Intimate Protest: The Community and Family of Donna Gottschalk
LESBIAN. DYKE. LAVENDER MENACE. These words draw up images of protest, anger, radical communities, and second wave feminism. It is with BRAVE, BEAUTIFUL OUTLAWS: The Photographs of Donna Gottschalk, the first museum exhibition of Donna Gottschalk’s photography, that we not only see the political but are able witness the quiet moments of intimacy and caring that those words can create.
Gottschalk came out as lesbian during 1960s, when declaring her sexuality was understood as a distinctly political act. It was a time when wanting to live as your authentic self was not seen as a right but something to fight for. It is the fight of living, the daily routine of life, the close moments with your partner that Gottschalk captures. Berkeley Auto Shop Owners, 1973, reminds us of the everyday life of many queer foremothers, that while being political, they also worked and created a life for themselves.
The beautiful bravery of being yourself is captured with her intimate photos of herself and friends; they offer glimpse into the softness and intimacy of lesbian life that is not often seen depicted of this time. In Bodies, 1970 all you see is a torso and limbs embracing but she is able to capture the warmth and love that these women felt for each other in that moment.
The most moving part of the exhibition was the snapshot looks into the life of Gottschalk’s sister, from her childhood, to discovering her sexuality, to her transition to female, to her death from HIV/AIDS complications in 2013. It is with these images that we see the quiet resilience of her sister Myla as she discovers herself and eventually is able to leave her old identity of Alfie behind.
When thinking of the right words that encompass my feeling when seeing this landmark exhibition, Gottschalk said it best when stating why, now, she is showing these works. “….I’m ready to release them because I don’t want these courageous lives to be lost. They were brave and defiant warriors who insisted on being, whatever the consequences.”
BRAVE, BEAUTIFUL OUTLAWS: The Photographs of Donna Gottschalk on view through March 17, 2019 at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art.