Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery Announces New Exhibition,
“Queer-ish: Photography and the LGBTQ+ Imaginary”
Guggenheim Fellow and Fletcher Jones Chair in Art Ken Gonzales-Day
Curates Photographic Celebration of LGBTQ+ Identity and Expression
CLAREMONT, CA (16 October 2023)—Beginning October 28, Scripps College’s Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery will present “Queer-ish: Photography and the LGBTQ+ Imaginary.” Curated by 2017 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient, interdisciplinary artist and Scripps College Fletcher Jones Chair in Art Ken Gonzales-Day, the exhibition showcases almost 100 historic vernacular photographs highlighting moments of same-sex affection, as well as more than 40 contemporary photographs, primarily by LGBTQ+ artists. The Gallery will host an opening reception on Saturday, October 28, from 5 to 7 p.m. Both the reception and Gallery admission are free and open to the public.
“We are thrilled to present this exhibition at this moment,” said Erin M. Curtis, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Director of the Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery. “The struggle for LGBTQ+ equality continues, with many lawmakers attempting to turn back the clock on decades of progress. Recent estimates suggest that a vast majority of those who identify as LGBTQ+ globally feel compelled to conceal their identities. We want to provide a space that celebrates LGBTQ+ identity and its myriad expressions.”
“Queer-ish” highlights Gonzales-Day’s personal collection of 19th- and 20th-century vernacular photographs—snapshots of everyday life and subjects—depicting people who may have identified as LGBTQ+. These images encourage viewers to consider the link between photography, representation and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as the role of photographs in shaping notions of queer identity and what Gonzales-Day calls the “queer imaginary,” a critical space he describes as “exploratory, precarious, celebratory, potentially unseen and subject to change.”
“Early queer heroes like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Bruce of Los Angeles, Christine Jorgensen and Annie Sprinkle are just a few of the many people who helped shape the queer imaginary,” Gonzales-Day said. “The use of ‘-ish’ in the exhibition’s title is a playful gesture, recognizing the precarity and fluidity of gender and sexual identities as well as the complexity of human sexuality.”
The exhibition includes works by Laura Aguilar, Bruce of Los Angeles, Rick Castro, Claude Cahun and Marcel Moore, Tammy Rae Carland, Zackary Drucker and Rhys Ernst, Naima Green, John K. Hillers, Taizo Kato, Bob Mizer, Pierre Molinier, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Catherine Opie, Marcel Pardo Ariza, Pau S. Pescador, George Quaintance, Pacifico Silano, Annie Sprinkle, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden and Austin Young.
It will also highlight works by Scripps alums Ohan Breiding ’06 and Molly Landreth ’01, as well as by Gonzales-Day, whose photographic work has been exhibited internationally and is in the permanent collections of the Getty, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the National African American Museum of History and Culture, the National Portrait Gallery and the Art Institute of Chicago, among others.
Gonzales-Day has curated the exhibition so that it is clustered around four key moments. “The first considers representations of intimacy and affection expressed though touch,” he said. “The second section considers the photographic portrait as a site of agency. The third posits the queer imaginary as a generative, personal and/or cultural space. The fourth section sees photography as cultural and includes everything from drag to performative acts staged for the camera.”
The Gallery is open Wednesday through Sunday from 12 to 4 p.m. Additional information about the exhibition can be found on the Gallery’s website or by calling (909) 607-3397.
Scripps College was founded in 1926 by Ellen Browning Scripps, a pioneering philanthropist and influential figure in the worlds of education, publishing and women’s rights. Today, Scripps is a nationally top-ranked liberal arts college and women’s college with approximately 1,080 students and is a member of The Claremont Colleges in Southern California. The mission of Scripps College is to educate women to develop their intellects and talents through active participation in a community of scholars, so that as graduates they may contribute to society through public and private lives of leadership, service, integrity and creativity.
The struggle for equality continues. Dozens of state legislatures are attempting to turn back the clock on decades of civil rights progress. Recent global estimates suggest that 83% of those who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, must keep their orientation hidden for their safety. LGBTQ+ communities are being targeted by far-right lawmakers in legislation in nearly every state of the union.
Queer-ish brings together over one hundred vernacular images with photographic works by contemporary LGBTQ + artists and invites viewers to consider what it means to be queer in our own time.
The addition of “ish” in the exhibition’s title is a playful gesture of recognition of the precarity of gender non-conformity, same-sex identities, and the performative nature of image production.
The images in this exhibition date from the 1850s to the present and remind us that many of the individuals depicted in historic photographs may have had to keep their sexuality hidden during their lifetimes because coming out could get one fired, institutionalized, incarcerated, or worse.
The exhibition raises questions about the nature of the relationships depicted, same-sex affection, changing social behaviors, the lonesome frontier, and much more. The question of sexual orientation remains unanswered and is particularly challenging when looking at, or looking for, historic images of LGBTQ+ individuals. Degrees of intimacy are suggested with each gesture and glance and viewers may consider the suggestive placement of the hands, the way the bodies touch, or even the fit of the cloths, as telling signs, but with each new clue comes new questions.
The exhibition is clustered around four concepts. The first considers representation of intimacy and affection manifested as Touch in vernacular images of single gender (presenting) couples and groups and highlights some differences between depictions of intimacy and affection in the past and present. The question in this section of the exhibition is about how we read human contact and it provides an opportunity to consider the historic and ongoing risks of being Queer. Gender expression and sexual orientation can also change over time.
The second section of the exhibition extends the discussion to different approaches to the photographic Portrait, including everything from displays of intimacy and play, to questions around representation and self-representation in the historic works that are paired with contemporary works by artists like Molly Landreth or the collaborative work of Zackary Drucker & Rhys Ernst.
The third section of the exhibition is entitled, Queer Imaginary and draws on Jean-Paul Sartre’s notion of the Imaginary, which Barthes pays homage to in Camera Lucida, as well as Judith Butler’s concept of performative identity, first introduced in Gender Trouble. Each of these texts have contributed to conceptualizing queerness as a generative, personal, and cultural space.
Queerness is exploratory, precarious, celebratory, unseen, fluid, and always changing. The images in this section might of early queer heroes like Bruce of Los Angeles, Christine Jorgensen, and Annie Sprinkle, are just a few of the many people who are helped to shape the queer imaginary. Finding queer images is only half the battle and many of the stories behind vernacular images may never be known and are not always celebratory. In many cases, one can’t even be certain how these individuals would have identified in their own time. It is against this backdrop, that an exhibition of works depicting persons who may, or may not have, been LGBTQ+ is meant to encourage discussion around what it means to present precarious identities, sexualities, and genders, in the past as well as the present.
The fourth section of the exhibition is entitled Acting Out and begins with a group of images of men and women that appear to be in drag. In this context, performative queerness might be said to manifest as intentional acts performed for the camera. As such, there can be little doubt of the intentionality of these images. Images in this section record acts of dressing up and acting out and some of the artists in this section include, Claude Cahun, Pierre Molinier, Laura Aguilar, and lay the ground for a number of contemporary photographic practices.
Laura Aguilar, Ohan Breiding, Bruce of Los Angeles, Rick Castro, Claude Cahun, Tammy Rae Carland, Zackary Drucker & Rhys Ernst, Ken Gonzales-Day, John K. Hillers, Taizo Kato, Molly Landreth, Bob Mizer, Pierre Molinier, Catherine Opie, Pau S. Pescador, Marcel Pardo Ariza, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Pacifico Silano, Annie Sprinkle, Baron Wilhelm von Gloeden, Austin Young
Checklists for items in the cases are available at the front desk and here. Magnifying glasses are also available at the reception desk.
Directions in Google Map
Ruth Chandler Williamson Art Gallery at Scripps College
Queer Resource Center of the Claremont Colleges
LGBTQ+ History Timeline can be at the Gladstone Institute.
LGBTQ Rights Timeline in American History from One Archives Foundation.
ACT UP NEW YORK: Actism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993 Act Up Oral History Project
Information on the concurrent exhibition Face to Face of work by Ken Gonzales-Day at the Claremont Lewis Museum of Art
Want to host the exhibition? Drop me a message from the contact page.
Image credit: Two women smoking, n.d., Gelatin silver print, Collection of Ken Gonzales-Day