Protesting (family) portraits, portraying the protest: the political identity of the archivist/activist-photographer and their photo production the Lesbian Herstory Archives in New York City.
(University of East Anglia)
Paper short abstract:
Based on ethnographic and archival data, this paper argues that the archivist/activist-photographer at the Lesbian Herstory Archives has merged the notion of familiar and political belonging by portraying lesbian community members at anti-racist and anti-homophobic marches around the US since 1970s.
Paper long abstract:
This paper explores the political role of the archivist/activist-photographer as well as their photo production at the Lesbian Herstory Archives (LHA), in NYC - the largest organisation in the world that preserves material donated by lesbians since 1974. Through the eyes of archivist/activist-photographers, the LHA has been self-portraying at anti-racist, anti-homophobic, anti-capitalist marches around the country since the 70s. Based on archival and ethnographic data as well as photographs that I took during my participation in the LHA's activism, this paper argues that the portraits of lesbian community members captured during marches stand between family and documentary photography. By portraying fellow activists - I contest - the archivist/activist-photographer politicises the notion of (lesbian) family album addressing their "voluntary kin" ties repeatedly reinforced during political demonstrations. Simultaneously, by capturing lesbian feminist activists during protests targeting an array of political and social issues, the archivist/activist-photographer visually embeds lesbian community members in a political movement against intersectional forms of oppression and not simply linked to gender and sexuality. The figure of the archivist/activist-photographer equally attributes a private as well as public dimension to their photographs by making them not only part of the LHA's photo collection but also part of their own private body of work. In so doing, I argue that the archivist/activist-photographer translates the idea of "the personal (or private) is political" - a prominent idea during the radical (second-wave) feminist movement in New York City from the late 60s through the 90s.
Photography and Political Belonging