Since Section 28 clamped down on the promotion of homosexuality, many gay and lesbian photographers have felt themselves intimidated into self-censorship. Miranda France meets Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser, two women who refuse to compromise.
In the delicate world ofart sponsorship and gallery bookings. it seems that there are exhibitions and there are ‘issue-related‘ exhibitions. Stolen Glances — regardless of the intentions ofits curators Tessa Boffin and Jean Fraser - has clearly been deemed ‘issue-related’. by the several gallery administrators who preferred not to give it a slot in their exhibitions programmes. It is, in
fact. one of various gay photographic
projects to have been censored in some way by local authorities or galleries since Section 28 came into effect. legislating against ‘the promotion of homosexuality". The reasons for rejecting the projects vary, some find exhibitions inappropriate for a ‘family‘ gallery. others hint that images of lesbians and gay men are, in themselves, pornographic.
Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take Photographs is, in general terms, a collection of photographs taken by lesbians and conceived as a challenge to Section 28. It is an exhibition which begs a question: what is a lesbian photograph? Tessa Boffin agrees that it would be absurd to suggest that ‘if any woman who‘s a lesbian picks up a camera, then automatically this aura of lesbianism is going to emanate from it‘. So these are, specifically, images of the same school: all of them deal with the
question of reappropriation — that is. the hijacking oftraditionally heterosexual images to lesbian ends (hence the Stolen of the title).
The photographs, by nine British and North American women. are also linked by their rejection of a realistic/documentary approach to photography. in favour ofthe exploration of fantasies. done in a way which is both thought-provoking and often very amusing. Boffin‘s own work is very romantic. as nostalgic as a medieval, illuminated manuscript. Women appear dressed in various ‘male‘ guises— the knight in shining armour. the Casanova. the knave — as well as the unbeatably feminine 18th century courtier and even an angel. remniscent of Boffin‘s work in Ecstatic Antibodies: Resisting the AIDS mythology.
Jean Fraser‘s Celestial Bodies. looks at lesbianism and nuns. and is particularly intriguing when taken in the context of her research into the subject. uncovering lesbian nuns‘
own testimonies from the 17th century (you have to buy the book to find out more). Like Boffin. she rejects the idea that a lesbian photographer should provide politically correct images for her community. ‘I think pretty well everyone in this show would reject the idea ofa lesbian aesthetic or a lesbian sensibility". she says. ‘nevertheless, there is a lot of pressure from many ofthe lesbian communities to produce such an aesthetic. We feel that the spectator creates the meaning. that the class or the cultural. racial or sexual position of the spectator makes the reading of the image change all the time.‘
Other women have eloquently and wittin accepted the challenge to subvert preconceptions and bring fantasies to life. Della Grace — sometimes known as Della Disgrace — is represented by her colour series The Ceremony, in which 'bride' and ‘groom‘ cavort in unfettered freedom. In the brilliant Dream Girls photomontage, photographer Deborah Bright interposes herself into typical Hollywood scenes, so that she is the one courting Glenda Jackson or lighting Audrey Hepburn‘s cigarette. Nina Levitt first amuses then shocks with Conspiracy ofSilence. photographs which ‘appropriate’ the front and back covers of 1950s and 1960s pulp novels — lesbian erotica designed for male consumption. in which lesbians are described as ‘savage‘. ‘incorrigible’, ‘tormented’ by ‘warped passions‘.
On the first leg ofa two-year tour which will take in Britain, Canada and the United States. both Fraser and Boffin are adamant that Stolen Glances‘ audience is first and foremost a gay one. But clearly they welcome interest from the heterosexual community. ‘I think a lot of the work is humorous, or its quite seductive or pleasurable‘, says Boffin. ‘so you can reach out to
people regardless of their sexuality.‘ Neither of them will be surprised to
E see the odd dirty-raincoated man
' turning up at the gallery, but what
' about good old Mr and Mrs Jones? Is 1 this an exhibition for Joe Public? ‘If
: they want to come and see it, and
' they like it, then that‘s fine‘, says
; Boffin. ‘We‘re not willing to change what we do for Mr and Mrs Jones at
. all. On the other hand, we are going
out on Woman ’s Hour, so we might
( getto meet MrsJones.‘ . Stolen Glances: Lesbians Take 1 Photographs is at Stills Gallery until
14 Sept — contact gallery for details of a day-long conference on the subject.
I the exhibition, and includes works by exhibitors and other photographers, as well as essays and a bibliography
Tessa Bollln's The Knight‘s Move ‘ (Pandora, £12.99).
Running out of money? Art galleries are cheap orlree, you can spend a whole day there, and you don't have to clap at the end.
I Babar a la Mode Top Parisian designers givc Babar and Celeste a new look. from haute couture ’ to avant-gardc. in honour of the world-famous elephant‘s 60th birthday. Babar a la Mode. French Institute. until30Aug.
I Michael Andrews Andrews‘ stunning vast paintings of Australian landscapes. and some smaller, Scottish scenes. Michael A ndre ws: Ayers Rock and ()ther Landscapes. Gallery of Modern A rt. until 29 Sept, [2 ([1).
I lan Hamilton Finlay Britain‘s foremost concrete poet and leader ofthe Little Sparta Vigilantcs is honoured with the first major retrospective ofhis printed work.
[an Hamilton Finlay and The Wild Hawthorn Press 1958-1991, Fruitmarket Gallery, until 14 Sept. [2 (£1).
I Behind Golden Screens The Royal Museum‘s contribution to Britain‘s Japan 1991 Festival-
v I ' As it you didn't breath-taking 17th century screens, :"gnoqﬂh i paintings‘ prints and liaise :ltedrn' lacquer boxes. 3 Behind Golden Screens: 3" “1mm ‘99 ! Treasures from The Tokyo as '9"- : FujiArt Museum. Royal F005. "0m 3 Museum of Scotland. until mo“ "‘09 20 0a suppers to Meet ! et Chandon- l I Mary Queen at Scots. . . least your eyes L A Feminist Tradition? Small and later your but beautiful.The Ash tum,
. appropriateness ofMary
' Queen of Scots for women
today, through the work
‘ of various Scottish women
3 Mary Queen of Scots. . .A Feminist Tradition .9 . The Ash Gallery. anti/3] Aug.
The List 23 — 29 August NW 61