced small and in black and white. It is significant that one of her more transgressive images was included in the 1995 Whitney Museum Biennial.
fig. 31: Self-Portrait, chromogenic print 40" x 30", 1993
© Catherine Opie
VII. Academe-influenced Queer Aesthetics