Eliza Piccininni / Courtesy of Lola Flash
Agnes Gund, Esther Cooper Jackson and Ruth Pointer are just a few of the women who appear in “SALT”, a series of portraits of Lola Flash. They are all over 70 years old, still actively engaged in their life’s work. Flash says the portraits are meant to challenge the way our society looks at these women: âI would say until the age of 25 or 26 we are the this girls, right? And then after you go over that threshold of maybe 30, 35, you’re put on the pasture. When we get older, we don’t see us. “
Flash, who uses the pronouns she / her and them / them, grew up in Montclair, NJ. His great-grandfather, Charles H. Bullock, was a prominent leader in the founding of black YMCAs. His parents were teachers.
âI was a bit lonely, only child,â Flash recalls. She loved taking pictures, first with a small Minox, then a 35mm camera: a gift from her mother, who also helped her set up a darkroom.
After graduating from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Flash moved to New York City in the 1980s, at the height of the AIDS crisis. She started attending ACT UP demonstrations and taking pictures. Unlike conventional photojournalists, Flash used slide film and developed its photographs on negative paper. The white clouds looked black; the blue sky looked red. It forced viewers to realize that their eyes had been trained to see the world in a certain way and prompted them to re-evaluate their perceptions.
In 1989, Flash and Julie Tolentino appeared with several other couples in Gran Fury’s “Kissing Doesn’t Kill” PSA poster, which appeared on billboards, buses, and subway platforms in cities like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Mimicking the style of Benetton’s âUnited Colorsâ advertising campaign, the image appealed to fanaticism and complacency at a time when the Helms Amendments were hampering HIV / AIDS awareness efforts.
Courtesy of Lola Flash
In the 1990s, Flash moved to London and began a decades-long creative practice focused on challenging invisibility and preconceived ideas about identity. Using a large format 4×5 film camera, she creates portraits that bring her subjects to the fore, showing the beauty of older women, LGBTQ + trailblazers, and those with skin color or expression. gender left them vulnerable to marginalization and discrimination.
Flash comes to work as a fluid, queer black woman, shooting portraits for and to celebrate her community. KT artist Pe Benito describes sitting down for their portrait as empowering: âI found a love for myself through Lola’s photograph. I am no longer afraid of the way I see myself. “
At first, Flash showed his work in restaurants and pubs. His images are now also in the permanent collections of institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. But cultural theorist Karen Jaime says she still sees Flash’s work as firmly anchored in community advocacy, noting its commitment to highlighting the contributions and presence of marginalized people.
The work she does through these photographs is activism, explains Jaime: “She doesn’t just make you see the people in the photos, but recognizes that it is a legacy.”
The current Flash series is called “Syzygy, the vision”. Sometimes the artist transforms into an avatar subjected to the horrors of racism, sexism and homophobia. Other images show her experiencing moments of joy, envisioning a future where there is fairness for all. Flash predicts that the “Syzygy” series will eventually include around 100 photographs.
Halima Taha, who advises institutions and collectors on acquiring visual works by black artists, says the series reflects and represents a common thread throughout Flash’s work, a lifelong commitment to visibility. and preserving the legacy of LGBTQIA + and communities of color around the world.
Today, Flash is honored by the LGBTQ + arts organization Queer | Art, which presents her with an award for her sustained achievements. Tomorrow you’ll find her teaching visual arts to ninth and tenth graders in Brooklyn. âHaving the photographs to be able to show that this is our heritage is amazing,â she says. “I often say that if you don’t have an inheritance you can be that person, you can start it.”