Dykes on Bikes zooming by on motorcycles wearing leather jackets. A little boy holding a sign professing his love for his trans parent. Hundreds of thousands of people crowding into San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. These are but three of the images on display in a new photography exhibition, “50 Years of Pride,” opening online on May 15 on the GLBT Historical Society’s website. The exhibition is presented by the society and the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries with the support of San Francisco Pride, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. In addition its online incarnation, the exhibition will ultimately be displayed on the ground floor and North Light Court of City Hall.
“50 Years of Pride” is one of two online exhibitions the society is organizing to commemorate Pride’s golden jubilee. This colorful and exuberant show features nearly 100 photographs, drawn both from the society’s archives and contributed by over a dozen independent queer photographers. The exhibition has been curated by Lenore Chinn and Pamela Peniston, two San Francisco artists with deep roots in the city’s queer arts and culture milieu. As we approach the virtual unveiling of “50 Years of Pride,” History Happens interviewed Chinn and Peniston, who provided joint responses, about their curatorial vision.
What was your conception for “50 Years of Pride” when you began planning the exhibition?
When we set out, we knew only a few things that we wanted to establish and bring forward. First, that by “Pride” we meant what has developed into an entire weekend of events made up of Pride and Pink Saturday, the Dyke March and the Trans March. Although these are run by independent boards and in entirely different ways, they are all showcasing the breadth of the LGBTQ communities. We also wanted as large a representation of diversity in the photographers as in the photographs. Finally, we also decided that we would choose each photo initially on its ability to convey how people were experiencing the events, as well as the beauty of the image itself.
How did your curatorial choices evolve as you researched in the archives and reached out to photographers?
As we examined the archives of the GLBT Historical Society and solicited photographs from many photographers in the community, we saw that the work was naturally dividing into two main categories: people participating in the parade and people watching. So we mirrored that by separating photographs of participants and spectators. Whether marching or waiting for the parade to begin, the excitement on both sides is palpable!
Also, we chose not to organize the entire exhibition along a chronological timeline, but rather to focus on the “onstage” and “offstage” aspects of the events. We had certain focal points in mind: politicians of or in support of our community, or heroes within it; issue-oriented contingents and affinity groups. We wanted to show how all of our people and organizations constantly queered the way we celebrated!
What do you want viewers to take away from this exhibition?
We would like people to view this as an experience of Pride as it has evolved over the years, from a relatively small, grassroots event that has grown, along with the LGBTQ community, into a celebration. But we also wanted to chart the growth of a movement politically and culturally from an era marked by resisting homophobia, to challenging the treatment of HIV/AIDS, and through the victory of marriage equality. We want people to know that through politics, alliances, celebrations, demonstrations, drag or the arts, queers embrace all our identities.
NOTE: “50 Years of Pride” opens on the GLBT Historical Society’s websiteon May 15. The installation at San Francisco City Hall will follow when the state’s shelter-in-place order has been relaxed. Lenore Chinn is a painter, photographer and cultural activist, and was a founding member of Lesbians in the Visual Arts.
Pamela Peniston is a founding member and artistic director of the Queer Cultural Center, and has won numerous awards for her work designing and painting sets for national and Bay Area theatrical and dance companies.
Mark Sawchuk is the communications manager at the GLBT Historical Society.