A new exhibition currently on view at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives (SNMA) George Hester Gallery showcases vintage photographs by LGBT pioneer Robert Giard (1939 – 2002).
His obituary in the New York Times described him as “a Portraitist of Gay Writers.”
Originally from Hartford, Connecticut, Giard earned degrees in English and American literature from Yale (1961) and comparative literature at Boston University (1965). While a young man, he spent much of his time in New York City, engaged with LGBT intellectuals and activists.
By 1972, he began to photograph, concentrating on landscapes of the South Fork of Long Island, portraits of friends, many of the artists and writers in the region, and nudes. In 1974, Giard settled with his partner in Amagansett, Long Island, where they remained for nearly 30 years until Giard's death.
“Being gay counts for something,” Giard once said. “Whom you desire, whom you love, with whom you choose to live — or not to live. How can it not count to recognize at some level, no matter how submerged or close to the surface, that for many people you are somehow less — less man or less woman, less human, less serious, less significant, less deserving? Can it really make no difference realizing that some feel subtle or downright contempt for who you are, even hate you, and are convinced that you have no history, no story worth telling or worth listening to, that you are not even out there in the world existing? I want the world to know that we are here, have a past, and many stories to tell.”
In 1985, after seeing a performance of Larry Kramer’s powerful AIDS drama, “The Normal Heart,” Giard set out to capture portraits of significant gay and lesbian literary figures.
Giard created a trove of powerful images of people willing to come out as members of the LGBT community in a time when it could have harmed their reputations and safety, according to SNMA Executive Director Hunter O’Hanian.
“My memories of gathering these portraits are of a distinctly physical nature, of getting me, my knapsack of film and equipment and my tripod from one destination to another,” Giard said about the undertaking.
Examples of his work are in collections of Brooklyn Museum, San Francisco Public Library, New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress. Giard’s complete archive, including workbooks and other documents, is now housed in the American collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.
The SNMA exhibition features 10 large format vintage silver gelatin prints of Dorothy Allison, Justin Chin, Leslie Feinberg and Minnie Bruce Pratt, Joan Nestle, Pomo Afro Homos, Adrienne Rich, Sylvia Rivera, Sarah Schulman, Lanford Wilson and Jacqueline Woodson.
“In this exhibition, we examine the work of an artist who recorded LGBT writers during the golden days of gay literature,” explained O’Hanian. “This is when writers and publishers took risks and presented a trove of new news. Gay collections exploded at that time. We are happy to have books in our collection by the subjects in the exhibition.”
“Robert Giard – Photographs” is currently on view at the Stonewall National Museum and Archives, 1300 E. Sunrise Blvd. in Fort Lauderdale. Executive Director Hunter O’Hanian will conduct a talk about Giard’s work on Tuesday, March 1 at 1 p.m. For more information, go to Stonewall-Museum.org.