“Beautiful Outlaws: The Photographs of Donna Gottschalk” Exhibition

Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art

poster for “Beautiful Outlaws: The Photographs of Donna Gottschalk” Exhibition
[Image: Donna Gottschalk "Self-Portrait, Maine" 11x14 in. Gelatin-Silver print, 1976/2017. Courtesy of the artist.]

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Curated by Deborah Bright

The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art presents Brave, Beautiful Outlaws: The Photographs of Donna Gottschalk. The first-ever museum exhibition of Gottschalk’s photography, Brave, Beautiful Outlaws will survey both her essential documentation of lesbian culture of the late 1960s and 1970s, alongside intimate family photographs.

Raised into a working-class family on the Lower East Side, Gottschalk came out just as foundational activist groups, such as the Gay Liberation Front and radicalesbians, were forming. Active in political organizing while an art student at Cooper Union, Gottschalk remembers printing “Lesbians Unite” posters in the school’s silkscreen shop and stenciling the iconic “Lavender Menace” tee shirts.

Gottschalk recalls, “I got my first camera at 17 and discovered all of these noble, marginalized people who were entering my life. I forced myself to become brave and ask to take their pictures.” Although Gottschalk eventually absconded from the east coast and moved to northern California, she continued to take photographs of friends and lovers who were trying to build a radical life outside of society.

From the late 1960s through the 1970s, Gottschalk produced sensitive aesthetic work documenting the intimate lives of radical and political lesbians. As curator Deborah Bright notes, “It is extraordinarily rare to find such lovingly and artistically made photographs of lesbians from those years when homosexuality was widely criminalized and lesbians were portrayed in popular media as predatory, suicidal freaks. Where society saw monsters, Gottschalk saw heroes and she wanted to visualize the beauty and nobility of those who refused to live a lie.”

Gottschalk withdrew from political activities to live in San Francisco and shortly after moving brought her sister Mary and brother Alfie to live with her. Her older sister Diane did not come, but her youngest brother Vincent joined them later. Mary and Alfie both came out as gay in San Francisco’s relatively open environment. Later, after returning to New York, Alfie transitioned and became Myla, but HIV, violent incidents of transphobia and drugs took a heavy toll on her and she died in 2013.

“For over 40 years, I kept my negatives and photographs largely to myself,” said Gottschalk. “As the years passed and more and more of [my subjects] met early deaths, I became more possessive and protective of the images. But now 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.”

When her subjects asked why she wanted to photograph them, Gottschalk replied it was “because you are beautiful and I never want to forget you.“ Museum Director Gonzalo Casals believes that, “Gottschalk’s beautiful - yet poignant- work invites the viewer to connect with the artist’s community of activists and radicals of the LGBTQ liberation movement in an intimate way. In a moment that our communities are under attack through false and derogatory narratives, showing Gottschalk’s work is paramount. It is our hope that visitors feel inspired and empowered to take action by these brave, beautiful outlaws.”

Donna Gottschalk grew up on the Lower East Side in Manhattan in low-income tenement housing, living with her mother and three siblings, Mary, Alfie—who, in adulthood, would transition and take the name Myla—and Vincent. Gottschalk often assumed a parental role. Their mother had a giving heart, but she worked long hours and struggled to make ends meet. Gottschalk was first introduced to the Gay Liberation Front (GLF) at age 18 when she saw a print advertisement in The Village Voice, and wanted to get involved. She spent her early adulthood as a lesbian activist and photographer in New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco. Gottschalk later took refuge in Connecticut, opening a photo lab with her partner, Tony, which they ran for 38 years before moving together to their farm in Vermont.



from August 29, 2018 to March 17, 2019

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