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Robert Ford, Cecilia “CC” Hunt, Trent Adkins (co-founder of Thing magazine with Ford), and Diana Solís after a portrait session at Solís’s apartment and photo studio, above the Swan Club on North Clark Street, 1981. Courtesy of Diana Solís

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“Revel in it!” An essay by Ariel Goldberg

Posted on May 28, 2024

Ariel Goldberg is a writer, curator, and photographer based in New York City. They are an experienced educator and have taught photography, writing, and contemporary art practices at numerous universities. Goldberg curated the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial exhibition Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Contemporary Arts Center. Since its run in Cincinnati, Images has shown at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art, New York, NY, and is currently on view at the Chicago Cultural Center through August 4, 2024. Goldberg discusses how they rotate between working on traveling Images as an exhibition and research and writing for Just Captions, their photography history book-in-progress on ethics and processes of photographers within trans and queer cultural production of the same period of the late 20th century.

By: Ariel Goldberg

The People

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Installation view of Loren Rex Cameron’s 1994 “Transsexuals Speak Out!” Panel Discussion and vinyl Snapshot featuring FTM Group at a San Francisco pride parade in 1994, Allan Bérubé Papers (1995–2017). Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2024. Courtesy of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Historical Society. Photo by Nathan Keay

On March 9, 2023, Elliana Goldberg (my mother) was escorted through the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Art’s throng of queers who were dressed to impress. The New York City opening for Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s (Images) was all about the people who showed up. I think I saw anti-zionist activist and feminist scholar Sherry Gorelick in her scooter adorned with homemade 8 by 10 inch protest signs. I think I overheard my mother’s friend ask, “Is the Times here?” And now, I think, Ugh who cares! The Lesbian Herstory Archives went nuclear and sent the opening invitation to their Listserv. Bridge and Tunnel dykes of all ages mixed and mingled with a handful of curious college students who happened to know me as their wacky adjunct professor. At the end of the dizzying opening, one of the featured artists, JEB (Joan E. Biren) told me, “Revel in it!” I nodded and she continued with instructions, “Write it on a sign above your desk, so you don’t forget: revel in it!

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Colectivo Multipolar/Sandra Oviedo, [Crowd listening to artists speak in pop-up Q&A at the April 20, 2024, opening of Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s]. Photo by @colectivomultipolar

Perhaps foreshadowing the next stop on Images’ tour, an incredible crew of Chicagoans traveled to Leslie-Lohman’s cobble-stoned Wooster Street to celebrate artist, educator, and activist Diana Solís and their work. Images premiered in the 2022 FotoFocus Biennial at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and the show returns to the Midwest at the Chicago Cultural Center. Otherwise known as “The People’s Palace” or “The People’s Living Room,” I am referring to this version as a liberation school, open through August 4, 2024. 

My memories of the celebration to open Images at the Chicago Cultural Center are waiting patiently to be processed, however one lasting impression was how out-of-towners expressed awe and locals a deep love for the Chicago Cultural Center. A former public library, frequented by Solís and their siblings as a child, the Cultural Center still offers public bathrooms, water fountains, Wi-Fi, seats, art, and two, ornate glass domes in Chicago’s downtown maze of private office buildings. These offerings stand in contrast to the Cultural Center’s glass-tower neighbors, one glaringly adorned with the name and brand of the country’s most televised criminal. The School of the Art Institute huddles nearby and remains one of the city’s hubs for artists to meet each other, whether through employment, credit-bearing studies, or, for many alumni, the shared experience of living with, and working to pay off, enormous student loan debt. I am proud that this exhibition is, and has been at each of its venues, free to access. Images’ heart and soul is the desire, and determination, for people to access the education they need.

Access Needs

To live out this vision, at Leslie-Lohman, I rapaciously programmed events with J. Soto, Dylan Gamboa, and their incredible teams. I maximized the exhibition as a backdrop for gathering and growing possibilities of real-time organizing, education, and the desires that emerge in the process. For each program, I added more photos to talk about than we could get on the walls and in the vitrines. I met elders with SAGE, an advocacy and service organization for LGBT+ elders; I did tours of the show for students of friends and queer congregants at my synagogue. I even met people who know and recognize the people inside the exhibited photographs. Not to mention all the living artists represented in the exhibition; each slideshow or project on view includes dozens of artists.

Colectivo Multipolar/Sandra Oviedo, [Allen Frame (on laptop), Ariel Goldberg, and Frank Franca discussing Electric Blanket at the April 20, 2024, opening of Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s]. Photo by @colectivomultipolar

For example, the slide archives for the epic slideshow Electric Blanket: AIDS Projection Project, was always updated with photographs of people doing HIV/AIDS direct actions, service work, alongside memorials in the form of snapshots to fine-art style portraits. Electric Blanket premiered at the second Day With(out) Art in 1990, and toured internationally for over a decade. Since 2020, I’ve been learning about the project from emailing and zooming with Allen Frame and Frank Franca, the two artists who continue to steward the slide archive since touring the slideshow. Allen and Frank both teach photography in New York City and brought their classes to the exhibition, and even invited a handful of artist-friends to meet them there and speak about contributing work to the slideshow that was often projected on facades of buildings in its host city. I was jealous that their students got to meet performer Agosto Machado, whose lusciously colorful snapshots memorializing his friends have become a cornerstone of Electric Blanket. The exhibition is always a classroom.

Because there are so many collectives and networks in the exhibition, ideas for programming are not hard to generate. Programs also provide the space for conversation about the context, then, and now with re-encountering multimedia projects from another era. “Slow is good,” is an adage I recite from co-founder of the Lesbian Herstory Archives, Joan Nestle. What does it mean to move at the speed of each relationship? Nestle reminds me of a different sensibility of time, the Archives are celebrating their 50-year anniversary. An idea I articulated while doing interviews with long-time volunteers three years ago, just came to fruition: to do a screening and conversation about the Lesbian Herstory Archives slideshow.

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Flyer for May 14 event Goldberg hosted at the New Jewish Culture Fellowship in Brooklyn. Flyer features photo by Saskia Scheffer, Alexis Danzig on her motorcycle before going on tour with the Lesbian Herstory Archives Slideshow, 1996. Courtesy of the artist

I rotate between the orbit of traveling Images as an exhibition, and an orbit of research and writing for Just Captions, my photography history book-in-progress on ethics and processes of photographers within trans and queer cultural production of the same period of the late 20th century. The Lesbian Herstory Archives is a hub for both my exhibition and book projects, particularly their slideshow, which built community through political education, like many slideshow projects featured within Images

Whether trans and queer people were joining anti-imperialist struggles, building coalitions with internationalist-minded feminists, fighting violence against women, refusing settler colonialism, providing health care, peer-to-peer education, there was rarely a time someone was not involved in some facet of organizing. This exhibition opens up possibilities for reflection about the texture of the life of an activist/artists, archivists/documentarians, and label-resistant people. Life keeps on moving, and struggles, like the ones recited above, intensify and reach breaking points and new horrors of faster and crueler exercises of state violence and disregard for human life, especially as I, and those who do not look away, witness the US-backed, Israeli government’s genocide of Palestinians. 

Lens-based media is constantly changing. Multimedia projects in analogue formats often get forgotten in the wake of survival work. Morgan Gwenwald and I worked together to make a slideshow with selections from her decades of photographs documenting LGBT life in NYC. The resulting event was hosted by the Magnum Foundation to a packed audience in March 2023. This form was repeated in May 2023 with Diana Solís and me in conversation at the Magnum Foundation. I almost felt like I was the occasional host of a public access talk show on arts and culture! Every time I speak with Gwenwald and Solís, I learn something new about how they make their photographs. These public events both share and bring new topics to my ongoing conversations with culture-workers who are full of wisdom.

With Leslie-Lohman, I organized a two-part Tribute to Loren Rex Cameron (1959–2022), one artist I never got to meet. Cameron was a widely influential trans photographer and body builder based in the Bay Area whose portraits and nudes, which were presented as exhibitions in San Francisco in 1994 and 1996. His book Body Alchemy: Transsexual Portraits, published by Cleis press in 1996, is currently out of print and difficult to access. To share more about Cameron’s life and work, beyond what is featured in the exhibition, Leslie-Lohman and I organized an all hybrid (online and IRL) two-part tribute, the first at San Francisco Camerawork and the second inside the exhibition at Leslie-Lohman

With the Human Sexuality Collection at Cornell University, I created a slideshow of rarely before seen work Cameron produced before and after his most known Body Alchemy project. It is still a goal of mine to support a campaign for Start Media, who now owns Cleis Press which originally published Body Alchemy, to reissue the book or sell the rights to a publisher who can reissue it. Solís once reflected to me how impactful finding Cameron’s book was in the late 1990s and that they shared it with their family. Talking with people who knew artists and activists who have passed away takes my research to whole new levels. Through the process of researching Cameron’s work, I met every participant in an event Cameron organized and documented alongside his first photography exhibition, Transsexuals Speak Out!, a panel discussion from 1994 that is featured inside Images. From the outreach Leslie-Lohman and our many co-sponsors did for these programs, I was able to connect with a former friend and mentee of Cameron’s, Jesse Freidin, who is the first trans photographer I’ve met who actually showed Cameron his work and received feedback. Freidin went on to become a professional animal photographer and is now making a series of books and exhibitions under the project Are You OK?, which includes portraits and stories of trans youth across the U.S.

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Installation view of Lola Flash, in and alongside ART+Positive from Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2024. Courtesy of ART+Positive Archives. Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger. Photo by Nathan Keay

A few days before the show closed at Leslie-Lohman, Aldo Hernández, Lola Flash, Allen Frame, and Frank Franca gathered to reflect on their participation within art collectives that formed in the early days of HIV/AIDS in NYC and the longstanding relationships within them. It is remarkable to me that at every event with artists/activists from this exhibition, people are meeting each other for the first time. ART+Positive and Electric Blanket, two art collectives without knowledge of each other, were operating in the same place and time, showing just how many simultaneous art and activist projects there were in the late-1980s to early-1990s. Flash opted to share the work of their friend and fellow ART+Positive member Leon Mostovoy, and talked about how they would help each other out with their photo projects. The events become sometimes ephemeral slideshows within the show, occasions for adjacent archives to be presented and discussed. 

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Installation view of ART+Positive’s Militant Eroticism 1990 calendars from Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2024. Courtesy the ART+Positive Archives. Collection of Dr. Daniel S. Berger. Photo by Nathan Keay

With nearly 3,000 square feet at the Cultural Center, we are pleased to present more of ART+Positive’s collection from Chicago-based Dr. Daniel S. Berger, a leading HIV specialist, researcher and AIDS activist who has brought as much passion and precision to collecting art as he has to providing life-saving treatment for his patients. We now have a full run of the collective’s 1990 calendar entitled Militant Eroticism that featured a different artist’s work for each month. We also included one of ART+Positive’s large-scale mixed media collages on foam core: Positive Flag / Negative Flag, which features Flash’s cross color work of queer love and resistance along the flag’s stripes. The more bleak flag in the diptych calls out in name and image homophobic politicians and celebrities whose policies and influence resulted in deadly defunding of art, culture, healthcare, and education. 

Audience Response

Joan E. Biren (JEB) studied political science and applied this training to how she asked for and received feedback on her photography. Her traveling slideshow, The Dyke Show (1979–1984) featured in Images, included audience participation in the form of a survey. She asked audience members to list women-identified culture workers or artists on one side, and on the other, invited comments on her “slide/talk” show. Heartfelt and confessional, viewers were offered a place to reflect on what they saw, what was missing (often access needs were articulated here), how they felt (sticking points in the sex wars were hashed out on these cards), and offer criticism. Feedback was and is the currency of desire for connection. Feedback was critical to the building of a distinctly lesbian and queer visual culture. This exhibition is a study of not just the producers of ambitious collective projects, but those who brought a work to life by responding to the work with all manner of feedback—to celebrate activism is to learn from it. 

My intention of re-presenting JEB’s lesbian photography history slideshow that she toured for four years is to share the mechanics of how culture is made to empower activists and artists today. We can draw on past collaborative projects of transformation to inspire more intergenerational dialogue of those in solidarity with overlapping and always growing international liberation movements, whether to resist racism, imperialism, settler colonialism, gender-based violence, and/or compulsory heterosexuality. 

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Installation view of Diana Solís: Intimacies in Resistance from Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2024. Photo by Nathan Keay. Courtesy of the artist

This exhibition is most exhilarating and fulfilling for me personally when I have the opportunity to learn from, and with, people who have been living the life of activism. One delightful message I received from Argentinian queer archivist Juan Queiroz, founder of Archivos Desviados and the website Moleculas Molucas, shared a story about encountering a poster on the wall of a community organization inside a Diana Solís photo. Quieroz writes: 

On the wall in the photo, you can see the poster that the Argentine activist and artist Juan Carlos Vidal made for the Young Lords of Puerto Rico in May 1970 in NYC. Portrayed on that poster are Iris Morales, Denise Oliver, Nydia Mercado and Lulu Carreras, feminist members of the YL. I have that poster in Archivos Desviados and I had never seen a photo where it appears. 

Screenshot of Archivos Desviados Instagram post with Vidals’ poster @archivosdesviados

In the essay Quiroz pointed me to, within the web of information on Moleculas Molucas, I learn about the poster’s designer, Juan Carlos Vidal, who was a member of Third World Gay Revolution, which was an offshoot of the Gay Liberation Front. Posters inside grassroots spaces often move with more ease than individuals and rapidly shifting groups within organizing spaces. Imagine the speed of a poster in comparison to a blog post! The poster Quieroz noticed inside Solís’s 1980 photograph of a film screening at Mujeres Latinas En Acción (Empowering Latinas and their families) provides evidence of decolonial solidarity movements communicating—and finding alliance—with one another across great geographic distances. One detail such as this can lead me to months of research and tendrils of connection in durational liberation work that reaches across the deadly state borders. Is my task as curator to close the distance of time? Mujeres, as Solís refers to the organization colloquially, is still doing direct service and advocacy for Latinas in Solís’s long-time neighborhood of Pilsen, Chicago. They began teaching and photographing while organizing there; their domestic violence and rape crisis 24-hour hotlines are still open. Diana Solís has had two major exhibitions in Chicago in the last two years, one at Co-Prosperity and the other at the Poetry Foundation, with another coming up in fall 2024 with photographer and art collector Patric McCoy at the Chicago Art Department

The Bulletin Board

Each of the six projects included in my exhibition also have an original flyer on view. For example, there is a flyer advertising a free poetry and photography class Solís taught at Mujeres Latinas en Acción, or a call for photographs of loved ones who have passed to be included in Electric Blanket. The flyers have been installed differently at each venue. In Cincinnati, we made a wall of movie posters, a mix between what might appear in a teenager’s bedroom and an independent movie theater. In New York City, we lined two of the four columns that hold up the architecture of the galleries with a cascade of the six flyers wheat-pasted at their original letter-size. Currently on view at the Cultural Center is a long cork board with additional flyers I found with the help of volunteers and staff at Gerber/Hart. Local events, demonstrations, and newsletters from the 1970s–1990s mix and mingle with a flyer advertising JEB’s Dyke Show coming to Louisville, Kentucky in the early 1980s. On the bulletin board is a flyer for the 1990 National AIDS Action for Healthcare, with dates and times for a “Teach-In on Insurance & Public Health” and a “Training for Civil Disobedience and Direct Action.” How were people spreading information to try to stop their friends and family from dying? How can the bulletin board be a place and a way to also share memories, just like the photo album? The bulletin board is big and open—contemporary flyers in the spirit of the projects in Images are invited to join the bulletin board.

Gerber/Hart Library and Archives’s podcast Unboxing Queer History was the perfect companion on my crash course into Chicago-specific queer history. One flyer I saved to highlight within the Little Gems: Trans Image Networks section of my exhibition is a flyer for an educational workshop on trans and gender-non-conforming life that was offered with the organization Amigas Latinas with trans/queer activist Sebastián Colon. I chose to highlight this flyer because it represents an alternate route taken by the organizers of Amigas Latinas: instead of hurling fear, discrimination, and exclusion to trans and gender-non-conforming people, they simply decided to ask for help, and learn.

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Flyer for Amigas Latinas Plática with Sebastián Colon, Saturday October 7, 2006. Digital print. Courtesy of Gerber/Hart Library and Archives

Founded in 1995, Amigas Latinas was a volunteer-run organization in Chicago that specifically served the LBTQ Latina community through monthly discussion groups, support groups, workshops, educational training, public programs, and events. Gerber/Hart hosted a conversation from 2022 with the founders of Amigas Latinas, Mona Noriega and Evette Cardona, and former Amigas Latinas board member Lourdes, and artists and curators Amanda Cervantes and Jose Luis Benavides. Cervantes and Benavides, from generations younger than the founding generation of Amigas Latinas, voiced primary questions that arose in both the research and production phases of their exhibition Amigas Latinas Forever. Including original works of art based on the Amigas Latinas Collection at Gerber/Hart, and archival materials from the collection, the exhibition has reached publics on view at the Chicago Art Department, in Pilsen, and at Gerber/Hart in Roger’s Park. 

This flyer was also a touchstone for all the participants in the conversation to reflect on their always-evolving understandings and experiences of gender and language, personally and relationally. I first saw the hot pink flyer with Sebastián Colon’s headshot and suave mid-aughts butch looks featured in a floor to ceiling wallpaper Cervantes and Benavides designed with copies of the neon flyers Amigas Latinas sent to their well-organized mailing list. As I listened to their recorded conversation, I recognized in the mix of this conversation the fabric of my exhibition: curiosity, tension, laughter, urgent information, risk, honesty, clarification, absence, pain, grief, possibility. “Intergenerational dialogue” is not a buzzword shut in a vitrine; it’s a practice.

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Robert Ford, Cecilia “CC” Hunt, Trent Adkins (co-founder of Thing magazine with Ford), and Diana Solís after a portrait session at Solís’s apartment and photo studio, above the Swan Club on North Clark Street, 1981. Courtesy of Diana Solís

I first came to Chicago to meet Diana Solís in 2019. In Nicole Marroquin’s living room, Solís shared recently-made scans of her vast photographic archives from the 1970s–1990s. When I saw Solís’s photos of Trent Adkins and Robert Ford, I was enthralled. Their outfits ran laps on the coolest cats of Bill Cunningham’s who’s who. Perhaps Solís sensed my surface-level enchantment. She impressed on me that one of their shared projects, Thing magazine, was one of the most important magazines to come out of Chicago in the 1980s and 1990s. It’s one thing to love a look on a stranger in a photograph, it’s another to go find what those artists made.

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Installation view of Thing magazine, issues 1–10, 1989–1993, from Images on which to build, 1970s–1990s at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2024. Courtesy of Gerber/Hart Library and Archives Special Collections. Photo by Nathan Keay

From 1989–1993, DJ and writer Robert Ford, with friends Trent Adkins and Lawrence Warren, published Thing magazine in Chicago. Reaching a distribution of 3,000, Thing was an artist-made publication on Black and gay music, culture, and politics. Diana Solís shared a creative community and friendship with Ford and Adkins in the 1980s. Gerber/Hart Library and Archives loaned a full run of Thing magazine. The art project Solís once alerted me to, and which devoted artists, curators. and archivists have secured, now hangs out in the central gallery of Images where Solís’s photographs are installed. Thing magazine’s collections live at the Chicago History Museum, and, in 2022, THING Collaborative (edited by friends and former contributors Simone Bouyer, Stephanie Coleman, and Ken Hare) produced a commemorative issue of Thing—available at House of Thing—in homage to the lives and work of their friends. Like much trans and queer culture from the end of the last century, Thing magazine is coming back into circulation; I first saw the magazine on view in Solveig Nelson and Michal Raz-Russo’s 2022 exhibition Subscribe: Artists and Alternative Magazines, 1970–1995 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Thing reminds me of the ethos of Images: lots of modes of art—each with their own lexicon of specificity—bumping up against one another with humor and the will to document, all while fighting the state’s death machine.