In my summer course we look at how photographs help inform identity, both in defining individuals and groups, as well as perpetuating or shattering stereotypes of marginalized communities. Having just celebrated Pride in Philadelphia, where a new Pride flag was recently unveiled that includes black and brown stripes – representing people of color, who have often been sidelined within the already marginalized queer community, to inspire greater inclusivity – I’ve been thinking about the symbols and images that people create and leave behind, that tell the story of their struggles for visibility and validation.
I decided to see what sort of LGBTQ resources the Library of Congress offers and was pleased to discover a well-curated list of resources and links to the collection:
Among the many excellent resources listed are two that stand out to me today, both because they are photographic and because they touch on my ruminations above.
The first is a set of images from the Carol Highsmith Archive, a collection of photographs from the widely-published American photographer who has provided her images copyright-free to the American public via ongoing donation to the Library of Congress. In 2012 she shot a series of images documenting the Gay Pride Parade in San Francisco – these images capture the vibrancy and joy, not to mention the hours of costuming, that are the trademark of Pride parades around the world.
The second resource that stood out to me is one I’ve known and used for years, but like any good archive it always has surprises in store. Carl Van Vechten was a photographer, active in the early 20th century, who documented luminaries in arts and literature, with a particular focus on the Harlem Renaissance. Among the many portraits Van Vechten made there are a variety of queer writers and artists represented, including Gertrude Stein, Bessie Smith, Countee Cullen and Truman Capote.
There’s also a wonderful snapshot, taken by Saul Mauriber, of Van Vechten himself with Christopher Isherwood, whose many contributions to the gay literary canon – and resulting theatrical and cinematic adaptations, such as Cabaret and A Single Man – make him an icon of gay lit.