Donna Gottschalk is a US-American photographer, according to an exhibition curator, "the most famous lesbian photographer". In the 1960s, she attended the High School of Art and Design where, for the first time, she met other lesbians. That way she got to know iconic bars in New York where they had a space of their own. She became involved with the Gay Liberation Front and took part at protests, designed posters and papers, documented radical lesbian life, their struggle to be seen and represented (via). She also rent a spare room to young lesbians offering them a safe place to live (via).
Many of her subjects lived "on the margins of the margins": poor, transgender, homeless, sex workers, addicts, survivors of abuse (via). And many of them died young. Years later, she decided to release their photographs because she did not want "these courageous lives to be lost. They were brave and defiant warriors who insisted on being, whatever the consequences" (via). She also posed for other photographers at a time it was dangerous to come out (via).
I got my first camera at 17 and discovered all of these noble, marginalised people who were entering my life. I forced myself to become brave and ask to take their pictures, Sometimes they asked me why and my answer always was: “Because you are beautiful and I never want to forget you.” Donna Gottschalk
Gottschalk was inspired by Diana Arbus, Irving Penn and August Sander who were all drawn by the marginalised. Her intimate portraits were a means to give these marginalised people she loved "a beauty in humanity they were otherweise denied" (via).
The people that I was taking pictures of were not people that, ordinarily, people thought to photograph. They were my personal friends and family. Donna Gottschalk
"I had a portent that most of the people that I was taking pictures of wouldn't live, wouldn't make it. They were poor. There were no safety nets, At the time, in the 1970s, (my work) wasn't happy-happy stuff. It wasn't what people wanted, I think, or needed. The lesbian community needed to see (that) we're not all miserable; you can thrive." Donna Gottschalk
"I'm very happy, very much so, because many of the people who are photographed in that show... these are people who just disappear. And I am so happy that they're going to be in a museum for the rest of the time that the museum exists." Donna Gottschalk
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photographs by Donna Gottschalk via