Lesbians in the Great Depression

by Angela

Debbie Grossman has re-imagined 1940’s Pie Towners as self-sufficient, God-fearin’, lesbian homesteaders by way of Photoshop in her newest body of work  that was on display at the Julie Saul Gallery in New York City. I think overall the installation is eyebrow raising and gorgeous and not to be missed (don’t worry, the link to Grossman’s page has the collection in .jpg format). But overall, her comment on the lack of lesbian family documentation during this period is weakened by her medium.

When I first read about this installation I had a negative reaction. Over and over again during my discourse about the project I kept hearing viewers say “If our history doesn’t exist in documented photographs, isn’t it wonderful to see what it could have been like?”. Call me a Negative Nancy if you will, but I kept saying no no no!

While I think Grossman’s work is incredibly reflective, and definitely a catalyst for discourse, I hope that we aren’t satisfied with some artful clicks in Photoshop for a representation of what it could have been like as a lesbian homesteader just outside of the Great Depression. Clearly these lesbians existed during this time (because we’ve ALWAYS existed) and I feel a more respectful homage would have been to research what life would have been like for them. Instead of posing them with their  faux butch counter-parts and deleting the men from Pie Town completely isn’t it more powerful and catalytic to experience their world as it truly was? A world where they couldn’t be themselves? A world where their economic depression was compounded by their emotional depression because they couldn’t live their lives openly?

Using Photoshop to recreate our history is dangerous, even if it is for social commentary’s sake. Imagine search engine optimization in 20 years…when you type in “40’s great depression lesbians” and there are actually results. Will those surfers be responsible enough to do their due diligence and learn that in fact, no lesbian or gay person was openly documented during this time? That those people were so loathsome and insignificant that using a piece of film on them was too taboo and wasteful?

I think that Ms. Grossman could have made a more compelling statement by simply showing our absence during this time, as opposed to faking our existence. Or researching correspondence, personal accounts, or property ownership records for possible in-the-closet leads for first-hand accounts of actual lesbian homesteaders. Take a moment and view her installation and let me know your thoughts on rewriting history to our liking, even if it is for art’s sake.

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