Robert Giard: Iconic Portraits
Robert Giard, 1985 | © Toba Tucker, courtesy of The Robert Giard Foundation
Robert Giard (1939 - 2002) was a portrait, landscape, and figure photographer best known for his project Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. In 1985, inspired by a performance of Larry Kramer’s play “The Normal Heart,” which focused on the AIDS crisis in New York, Giard set about documenting a wide survey of significant gay and lesbian literary figures in straightforward, but sometimes witty and playful portraits. For the next two decades Giard photographed over 600 famous and emerging LGBTQ+ novelists, playwrights, poets, and performance artists.
The following selection of photographs, all available to purchase via FFOTO, highlight some of these iconic portraits and the inspiring subjects that sat in front of Giard’s lens.
Born to West Indian parents in New York City, Audre Lorde (1934-1992) was a self-described “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” who dedicated her life and career to confronting injustices of racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen magazine, while she was still in high school. From a young age Lorde used the power of poetry to express herself. “I literally communicated through poetry. And when I couldn’t find the poems to express the things I was feeling, that’s what started me writing poetry, and that was when I was twelve or thirteen.”
Lorde earned her BA from Hunter College and MLS from Columbia University, and throughout the 1960s worked as a librarian in New York public schools. In 1972, two years after divorcing her husband, Lorde met her long-time partner, Frances Clayton. She taught at several institutions over the years, and her experiences with teaching in white academia went on to inform her life and work.
Lorde’s early collections of poetry include The First Cities (1968), Cables to Rage (1970), and From a Land Where Other People Live (1972), followed by later works including New York Head Shop and Museum (1974), Coal (1976), and The Black Unicorn (1978). Lorde articulated early on the intersections of race, class, and gender in canonical essays such as “The Master’s Tools Will Not Dismantle the Master’s House.”
Lorde was central to many liberation movements and activist circles, including second-wave feminism, civil rights movements, and struggles for LGBTQ+ equality. She used her poetry to call for social and racial justice, and to express queer experience and sexuality. Lorde’s contributions to feminist theory, critical race studies, and queer theory intertwine her personal experiences with broader political aims and continues to be examined by scholars today.
“I have a duty,” Lorde once stated, “to speak the truth as I see it and to share not just my triumphs, not just the things that felt good, but the pain, the intense, often unmitigating pain.”
Edward Albee (1928-2016) was an American dramatist, theatrical producer, and Pulitzer Prize winner best known for his 1962 play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? He grew up in New York City and Westchester county, and was educated at Choate School and later at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. He wrote poetry and an unpublished novel but turned to writing plays in the late 1950s – his most successful of the time being The Zoo Story (1959), The Sandbox (1959), and The American Dream (1961). But it is his first full-length play, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, that won Albee immediate acclaim and established him as a major American playwright. Albee’s plays touch on themes of morality, maturity, and familial and sexual relationships, and often challenge the image of heterosexual marriage. He is often credited with helping reinvent postwar American theatre in the early 1960s.
In addition to playwriting, Albee produced several plays and lectured at schools throughout America. In 1972 he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was inducted into the American Theatre Hall of Fame in 1985. He was awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1996, and in 2005 he was the recipient of a Tony Award for lifetime achievement. A compilation of his essays and personal anecdotes, Stretching My Mind, was also published in 2005.
Currently based in Boston, Massachusetts, Jacquie Bishop has spent most of her life working within LGBTQ+ communities, often advocating for equitable health care and public health policy reform. She received a Bachelor of Science in Community Health and Policy from the State University of New York Empire State College, and a Master of Public Health, Health Informatics, Community Health, Programming and Policy from Northeastern University.
In 1983 at only 19 years old, Bishop began working for a doctor in New York City’s East Village, and found herself caring for, and losing, many people living with AIDS. Her tenure there had a lasting influence on her and her work, and she went on to craft policy to educate direct-care service professionals on treating people with HIV as humans, with dignity. Working as a freelance writer on the side, Bishop also formed relationships with literary icons such as Jewelle Gomez, Audre Lorde, and Joan Nestle. During this time, Bishop cared for and formed a close relationship with influential writer, performance artist, publisher, and AIDS activist Assotto Saint, who had a legacy of his own.
Assotto Saint (1957-1994), born Yves François Lubinwas, was a Haitian-born American who spent the 1980s and 1990s using his work as a writer, artist, and publisher to increase the visibility of black LGBTQ+ authors and themes. Saint was both one of the first black activists to disclose his HIV-positive status and one of the first poets to respond to the AIDS crisis in his work. He co-founded the Metamorphosis Theatre with his partner Jan Holmgren, where he served as artistic director and staged performance works about the lives of black gay men, such as Risin' to the Love We Need, New Love Song, and Nuclear Lovers. In the early 1980s Saint began writing and publishing poetry, and his work was included in several anthologies, including In the Life: A Black Gay Anthology (1986) and Gay and Lesbian Poetry in Our Time (1988). He was also the editor for the anthology Other Countries: Black Gay Voices (1988) and founded Galiens Press, which was dedicated to publishing black gay poets.
After his HIV diagnosis Saint fully immersed himself with AIDS activism, challenging the social norms that required invisibility and silence from both black gay men and people living with AIDS. While still maintaining a close relationship to Haiti, Saint was also fully active in the social and political movements in the United States, demanding more effective measures against racial and sexual discrimination, and participating in demonstrations protesting the government's ineffective response to the AIDS crisis. In the preface to the anthology The Road before Us: 100 Gay Black Poets (1991), Saint had requested that, in protest of America’s indifference to those dying of AIDS, that the American flag be burned at his funeral and its ashes scattered on his grave.
Beth E. Brant
Beth E. Brant, or Degonwadonti (1941-2015), was a Mohawk (Kanienke’haka) writer, lecturer, and editor of the Bay of Quinte Mohawk, from the Tyendinaga Mohawk Reserve in Ontario, Canada. She was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, but maintained a strong connection to her father’s Tyendinaga Mohawk community and to her paternal grandparents, from whom she learned traditional stories and the Mohawk language. She was active in the feminist movement of the 1970s and was one of the first lesbian-identifying Indigenous writers on Turtle Island. Brant was also an AIDS activist, working with People with AIDS (PWA) and providing AIDS education workshops in Indigenous communities.
Her work is written out of a deep commitment to her own people, and to Indigenous peoples in general, to promote healing from the traumas inflicted by racism and colonization, often referencing her own experiences as a lesbian, survivor of spousal abuse, and her mixed heritage as the daughter of a Mohawk father and a Scottish mother.
Brant is the author of Mohawk Trail (1985), a collection of poetry, stories, and essays, a collection of short stories titled Food and Spirits (1991), and a collection of essays titled Writing as Witness: Essay and Talk (1994). She also served as board chair of the Toronto organization Native Women in the Arts and has lectured at the University of British Columbia and the University of Toronto. Brant’s work has made a significant contribution to the growing literature on Indigenous histories, and her work continues to be studied in university classes today.
Check out FFOTO's entire selection of Robert Giard’s iconic portraits.
Prepared by Melissa Bessie, Masters candidate, Ryerson University’s Film and Photography Preservation and Collections Management Program
Brownlie, Robin Jarvis. "Brant, Beth E." Encyclopedia of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered History in America. Ed. Marc Stein. Vol. 1. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2004. 165-6