Ovulars and The Blatant Image
Ruth Mountaingrove, Carol Newhouse, and I, Tee Corinne, initiated the Feminist Photography Ovulars (1979-1982), low tech gatherings for women photographers held on six secluded, wooded Oregon acres. These workshops allowed women to explore their creativity in a supportive, women-centered environment. Most of the attendees were lesbian.
fig. 16: Ovular 1980, back cover of The Blatant Image
© Ruth Mountaingrove
The Blatant Image: A Magazine of Feminist Photography - published annually between 1981 and 1983 - grew out of the first two Ovulars. It focused on visual self-exploration and the empowerment of women by asking, "What are the images and issues important to women using cameras?" The editorial core was lesbian and there was always a strong lesbian presence in its pages.
fig. 17: Self-portrait with camera, front cover of
The Blatant Image #2, 1982
© Katie Niles
Los Angeles as a Feminist Art Haven
In Los Angeles in the 1970s, activities associated first with Womanhouse and then with the L.A. Women's Building and the Feminist Studio Workshop supported the development of lesbian writing, art and theater. Arlene Raven emerged as the primary West Coast theorist and art historian commenting on lesbian cultural productions from a lesbian-identified point of view. Raven writes that: "Once I believed that the larger and more diverse the audience, the more accessible an action for change can be; now I see that the internal changes and small group or one-to-one communications can have a spiraling pattern, which may in the end prove more powerful an agent of change than larger organized efforts." ("Los Angeles Lesbian Arts," Cultures in Contention, Kahn & Neumaier, eds. Seattle: The Real Comet Press.)
Art work produced out of the Women's Building and the Feminist Studio Workshop had a "High Art" intellectual framework which foreshadowed the academe-influenced imagery which emerged most powerfully in the mid to late 1980s.
The Lesbian Tide magazine (1971-1980), known for its news and analytic articles, was a major publisher of lesbian-themed photographs. Nancy Rosenblum, working with a large- format (4x5) camera, supplied many of those images. Today she works in film and video, but continues making personal photographs using a small-format camera.
A Visual Presence for Asian/Pacific Islanders
Most images of lesbians of color in the 1970s were produced by white-skinned women. However, in the late 1970s, Sachi Yamamoto began a series of images of lesbian writers of Asian/Pacific ancestry such as Barbara Noda and Merle Woo. These were published in the LA-based literary magazine Rari Avis.
Author and editor Willy Wilkinson wrote of the development of visibility for Asian and Pacific Islander bisexual and lesbian women (APBL) in the United States that, "the politicized APBL movement that took off in the mid-eighties was made possible by the struggles for empowerment and identity that preceded it in the seventies and early eighties." (Curve, Vol. 6 #4, Sept. 1996.) Contributing to this empowerment were photographs published in Phoenix Rising, the newsletter of Asian/Pacific Sisters, a San Francisco Bay Area organization. Wilkinson also notes that many early Asian/Pacific Islander lesbian activists were more comfortable with the visual arts than with writing about their lives, often equating the English language with oppression.
Author Trinity A. Ordona was instrumental in generating group unity through her essays, slide shows, videotapes, and radio shows. Barbara Noda wrote about one of Ordona's slide shows that it "illustrates the continuum of time that is our past and present as Asian/Pacific Lesbians and goes further by visually extending our identities from the Indian Ocean to the far reaches of the South Pacific." ("Asian/Pacific Lesbians: Our Identities, Our Movements" in The New Phoenix Rising #19. Oakland, CA: Asian Women, 1987.) This sense of a long and culturally acknowledged past may have contributed to the highly visible presence of West Coast Asian/Pacific lesbians in the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s.
Roberta Almerez (b. 1953), of Filipino and Puerto Rican ancestry, contributed a milestone to this visibility with her engaging group- and self-portraits for Between The Lines, An Anthology by Pacific/Asian Lesbians of Santa Cruz, California, published in 1987. The book, much like a consciousness raising group, was a revelation in terms of what a small group of college-age women could produce. Almerez, using both her own name and an euphonious pseudonym, produced sensual imagery published in a variety of publications including Commoción. Additionally, Almerez was one of the few lesbians of color to publish photographs in On Our Backs (see below).
fig. 18: Cover image from Between The Lines
© Roberta Almerez
See also Theresa Thadani, Hanh Thi Pham, and Gaye Chan.
IV. The Dynamics of Color and LVA