Contacts, which opens today at BALTIC, Newcastle, is an intimate glimpse at lesbian community in San Francisco in the ‘90s through the archive of photographer Phyllis Christopher. Belonging to a politicised tradition of documentary photography, Christopher’s handprinted and tinted images reflect how the camera participated in the performance of queer identities and feminist politics in the club and in the streets.
Amid the connected crises of HIV/AIDS and gentrification, Christopher and her collaborators answered the historic absence of representations of lesbian life with an abundance of images showing acts of sexual intimacy and public protest – a community defiantly taking up space and taking care of their own. An ethic of consent frames Christopher’s images as photographer and subject negotiate what it means to be shown and seen as lesbian, both then and now.
Contacts is curated by Laura Guy, who is also the editor of Dark Room: San Francisco Sex and Protest, 1988-2003, Christopher’s first monograph which will be published by Book Works in early 2022. The exhibition at BALTIC coincides with Christopher’s solo exhibition at Grand Union in Birmingham and together they represent the artist’s first major retrospective.