Scripps College: Queer-ish (Opens 10/28)

Photography & the LGBTQ + Imaginary

Ruth Chandler Williamson Art Gallery

Scripps College

Oct 28 – Dec 15, 2023


Queer-ish: Photography & the LGBTQ+ Imaginary

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.

Exhibition Themes:

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 contemporary artists like Molly Landreth or the collaborative work of Zachary 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 Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Bruce of Los Angeles, Christine Jorgensen, Annie Sprinkle, Cathy Opie, are just a few of the many people who are helping 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.

Artists Included:

Laura Aguilar, Ohan Breiding (SC ’06), Bruce of Los Angeles (Bruce Bellas), Rick Castro, Claude Cahun (w/ Marcel Moore), Tammy Rae Carland,  Zachary Drucker & Rhys Ernst, Ken Gonzales-Day, Naima Green, John K. Hillers, Molly Landreth (SC ’01), 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, and over 100 vernacular images.

About the Curator:

Gonzales-Day’s photographic work has been exhibited internationally and is in the permanent collections of The Getty, LACMA, MoMA, MOCA, Smithsonian AAM & NPG, Art Institute of Chicago, among others. Publications include Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 and Profiled (LACMA). Gonzales-Day was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography in 2017 and is the Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in Art at Scripps College.

About Scripps College:

When Scripps was founded in 1926 in Claremont, California, it was one of few institutions dedicated to educating women for lives of commitment and engagement. Since then, Scripps has continued to champion qualities of both mind and spirit in accordance with the vision of its founder, newspaper entrepreneur and philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps.

Additional resources:

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.

LGBTQ history lesson plans from the One Archives Foundation.

GLAAD‘s LGBTQ Resource List  here.

ACT UP NEW YORK: Actism, Art, and the AIDS Crisis, 1987-1993 Act Up Oral History Project

Lesbian pulp fiction collections can be found at both Yale University Library and Smith College.

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.