In Conversation with Lola Flash: Seminal Photography from an LGBTQ Art Icon
In conversation with the photographer Lola Flash on the occasion of the stellar exhibit, Lola Flash: 1986-Present, on view at Pen + Brush. Flash has been documenting the QTPOC community since the 80s, during the trying and turbulent times of the AIDS crisis, to also photographing iconic queer and female subjects from all walks of life. Flash has received numerous well-deserved accolades and with much excitement I present our dialogue below.
Gallery Gurls: Your current retrospective at Pen + Brush is very robust and touches on issues that feel extremely urgent and timely, like equal rights for TWOC, intersectional feminism, ageism, and WOC visibility. What were your thoughts when putting together this show?
Lola Flash: The show is curated by Dawn Delikat and Parker Daley, of Pen and Brush. We did want to actually include all of my series. Yet, once they saw the arc of my work, Dawn and Parker decided the show would have more impact, and be more concise if it concentrated solely on my portraiture work. My work has always been based on my identity, and the ways that my communities, navigate through society. Each series speaks to a part of me; be it my sexuality, race, gender, or age. I love the medium of photography and its ability to visually allure. And I love the outcome of their thoughtful presentation. Both Dawn and Parker are art historians, and have staged many successful shows at P+B. When an artist can trust the gallerist and know that their work will be presented in the best possible way, it's a really perfect scenario.
"My work has always been based on my identity, and the ways that my communities, navigate through society. Each series speaks to a part of me; be it my sexuality, race, gender, or age."
Your AIDS Art series captures a ferocious time in AIDS history from the late 80s and early 90s, I'm more interested in hearing about AIDS advocacy from the QTPOC perspective of that time. What can you share about your photography and activism from that period?
I was part of ART+, a group of primarily people of color, who focused on issues around brown folks with AIDS. We were what was known as an affinity group, an important part of ACT UP New York. Art+ organized art exhibitions, and created signs, banners, basically agitprop concerning health care, specific to our community. There was a real schism between those who could afford treatment and those who could not. Therefore, my work centered on images of QTPOC, some who were victims of the virus, some from demonstrations and various series that I created. All of my work's purpose was to teach or create conversations about the 'real' issues concerning the AIDS virus. There was no time to reflect, the agency of the AIDS virus made us very present and desperate to expose the deficits in awareness, as well as the downfalls of drug policies. I am proud of the progress we made through direct action and a sincere belief that we mattered.
The series SALT showcases portraits of women over the age of 70, specifically older WOC. Why was it important to document these subjects?
SALT is important because, like queer people and black people, older women are often portrayed in unflattering light. In the media, they are suffering from various illnesses, they are seen as homeless - not as they should be, which is strong, beautiful, independent and forces to be reckoned with. As I approach middle age, I see a definite difference, in the way that I am seen. Back in the day, I was always asked to pose for a photo at Pride, for instance, and now the photographers pass me by. This made me think about how older women deal with the idea of 'fading beauty', which is really a phenomenon created by society. Where men can 'age gracefully', older women continue to push the world forward, and still get no credit. So I felt the need to bring these women's beauty and their stories, to the fore.
"Where men can 'age gracefully', older women continue to push the world forward, and still get no credit. So I felt the need to bring these women's beauty and their stories, to the fore."
I'm really moved by the series surmise, the portraits present queer subjects in traditional identities like butch lesbians and femme trans women, but then goes beyond. The simple white background removes noise and empowers the subject to control the gaze. Can you talk about this body of work?
Thanks, yes the surmise series is an insider's account of the many ways genderqueer people are perceived and how visual representations of gender affect both our individual psyches and broader society. The white backgrounds, definitely as you say “removes noise” and says, I’m here and I engender the stage wherever I am. This ongoing portrait series features images of people who appear gender-fluid, and who present themselves unapologetically, almost confrontationally. The series surmise aims to encourage my audience to regard each model as a person first, and to not assume their sexuality, gender or pronoun. It also begs for us not to assume anything at all. Intersectionality is here to stay. OK?
"The series surmise aims to encourage my audience to regard each model as a person first, and to not assume their sexuality, gender or pronoun. It also begs for us not to assume anything at all. Intersectionality is here to stay. OK?"
What is next for you in 2018?
Gosh, 2018, has already blessed me with so many accolades, it is kind of hard to embrace, to be honest. I was written up in the New York Times, and that is a definite sign that things are gonna be a bit different, going forward. I just received an assignment from Smithsonian Magazine, where I will be photographing some pretty amazing seasoned women, which I am super excited about. This summer I will be doing some traveling and adding to my landscapes. I have applied for a couple of grants and residencies, which always make a spike in my production level. I suppose the most exciting part of it all, is that this exhibition at Pen + Brush has corralled my lifelong friends, who have always applauded my success, and it has also brought a whole new audience of admirers, so who knows how to predict it all. At the end of the day, my goal is to show my community with a sense of pride, power and beauty. I can say without a doubt, I have done that and will continue to!
Lola Flash: 1986-Present will be on view at Pen + Brush through March 24, 2018.
You can follow Lola Flash on Instagam: @flash9