Outsiders

Unknown American, Susanna in a pink, green and yellow dress, sitting with friends, 1960s. Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario Purchase, with funds generously donated by Martha LA McCain, 2015 © Art Gallery of Ontario

The Art Gallery of Ontario’s recent photography exhibit, “Outsiders: American Photography and Film,
1950s–1980s”, was a new, AGO-curated exhibition of more than 300 photographs and five films by such American masters of photography and cinema as Diane Arbus, Garry Winogrand, Nan Goldin, Gordon Parks and Robert Frank.

Photography by Ian Lefebvre
Photography by Ian Lefebvre

Editor Sophie Hackett has turned the exhibit into a book (Amazon, Goodreads), compiling the art that challenged the rigid social rules of the postwar era and continues to challenge society today.

This book, and the exhibition it accompanies, begins in the 1950s and covers a period of four decades during which American culture underwent profound transformation. The work these artists produced was motivated, in part, by a sense that the status quo was untenable, and that the current expressions of American life did not reflect what they knew and saw of the world, ~ editor Sophie Hackett

Unknown American, Susanna and three friends outside, 1964-1969.Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario Purchase, with funds generously donated by Martha LA McCain, 2015 © Art Gallery of Ontario
Unknown American, Susanna and three friends outside, 1964-1969.Collection of the Art Gallery of Ontario Purchase, with funds generously donated by Martha LA McCain, 2015 © Art Gallery of Ontario

Of interest to me was this one of the cross-dressers in the photographs from the 1960s from Casa Susanna, where brave men who donned ugly dresses in the name of freedom, their strength and passions were also posted on the subway walls. Literally.

Image promoting an art exhibit in the Toronto subway
My photograph of an image promoting the Outsiders photography exhibit in the Toronto subway

The unease of the non-white women in this photograph is palpable. I can’t help but think it’s enforced silence – “shut up or I’ll have you deported!” Unwilling beards who wanted a better life, captured in this moment of LGBT history. I want to know more about these women, wants their stories, their voices. I want them to stop being silent. Instead, I have only this image of a moment in their lives.

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