LATENT IMAGES STATEMENT
This series of photographs was created in collaboration with University of Southern California's ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives and presented at the ONE Archives Gallery and Museum. Images from the series were subsequently part of a program at MoMA PS1 Contemporary Art Center, "On the Cruising of Archives," and the subject of a critical essay ("Archives Behaving Badly") in Radical History Review's issue "Queering Archives."
This is the press release from ONE:
ONE National Gay & Lesbian Archives presents Latent Images, an exhibition of contemporary photography by Leah DeVun alongside a range of historical, photo-based materials, including art photography and captivating personal photo albums, from the collections at ONE Archives. This diverse presentation explores the relationship between photographic images and the limits, as well as creative possibilities, for engaging with historical memory in queer culture and the archive.
In photography, a “latent image” refers to the invisible image on a photosensitive surface prior to its development. As used in this exhibition, the term speaks to the potential for inventive relationships to emerge between DeVun’s photographs and the archival materials on view.
Specifically addressing legacies of feminism, works on view by Leah DeVun ask how an archive might function as something other than a straightforward repository. In the artist’s own words: “When creating these photographs, I was interested in how using archival materials in the “wrong” way (that is, not as a historian would, but through interpolation or anachronism) might uncover something unexpected about the nature of memory, and how it might be mediated or even obviated by the present. This particular set of images addresses the feminist movement and its relationship to labor and the workforce. The archival objects seen in the photographs (many wearable items, sometimes juxtaposed with living figures) were intended to embody liberatory ideals, and yet they defy a simple reading. The objects pictured are more than historical traces to be viewed and studied: they are insistently contemporary, with the potential to be continually and critically reordered or reactivated. The images also speak to the limits of the photographic and the documentary to allow us to fully access the past, as well as to contain it within a discrete and knowable time period distinct from our own.”
DeVun’s photographs are complemented by an eclectic selection of photo-based materials from ONE. This includes portraits from Nancy Rosenblum’s series “Some of My Best Friends… Portraits of Lesbians” (1979-85), depicting queer women the photographer knew or met including numerous writers, artists and activists, as well as photographs from her earlier series “VEGETABLES; a reaction to male violence against women” (1979), in which Rosenblum photographed herself snapping, smashing and cutting phallic vegetables. Also on view are works by amateur photographer Miles Everett, who obsessively photographed African American men beginning in the 1930s, but rarely exhibited the work; speaking about his legacy as a photographer, Everett referred to himself as “content to be unknown.” Additional art photography includes works by Steve Evans, David Greene, and Christian Walker.
Supplementing these works are archival photos from the personal collections of individuals at ONE. This includes the photo album of transgender philanthropist and pioneer Reed Erickson titled “Eric’s Ego Trip,” and photo albums from Matthew and Buddy of Glendale, which show elaborate themed costume parties held by the couple at their home in the late 1960s and early 70s. These, along with other photographs, connect the exhibition to little-known queer histories contained at ONE.
The majority of materials on view from ONE resonate as profoundly intimate objects or responses – as documents of a community, an event, a life lived or a political urgency – reflecting the deeply personal inflection of a queer archive. This exhibition also marks the first time many of the materials have been exhibited since entering the archive. By presenting contemporary works by DeVun alongside materials from the archives,Latent Images strives to inspire creative approaches for making historical memory an active process of discovery and reconsideration, while providing new insight into materials at ONE.