1. Early photography
It is likely that lesbians began taking photographs almost as soon as the medium was invented in 1839. Concealed by time and overt hostility the vast majority of these lesbian made images remain hidden in private photo albums and never reach public display.
The earliest lesbian-produced work currently known is by Emma Jane Gay (1830-1919) who took photos of Alice Fletcher whom she was in love with. The feeling was however not mutual. She later moved to England and had her love returned by a female doctor.
Edith Watson (1861-1943) was a photojournalist who produced images for magazines and newspapers. Writer, Victoria Hayward was her intimate companion for 30 years. In a photo taken in1916 Hayward stands at the Atlantic’s water edge with her skirt bunched around her thighs – the lesbianism of the image maker is most apparent.
Pictures by Norma Jean Coleman (1924-1998) and Phyllis Ann Farley (1932-1984) visually confirm friendship groups and domestic relationships between women. Their scrapbooks are in the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York and were made between 1941 and 1984.
2. Alice Austen (1866-1952)
One of the first American women to become a photographer. She defied conventions and challenged stereotypes in nearly every aspect of her life. Her family was one of the wealthiest and lived in refined circumstances. This allowed her to create images without relying on the sale of her work hence giving her freedom to challenge gender stereotypes. Herself a woman-identified woman, she included images of the life she lived with her woman friends – all of whom lived as independent “new woman”. Austen’s images of her women friends proved evidence of homoeroticism. In 1899 Austen met Gertrude Amelia Tate (1871-1962) her long-time companion. They lived together and supported each other for thirty years. Her life ended on a sad note as she invested her family inheritance in the stock market shortly before its crash in 1929. In a failed attempt to meet their financial obligations, they ran a Tea room and Gertrude taught Ballroom dancing. She lost the family house at age 79 and signed over her possessions to Gertrude, who had to move in with her own family. Austen spent her remaining years in nursing homes, except for her last year when an art historian discovered her photographic plates. They were purchased by the Staten Island Historical society in 1951. Upon Gertrude’s death the Tate family learned that Austen and Tate had wanted to be buried together. They however refused to honour the women’s wishes.
Mrs. Snivley (1890)
Julia and I in Bed (1890)
Julia Martin, Julia Bredt, and Self Dressed Up as Men (1891)
Clear Comfort House (1976-still) is dedicated as a National Historical Landmark.
The house includes Austen’s darkroom and young women of today can visit and learn of an important role model who defied the limitations and expectations of her day. A documentary ‘The Female Closet’ (1998) discloses that the board of Austen House discouraged the use of the collection in order to study sexuality.
Julia Martin, Julia Bredt, and Self Dressed Up as Men
Alice Austen and her lover, Gertrude
3. Berenice Abbott (1898-1991)
An accomplished American photographer best known for her black-and-white photography of New York City architecture and urban design of the 1930s. Her subjects were people in the artistic and literature worlds like French nationals, expatriates, and other famous people including Coco Chanel. She made memorable images of lesbians, bisexuals and gay men in 1920s Paris and 1930s to1965 New York. The vivid portraits of lesbian and bisexual writers and artists are her most significant contribution to gay history and aesthetics - Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Sylvia Beach, Solita Solano, Gwen Le Galleinne, Thelma Wood (they were lovers) and Djuna Barnes. She made an ‘alliance’ with Elizabeth McCausland, which lasted from the early 1930s until McCausland’s death in 1965. Having almost flaunted her love of women early in her life, Abbott later masked and even lied about being a lesbian, distancing and closeting herself as thoroughly as possible.
Changing New York (1939)
A historical chronicle of many now destroyed buildings and neighbourhoods of Manhattan. She sought to create a broadly inclusive collection that together suggests a vital interaction between three aspects of urban life: the diverse people of the city; the places they live, work and play; and their daily activities. It was intended to empower people by making them realize that their environment was a consequence of their collective behaviour.
Berenice Abbott - Changing New York - John Watts Statue
Berenice Abbott - Changing New York - Manhattan Bridge
Berenice Abbott - Changing New York - Manhattan Skyline
4. Tee A. Corinne (1943 – 2006)
This American lesbian will be remembered as a photographer, visual artist, writer, poet, teacher, historian and activist. She was an outspoken advocate and activist for lesbian sexual, literary and artistic expression. Although once married to a man, Corinne spent her last twenty-five years accompanied by women. She was a co-facilitator of the ‘Feminist Photography Ovulars’ (1979 -1981) and co-founder of ‘The Blatant Image, A Magazine of Feminist Photography’ (1981-1983). Portfolios of her art have been published in Lesbian subjects and Feminist studies. She received the ‘Women’s Caucus for Art President’s Award’ in 1997 for service to women in the arts. She was the first to create erotic lesbian art, for and from, a lesbian point of view and was known for creating beautiful erotic images of real lesbian lovers. The explicit nature of her photographs has resulted in censorship outside the lesbian community, but the work itself filled and continues to fill a huge void in a community desperate for images of itself.
The Cunt Coloring Book (1975) or Labiaflowers (1981) – illustration art.
Yantras of Womanlove (1982)
It is thought to be the first book of lesbian erotic photographs published in the U.S.A.
Wild Lesbian Roses: Essays on Art, Rural Living, and Creativity, 1986-1995 (1997)
Lebian Muse: The Women Behind the Words (1989)
Tee A. Corinne - The Cunt Coloring Book (1975) and Labiaflowers (1981) – illustration art
Tee A. Corinne - Yantras of Womanlove
Tee A. Corinne - Yantras of Womanlove
5. Della Grace / Del Lagrace Volcano (1957–present)
She is one of the best-known lesbian photographers and one of the ‘instigators of polymorphous perverse queer culture.’ Her work questioned the performance of gender on several levels, especially in the performance of masculinity by lesbians. She lived the first 37 years of her life as a woman, but since then has been attempting to live as both male and female. Her own identity has metamorphosed from lesbian to ‘hermaphrodyke to trans-man to intersexed’, and her work frequently addresses issues of mutation.
Love Bites (1991)
‘Perhaps the first published photographic monograph of lesbian sexuality in the world made from an insider’s perspective. It generated a great deal of controversy in the early 90s and censorship in both mainstream and gay media.
6. Tessa Boffin (1960-1993)
An activist, photographer and performance artist as well as the first British lesbian artist to produce work in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic. She was also a founding member of the London-based AIDS and Photography group. Boffin and Sunil Gupta were the curators of the travelling exhibiting ‘Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS Mythology,’ and edited the accompanying book. She took her own life in October 1993 in the bathroom of her London home.
Angelic Rebels: Lesbians and Safer Sex (1989)
It remains one of the most important photographic artworks to address AIDS from a lesbian perspective.
The Knight’s move (1991)
In this tableau-sequence, she presents as lesbian heroes - iconic figures like the knight in shining armour, Casanova and a lady-in-waiting - all played by women.
Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs (1991) by Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser
Post-Stonewall lesbian photographs divided into four categories: documentation of individuals and activities within the various lesbian communities; images of lesbians in the mainstream heterosexual press; exploring a lesbian sensibility; and photographs that deal overly with lesbian issues.
7. Cathy Cade and JEB (Joan E. Biren)
They documented lesbians in the 1970s of various ages, races, and classes in order to deconstruct the stereotypical images of lesbians that prevailed at the time. Cathy Cade originally began taking photos to document her concern for social justice.
JEB toured America with slide shows that illustrated the history of lesbian photography. She has been photographing lesbian mothers for over 25years.
JEB (Joan E. Biren)
8. Judy Francesconi (1957- present)
She is an American photographer who concentrates on black-and-white fine photography of lesbian women. She is most noted for her sepia and black-and-white photography featuring beautiful lipstick lesbians. For many years she was the only publisher of a fine-art calendar aimed at lesbians ‘Judy’s vision of portraying women with women in a romantic, loving, positive way is the focus of every photograph.’
Calendars by Judy Francesconi:
Stolen Moments (1997)
Visual Sonnets (2000)
Intimate Moments (2003)
On the lips (2008)
Judy Francesconi - Never Enough
Judy Francesconi - Dreams of Desire
Judy Francesconi - Bound
Judy Francesconi - Feel My Thoughts