by Rowynn Dumont
In honor of Pride Month, Agora Gallery explores the role of photography in documenting the history of queer movements and aesthetics. Through this lens, contemporary collectors and art lovers alike can support social justice causes with patronization.
A public celebration of New York Pride is back after a hiatus last year due to COVID. The theme this year is, “The Fight Continues.” Grab a mask and join in! The annual NYC Pride March is June 27th, with events running through August 1, 2021.
The March for Freedom started with Stonewall in June of 1969. At that time, Stonewall was a gay bar in Greenwich Village, located next to the offices of the Village Voice. On the day of the event, photographer Fred McDarrah (Village Voice) captured the historical uprising, documenting a moment that stands at the edge of time in what Allen Ginsberg would proclaim as, “Stonewall’s cry echoed around the world!” (Ginsberg, 15).
By the 1960s, the area had become a primary location for many gay people and artists starting after World War II. It was famous for attracting Andy Warhol, Allen Ginsberg, The Velvet Underground, and James Baldwin. In later years Keith Herring and Jean-Michel Basquiat would frequent the Village, adding to the cultural landscape.
One such photographer who is now a major contributor to the Getty Images historical archives is Brooklyn-born Suzanne Poli. In 1962 Poli moved to the Village where she began her career as an activist photographer on the very evening of the Stonewall Rebellion. Suzanne states, “When I picked up my camera, I was feeling the fight!”
One of Poli’s most iconic images is that of Queer Activist and self-identifying drag queen, Marsha P Johnson. Marsha was a pinnacle spokesperson for gay rights and a prominent figure in association with the Stonewall uprising. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and co-founded the radical group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.). It is Poli’s archetypal depiction of Marsha that forever captures her in the time and place of Stonewall. Today you can take a tour of Stonewall, where the LGBTQ Pride movement was born and organized.
By the 1980s, the aesthetics of queer movements had considerably branched outside of the Village, and “Voguing” stepped into public consciousness. These Harlem Drag Masquerade Balls became so popular that Madonna’s famous song “Vogue” was inspired. French Fashion photographer Chantal Regnault recently published her photography book, “VOGUING,” documenting the queer House Ballroom Scene of New York City between 1989-92.
Chantal states, “The energy on the streets, the people, their diversity, their freestyle, and originality were particularly inspirational. As the city seemed to be on the brink of financial and physical collapse, the art scene was booming. Hip-hop culture was in the making, street style lead fashion. There was break-dancing and graffiti. First on walls and trains and eventually in art galleries. That’s what got me started, and I documented emerging urban subcultures for many years” (The Guardian, 2020).
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How can you be an ally through the arts? Buy or support artists whose voices are authentic to the struggle and cause. Within the art world, consider the artist behind the work, not just the work itself. The original agents are those of the LGBTQ+ photographers, Black-American artists, or whatever the cause. The artist behind the lens or canvas is as important as the content they present.
McDarrah, Fred, and Hilton Als. Pride: Photographs After Stonewall. OR Books, 2019.
Swash, Rosie. “The French-Haitian Photographer Who Captured the 1990s Vogue Scene in New York.” The Guardian, 26 Mar. 2020, www.theguardian.com/fashion/fashion-blog/2011/dec/16/photography-dance.
Rowynn Dumont is an artist, curator, and writer, based in New York. She is the Co-founder of Black Rainbow Media (NY). She holds an MPhil (IDSVA), MFA (AAU), and a BFA in Studies of Taboo Religions & Sexuality in Art from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Rowynn’s work can be seen internationally in Nimbus at Vespertine (Shanghai) and The Fowler Museum (Los Angeles). She has lectured at CAA (DTLA), at the Paris School of Art, and at The Sexology Institute (San Antonio).