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Art Event Interview

Lola Flash Artist Talk

(Full video & Text transcription)

Jeanette:  we’re gonna just get started in terms of introductions. So, hi everyone. Thank you so much for joining us this evening/ morning / afternoon, wherever you are. My name is Jeanette Spicer and I am one of the members of women, WMN, which is a zine/magazine/publication. A dyke publication and we are a platform for visual art and poetry or writing for marginalized communities within the lesbian community. 

I’m an American based visual artist living in Queens and Florencia is showing some of our two issues that we just did.

Our first issue was about. folks who identify as a Dyke or lesbian living in rural areas of the US or smaller cities. And our second issue called Show Me What You Got just came out and that is about older generation lesbians and their art and poetry. And that was a international call. And we have a few, I think at least one person here who was part of our beautiful zine. JEB. Legend.

Florencia: Jane Kreinberg  [and Trish Stypka]  too.

Jeanette: Amazing. I can’t see everyone. I apologize. Florencia why don’t you?

Florencia: Hi. My name is Florencia Alvarado. I’m a Venezuelan visual artist, photographer and designer based in Brooklyn. I’m also co-editor of WMN zine and, or I’m so happy to have this group of people here and looking forward to Listen to Lola, I’m also a photographer. So I’m very interested in what you have to share with us today.

Thank you.

Sara: Hi, my name is Sara. I’m a Swedish designer living in New York as well, and also part of the WMN team. I’m so happy to be here with all of you.

Jeanette: So we’re gonna just get started. And so part of something that, we, as a team decided we wanted to do during COVID was kind of carve out our website to act sort of as an archive. We started reaching out to folks who we were aware of who are identifying as lesbian Dyke and are working in really any field. And so Lola Flash’s talk today is going to be part of our featured content on our website. And we’ve got a few other folks over the last several months that we’ve, that have contributed to that site. We also allow, submissions or love submissions I should say, not allow. And, um, and it’s really any anyone with any background. So if you’re interested or, you know, anyone that might be interested, we would love to have you on the site. It can be anything from an artist talk to just a short interview or just maybe if you make visual art, just putting up your visual art in a bio. We are so grateful to have Lola flash here, also legend, Amazing Dyke photographer and I’m going to give a short bio for those who are not maybe as familiar with Lola’s work.

Working at the forefront of gender queer visual politics for more than three decades, photographer Lola Flash’s work challenges stereotypes, and gender sexual and racial preconceptions. An active member of ACT UP during the time of AIDS epidemic in New York city flash was notably featured in the 1989. Kissing doesn’t kill poster. Her art and activism are profoundly connected, fueling a lifelong commitment to visibility and preserving the legacy of LGBTQ plus and communities of color worldwide. They are currently a proud member of Kamoinge Collective. Flash’s practice is firmly rooted in social justice, advocacy around sexual, racial and cultural difference.

As we sort of described in the email, for those that had a chance to read it. Lola’s going to speak about the trajectory of her career and the last several years, decades of work and I will. It’ll be a little bit of a conversation. I’ll be asking just a few questions here and there and we’ll continue to see the end of that work and then we’ll eventually open it up to a Q and A. That can take place in the form of a question that you might put into the chat, or if you want to do a little virtual hand raise or a real hand raise. We will try to get to as many people as we can. We’ll have about 10 to 15 minutes for Q and A. We would love to get everyone’s questions. We certainly probably don’t have enough time for everyone’s depending on how many people are asking questions, but feel free to put them in the chat. And please remain muted while really anyone is speaking, unless you’re asking a question. This is a recorded zoom talk just so everyone is aware of this is recorded. And again, this will live eventually on our website, under the featured content. So you can always check back and see it there as well.

So I’m going to hand it over to Lola.

Lola: Great. Thank you for that introduction, Jeanette, I’m going to go ahead and start sharing my screen.

I’d like to thank you all at WMN zine for inviting me. I like to say hello to all the dykes out there in the house. As much as  want to be this beautiful queer family sometimes. You know, I think for some of us dykes, we feel a little bit like a stepchild, so. In many ways it’s I liked the fact that we’re, this is dedicated to us. All right. So here we go. Thanks for everyone who’s coming. Who came. I saw Campbell X just came in the house. Uh, you’ll see a picture of them soon.Um, this is great. Really, really wonderful. All right. So here we go.

I am Lola Flash. I’m an artist and activist who’s committed to using photography, to challenge, stereotypes, and offer new ways of seeing. My work is directly related to my conflict with society and the absence of seeing my own reflection. Each of my portrait series speaks to a part of me be it my sexuality, race, gender or age.

I love the medium of photography and its ability to visually allure while initiating change. So here’s a picture of me with my trusty four by five, um, on a rooftop in Atlanta with my friend, Steven. We’re photographing him for my Surpassing series, which I’ll show you more about. I went to college in Maryland. Maryland Insitute of Art. This is the old building on the right-hand side and directly across the street is the newer building that has all the technology. I graduated in 81. That means that when I went to college, there was no digital cameras. I wanted to do a bit of film and they had super eight. Um, but while I was there, I started this process, which I call cross code. What happened was, um, my dad and I used to meet in New York,  and he’d buy me all the different equipment I needed, you know, paper, film, and such, because again, there were no digital cameras. And the Cibachrome paper. So Cibachrome, for those who don’t know, was this beautiful paper that you would print a slide on too and you get these really rich colors. But Cibachrome was also very difficult to, uh, to Manipulate. So I’d probably go home and go back to school and probably spend, you know, 12 hours in the dark room and ended up with hardly anything. And I thought to myself, gosh, I’ve got all these slides. What am I going to do with them? I looked around and there was all this negative paper. So paper that you would print the negative on too. And I thought I’ll just try that. And I got all these amazing colors. Now, let me just backtrack a little bit.

The reason why I’ve always used slide film  I, and I still use slide film today. Transparencies. Um, is because my grandfather took me to meet a national geographic photographer. Um, this would’ve been in the 70s. And, uh, he told me that they all used slide film because it gave this beautiful color. Now, of course they all use digital now, but that got me thinking, you know, I just really loved this bright color.

So going back to the cross color. My teachers were saying to me like, “Lola, what are you doing?” You know, and I was like, “I don’t know. I just love the color.”  I started thinking about it, right. And I started thinking about, well, actually what I’m doing is I’m reversing the colors. So this picture on the right-hand side, um, can anyone tell me what you think that is? What’s happening there in the right hand side picture with the red?

Florencia: Looks like lava.

Lola: Right. It looks like lava right? Yeah. A lot of people thinks it looks like lava or he’s in the water, but it’s actually in the sand. I dug a little hole in the sand and I put the dog in there and he loved it. It’s really cool in there. And he actually was kinda nodding out and I was kinda like, “Hey, wake up, I’m taking your picture.” It was so nice in there. Um, so I kind of love that kind of, um, almost collage effect are still real effect that it created an addition to the color, but because I was in a academic environment, um, you know, the teachers were making me like, make sense of it.

And so I decided, you know, I started thinking like, Hmm, Black is white and my pictures, you can see the Coca-Cola sign, right? So the opposite of red is a, is a cool color. The opposite of, um, So the opposite red is this blue. What’s actually green, but I kind of made it blue. So I started thinking black is white and my pictures and white is black. And it took me all the way back to a time when I used to love playing with the dictionary. Back in the day a lot of times people had dictionaries on display and they used to have these little things that you could put your finger in to get like the A or the B, or stick your finger in there. And I just, there was something tactical about it that I just loved. I’m sure I remember reading that black was bad. That black was, was dirty. It was wrong. Right? But white it was beautiful. Perfect. Right. Angelic.

Growing up as a little black girl in New Jersey. You know, I never talked to anyone about that, but I think it’s kind of laid heavy on my shoulders. And so I was thinking, wow, what I’m doing is I’m actually changing the people, right? So no longer are black people bad. They’re good. 

Right. So this guy here is, is, uh, is a black person. It’s actually from my, uh, another thing that was kind of cool about it was like, I could do different series. Like this is actually my picking nose series. But you can’t really tell that he’s picking his nose because of, you know, because of this process. I think throughout my career, I’ve kind of gone through, uh, or have created an image that’s that are both, emotional sad and some that are funny and silly.

As Jeanette mentioned, um, I was part of ACT UP, you know, I graduated from college in 1981 and, that was the first year to someone have been diagnosed with AIDS. You know, as we call it now, HIV.

It seems as though, as soon as I got out of college, that was what we were all thinking about, you know, the queer community. I moved around a little bit, Atlanta after college, Philly, and then I ended up in New York in the late eighties, right at the time when ACT UP was starting. I can’t really remember how I started in ACT UP, is just like one morning I woke up and I was there.

So here’s this iconic now poster of me on the end kissing Julie Tolentino, who at the time we were partners. It says “kissing doesn’t kill greed and indifference do” and the tagline below is just so synonymous with what’s going on now. Corporate greed, government inaction and public indifference makes `AIDS a political crisis. We can just put COVID in there, right?

I mean, it’s still the same people that are being disproportionately affected, right?

The sort of more frivolous part about this photograph is that we know we went to this studio in Tribeca and we just kissed everyone. You know, it wasn’t about like me and Julie, it was a bigger picture. Right. We used to always do kissing-ins. We would go these different parts of New York. Usually busy places in Manhattan, and we’d have these demos where we would just block traffic and we just started kissing each other.

This was at a time when people thought that you could contract.These would be through kissing. Um, so it went, it was a national, um, poster and, um. You know, so to be honest, we did this and probably the next thing we did was like go to the hospital to visit someone who’s sick.

Go to a funeral or go to an active meeting. A lot of what’s going, what went on during that time, I’ve really kind of probably just put it away in my mind. And I don’t really remember a lot. But luckily I have some of my photos to remember Miami of what I did. So I continue doing this.

This color, this color process, um, for 20 years, actually, to the end of that century. And you can see here on the left-hand side, the AIDS quilt. Um, which has stopped me in my tracks. I saw a flash and, you know, it just kinda was like a reminder, like, like, wow, that could be me.Right. That could be me that had contracted HIV. So. For those of you that don’t know. I think probably everyone knows, but just as a really refresher. The AIDS quilt was something that was started., I think sort of like in the late eighties, around 89 or 88. Basically family members or friends would make a quilt section for,for their, their lost, loved ones. And then they sold them together. Um, but it, it didn’t take very long for them, for the quilt. To not be able to be split displayed in one place because of the exponential rate of the death of those folks.

This young man on the right hand side,they’re viewed as another person who, um, another one of my friends who passed away from HIV. So, um, this is a recent picture. I don’t normally throw this picture in, but, um, you know, I just saw Tracy Litt my friend from ACT UP. And we, you know, most of us from ACT UP were kind of like this family and we we’ve sort of stayed together or we all have still kept our friendship is what I’m in state.

I’m on the left-hand side is, is Ray. Julie and I are looking at, at each other, all googly eyed. I don’t remember that part of, I mean, I’m sure that happened, but, and then here you see on the right-hand side this is raised partner. And I always fixed space Alvin’s thing. It’s raised partner. I’ll remember it and you could see me pushing it. And there’s Julie next to me. And like, you know, for one of the things that I think I’m also excited about this conversation is that it. It’s a multi-generational conversation. Do you all know about the pride parade, but you know, it was a large, and I’m sure those of you who’ve read history books, know that. I can’t remember pushing either one of them.  You know, you can see, they were both obviously very thin, very sick, but they still had so much energy and so much power in them. They were still, you know, fighting to the very end. And, you know, It wasn’t.

You know, who would I think about it now? Like, I don’t really see many people pushing their friends in wheelchairs in these praise now, but this was just like what we did. We put on our, all of our different like shirts. Mine says AIDS is killing artists. No homophobia is killing art. And, you know, we always, you know, especially if I went uptown, I always made sure I had ACT UP shirt on.Thank goodness that Tracy has some of these wonderful photographs.

When you’re in this kind of a situation, you know, the urgency is, is just so profound that. One of the things that is amazing about ACT UP is that it became family. We didn’t because of the rate of death. Amongst our cohort. You know, we didn’t have time to, to be like, Oh, don’t like that plaid shirt or that hairstyle. Right. We just kind of would like, you want to help then come on in and help. And one of the things I loved about actable, so it was that we had. If you were a scientist, of course you were important part in the organization. But if you were a club kid, you were also very important because you would pass out condoms and all kinds of safer sex, you know, um, literature that we had had made. It was a time for me to be able to put my body in the street. I got arrested a lot. There was always lawyers outside arm to make sure that we didn’t get lost in the system.

And this picture is entitled for me, I was sitting on the beach one day in Provincetown, one of my favorite places to go. I just looked and there was this wheelchair and I thought to myself, Who is differently abled. I didn’t see anyone. And, you know, I looked around, I didn’t see anyone. I just sat there for a minute, take a deep breath. And I thought, I bet you it’s Ray. He probably wanted to come to the beach. And be with me cause he had just passed away a couple months earlier, you know? And I think we all deal with definitely in a different way, different ways. But for me, I know that Ray is proud of me. And on that. He wouldn’t want me sitting around, feeling sad for myself. 

Let’s get a little choked up around that point. This is the women’s caucus. Um, lots of people. There’s Sarah shown in there to the right. In the back, she’s coming out with a book in 2021, all about ACT UP it’s about this. So I think she’s covered just about everything. Which a lot of Tracy’s photos are in it. There’s Jill next to me, she’s a lawyer. And lots of other people, I can remember their faces, but not their names. But one thing that is obvious, to me. I don’t think I really thought about it when I was in ACT UP. You know, it was mostly white people. And when I think about the demonstrations that are happening now, and even in the 60s, when you think about, you know, people that look like me being hosed down, You know, we never, we got arrested, but we never worried about getting shot. You know, and, and it’s, so this kind of police brutality is as many of us knows it’s, it’s something that’s been happening for a very long time.  It sucks.

My time when I was a bartender at the Clit Club.Which, uh, I was speaking with Jeanette earlier. So I was the bartender we used to like go. I remember going to the, um, the bookstore and getting like DVDs. And bringing my DVD player, you know, I would bring all my stuff too, like in my little Volkswagen to the club.And we’d set everything up and would take us hours to set up eventually got like things in place. But when we first started out, it was really kind of like, bringing our stuff from our apartments. And then I started photographing lot of the women and doing slideshows. So, so this would have been one of the slides. This is just kind of like a, another kind of color. A collage of some of the images that I would have shown… 

We had a lot of biker girls. We stood actually just used to hang with leather biker girls and on Sunday mornings, we would meet in front of the Clit Club and then we’d go protests someplace upstate and nowadays it’s funny we go to the diners and we used to be like, they’d be like kind of scared of us all in our leathers and, still kind of probably the same haircut, you know by the time they kind of got to know us. Sometimes I remember one time, this guy on the bar and he opened it up for us so we could play pool. And there wasn’t as much of a, like the people who aren’t a stereotypical. We had some good times.

So in the screen can someone tell me what symbol is in this logo?

Someone is saying: Arrow. Right. The arrow. Exactly. So the arrow that’s here, which in the negative space between the E and the X, right. It’s an arrow. And obviously it means that it’s taking your package forward. Right. And that’s why graphic designers get paid so much money.

Cause they’re so clever, right? And so for those of you who didn’t know that whenever you see this FedEx sign, you’re gonna think of me. No, I’m just kidding. You’re going to, you’re going to see it, right. You can’t look at this, this logo without seeing that, that arrow. The more, you know, I’ve ruined it for you. But the reason why I like to start off with, or I want, I like to talk about this is because.

Now that I taught you how to see the arrow. Now, you know that right? Our families. Our friends. Uh, the media. They all teach us how to see. So we all have these biases.

And so as I show you. The next, lot of my work, which was done in this century, the 21st century. I want you to look at the portraits and I really want you to just throw away your biases. You know, Jeanette says it’ll be early, like unlearn, you know what we’ve been taught and just kind of look at the beauty. Okay, so do that for me. I’m going to read a little bit about this one. My lifelong series is entitled surpassing and an exam is the tragic impact skin pain skin pigmentation often plays on the black identity. Surpassing a shot on high vistas, traces the slave trade and get as a spectrum of beautiful skin color. The subject’s assertively return the gaze without being confrontational. And by hanging the four foot by five foot photographs above eye level, the viewer has no choice, but to look up to these people, poses of characters from a Shakespeare melodrama. And, so. It’s about skin color and the advantages and disadvantages that people get because of whatever shade they are. For me, it’s a real kind of cathartic look at, you know, it helps me work away. The guilt that I have for being light-skinned, you know, I grew up knowing that my grandmother used to pass. She used to go to the train stations when she was down South and she was standing in the white lines because they were cleaner, quicker. And then of course, when she got on the train, she would go in the black Negro section. Right. This was obviously during segregation. But I never really thought about myself and I never thought about how, you know, this sort of myth of light being better is carried forth into this 21st century and for this series what I really want to do is I want to eventually show it at the Guggenheim so that I can start off with the light-skin portraits, hung at the bottom, and then spiral my way all the way up to the dark skin portraits being at the very top to visually sort of squash the idea that light skin is better than dark skin because. I know any black person that’s out there. You have a very light-skinned cousin and a very dark skinned cousin and everything in between. These things, people are talking about these things, even now, you know, I’m thinking about, well, for me the first time when we got a black person in the white house.

Everyone was saying, well, if Obama was a dark skin brother then he probably wouldn’t have gotten in, right. If he looked like Mike here on the right-hand side. People are saying that about Kamala too right, too. Her hair, you know, her skin color that people somehow are, are make it so that she’s not really black. I’ve had people say that to myself. So that’s what this series is about, they’re up on high vistas so that they’re the biggest things, right. And for those of you who are photographers you know, that there’s a certain kind of visual language that we use and sometimes borrow from painters. So, you know, I looked at Italian painters who painted a lot of obility on high vistas to set, to say that, you know, visually these are like the ultimate, these are the, the big, the biggest things in the room. Right. And I purposely make the background out of focus so that, you know, you’re really your vision is, and your focus is really on these people. And you’ll notice in all of my work, mostly the people are looking at you, right?

The gaze is straight at you. And that has a lot to do with the fact that, you know, my ancestors, my slave ancestors, you know, could have gotten killed for looking at Massah in the wa in straight in the eye. Right? So it’s like this constant thirst of thing that I’m spinning into my work. “Salt” I like to read little bits too, so here we go. In my series, “Salt” I make portraits that feature iconic women who I strive to be like my grow up. They are age 70 years plus, and still fiercely engaged in their life’s work. In a culture where beauty is equated with youth, these women are not only beautiful, but accomplished and still making significant contributions to society. So I think when I was about 40, I still started thinking about like, you know, what kind of older lady am I going to be? You know? I’m figuring out how they’re going to be that older lady that has like shocking blue hair. And probably still have a similar type of Mohawk. Um, and you know, because my mom was a single mom, my grandmother raised me a lot. And, um, so I think I always had this love of older women and, um, so I just started looking around me and photographing some of the women that I knew and then started to ask friends of mine who had, um, grandmothers or knew people that would be great for the series. And this series really is really about the fact that women, as most of you know in some ways, I feel like I’m talking to the choir, but as you know, women, unlike men, once we get to like 28 or 30, we’re going to toss out the window and a new set of younger folks come in.

This series is to remind the women that they’re still beautiful because even as society says that they’re not, I see the beauty and I’m sure some of you can see the beauty, right. This little lady here on the right hand side Ms. Esther Cooper, Jackson just turned 103 in August and she’s sharper than me. I mean, when I call her, she’s like “Lola, I saw your work in the Smithsonian magazine. Great job”.

And it’s, it’s just, it just fills my soul. Like I get, like, I usually get a bit of a, a natural high from a photo shoot, but this particular series, I think I get the highest of them all. You know, they’re radiants and just kind of like infects me.

And then on the left-hand side, we have Agnes Gunn, who is an amazing philanthropists in New York city. You know, talking about biases. I think a lot of times, if someone is rich, we sort of all kind of sneer at this at the rich person. Well, all rich people aren’t awful. I mean, if all people were like an Aggie. Um, there’s actually just a new film about her. Then the world would be a better place. She has done so much for the New York art scene. And she just sold, I think about a year ago she sold her Lichtenstein for, I don’t know how many millions in order to begin a task force or organization that is concentrating on the incarceration system. Which is something I’ll come back to. On the right is Tony parks, Gordon parks, his daughter, and you can just see in her body posture that she is something else.

She passed away. Unfortunately, some of the women have passed away and I’m glad to have gotten them before they did. But she, yes, she was forced to be reckoned with. And unless they had left hand side is a woman called Nettie who is the President of the board of directors at Penn and brush. Penn and Brush gallery, is one of the most amazing galleries I think in the world. They have just put me up on a pedestal and, whenever I feel the least bit sad, I go there and I leave there feeling brand new. “Surmise”. “Surmise” is insiders accounts that many ways, gender prayer, people are perceived and how visual representations of gender affect both our individual psyches and the broader society. This ongoing portrait series features images of people who appear gender fluid. And who present themselves on apologetically and almost confrontationally.

So on the left-hand side is Billy. I called Billy mom. Sadly, my mom passed away at the beginning of like, 2002, and, uh, so Billy has become my mom and Billy someone I can depend on. Billy is trans. And got a boob job. I think probably when they were about 70. I won’t make a big deal about it, but you know, just like fashion, you know, language is also generational. So one minute I’ll call Billy mom, and the next minute I’ll use They pronoun. “He” and Billy doesn’t flinch.

Billy has a couple of other trans friends and it’s a hoot and we hang out like, um, Irene who is 80 something. And we just have a ball laughing, um, and, and the pronouns can just be exchanged just really very gingerly and free. Because, you know, at the end of the day both of them both of the two people I’m thinking about Billy and Irene, they both married women when they were young. And it wasn’t till the 30s that they, you know, because that’s, what was the tradition back then, and so when they got into their thirties and, um, you know, this sort of  testosterone kind of started like fading. And I think they just started realizing that that’s not what they wanted to do, you know? You know, there’s actually, now both of them are still friends with their family. They’re still with their families. But my point is that they are just happy to walk around.

Presenting the way that they want to write that’s their thing, because they couldn’t do that when they were my age. Right. And so that’s, there’s just different kinds of liberation. One more point on that, it’s like my grandmother, when in the 60s, when my grandma, my cousins and I came to my grandmother’s and we were like, Grandma we’re black and we’re, we’re proud of, you know, my grandmother was like, I’ll never be black. You know, and at the time I thought to myself Oh, grandma’s like, so, you know, she’s so old fashioned, you know, but now I realize a course, she probably had been called Blackie and all these other kinds of awful words. And so she didn’t want to commit to this new, uh, iteration of black, just like queer. Right?

So. Just keep that in mind.

And here’s some more folks. This is Utah. My brother from another mother and, um, Kimberly. A friend of mine from London. Just really quickly. I just wanted to talk about util all because when I first met in Utah, Utah, I think all of my models, I think it’s like love at first sight, to be honest with you, a photographic way. And, I didn’t know what pronoun to use, with Utah, you know, but I knew I wanted to photograph them. So I said, you know, when you come to New York again, Let’s do a shoot. They came through the door and sat down on the floor and they’re like, tell me everything. They wanted to know all about ACT UP and everything. And I was like, well, first of all, what pronoun do I use for you? And they said they, them. And I was like, Oh, so are you trans, I guess maybe if I wasn’t photographing them, I wouldn’t have needed to know so much information.

Utah just didn’t want to navigate life with boobs. And here I am. I’m like, really? You can do that because my generation, you know, we all took like ACE bandages and wrapped our boobs down as tight as possible. You know, I wear like the tightest sports bra ever.

I guess if I was younger, I probably would have done that, but it’s just not something that we thought to do. As you know, baby dykes. In the 80s. 

“Legends”. I’ll just speak about it. “Legends” is a series that I started and actually, I’ll tell you that the real story is. I was at Joe’s pub, one of my favorite places to go, and I saw this person. I won’t say their name. Cause I’m, you know, I’m all about love, not hate. But saw this person and I got so excited, they’re a trans person that’s on TV and I went over to them, and I said: Have you ever seen them before? It’s like, hi, have you ever seen them? And they said to me, “Do I know you?” I was like so shocked. I did not expect that at all. And I just kind of ran back to my table with my tail between my legs and I, you know, it’s just like horrified.

Well, the next morning I woke up and I thought to myself, she bloody well should know who I am. You know, anyone who knows me, I don’t really have a huge ego. I’m also really bad at immediate reactions, I have a delayed response and I thought to myself, If she had done her history if she knew her history, there’s people like me that helped her get to where she is to get to a point where we could have a trans person on TV. Right? I could never have dreamed of that when I was a kid. And so all the people that legends are, they’re all similar age is maybe a little bit younger, some a little bit older. But there are people who didn’t have LGBTQ centers to, to go to when they were young.

They didn’t have the L word. How to come out to your mom? I would have probably put her in front of the The L word and been able to like, say, “Well, mom I’m like them” But we didn’t have that. So Legends is all about that.

That’s DJ Lina. On the right? Yeah. It is, Buck Angel. Thank you. There’s Cheryl. And I’m sure everyone knows Cheryl. And Robin Cloud. Robin is kind of the baby in the family. She’s done a lot of amazing short films. And I think if you type Robin Cloud, you can find her website and she has some cool little clips of her work. Campbell X is my brother, my partner in crime. And on the right-hand side is Agusto. Agusto used to do drag back in the day.

Now we have “Syzygy, the vision”. This work is the culmination of all of my work. This project crystallizes everything that I’ve been doing for the last. 40 years. It started because this, this woman, I always have to look at her name. She’s a curator. Her name is Jaya Street Abidjan Don. And she has curated, a bunch of amazing shows in New York. We met in 2019. The short story is we both knew we were going to be in London at the same time. So I said, come on, let’s meet at the Autograph Gallery where I had my work there in 2019, I had a solo show there. And so she met with me and she was telling me how much she loved my work. Through her, luckily enough, I had a residency at the Woodstock Center for Photography. And you can see that the building behind me in that Serie, that’s actually the Artists in Residence House. So I actually was planning on just reading and kind of taking a breather, but because I had this opportunity to be in the show, I thought, let me just see what I can do on.

And so, you know, I saw that it had orange in the piping and I thought, perfect. You know, I’ve been really, really concerned about the incarceration system in America. Anyone who’ve seen. Ava DuVernay’s “The 13th” I mean, anyone who’s really alive who reads the paper, knows that the amount of people who look like me in jail is just, you know exorbitantly every year, it’s just more and more and more.

Right.

I have a lot of differents prison uniforms in my room. And I thought that orange one would go perfect with it. Right. And then of course, you know, the symbols that you use, we use, I had to, I knew that I needed to have some handcuffs and somehow I found these orange handcuffs. So that’s the visual language that us artists use.

For me, it’s my first time venturing into this kind of work. Anyway, but it’s, this kind of conceptual work is something I never thought I was gonna do, but. For me, I’m kind of doing, I think for me, cause conceptual work always does seem so complicated. You know, sometimes they stand in the museums and galleries and I’m kind of what is it? And I know that you don’t have to understand everything, but I feel like I’m doing mine sort of conceptual work 101.

So, once this year came 2020 came, you know I had a show in Baltimore. And then I was able to actually just, grab my work at a Baltimore and bring it home. And then COVID came. I was sitting there thinking, you know, sitting here at home kind of scared to go out. Like, I guess a lot of us were.

But then I would look out the window and I, you know, the hardly any cars I’m on second Avenue and they were hardly any cars going down the street. And I was thinking, I really want to take advantage of this, this quiet city that we never see.

It is a social distancing kind of like activity doing photography. I actually, some of the ones you’ll see, I actually did take on a tripod. But some of the other ones you’ll see were taken by Anna, who I think in this Zoom? You know, and it’s, it’s been a really cathartic process for me too, to be able to work during this time and sort of. Sometimes remote happiness. Sometimes not so much. I see like this yellow line, you probably, I don’t know if everyone could see this yellow line. I know it seems to just jumped up on my screen.

I think about words like lockdown, which, you know, they say we’re going in lockdown, but we don’t know us that are free. We don’t really know what a lockdown is. Language is so problematic.

This is a billboard that Save Art Space, put up in Brooklyn. And that’s was the first night that the MTA cleaned the subways. I thought I’ve got to get down there, you know, and no one really wanted to come with me. So I just grabbed my tripod. And to tell you the truth, I only got like maybe four pictures that were in focus and that was one of them. I just wanted to talk just a little bit more about coming towards the end of my talk. But I just wanted to talk a little bit more about Afrofuturism. So I’m hoping to get like maybe a hundred pictures on altogether.

And I think eventually you will see me possibly getting rid of my prison uniforms. And maybe put on something a little different. I’m not really sure just yet what it’s going to be. Um, but for those of you who don’t know, I mean, Afrofuturism is based on this idea that.

Black and Brown people can rewrite their own histories. A lot of times we weren’t written into history or if we were written into history, it was false.

In this image you can see that I have, these beaded bracelets that hark back to my African ancestry. And so, yes, I can just keep these kinds of symbols of my past, my present and my future, obviously the helmet would be a future thing, right. Many, many of my favorite artists, such as sun RA, the Funkadelic, Missy Elliott, Octavia Butler, Renee Cox, and, Janell Monae most recently are people who have been talked and played around with afrofuturism. And so it kind of crosses the span of the arts.

You know, because basically everything that we’re going through right now is it’s already happened before. Right? I mean, there have been viruses. There has always been racism and sexism. And so when I run out of energy to actually create my own work, I lay on these folks. One last thing about the series. To be transparent, heavy on my mind is the horror of America’s mass incarceration plight and the question of freedom. As much as I want to envision a positive eventual, I wonder can our truth seekers lead us to the place where we are superhuman?

Shedding our black bodies of institutionalisms. My soul is hopeful for divine future, where, we’re finally adept to run anew far away from the hate chatter and into a narrative of pure joy. So, yeah, I see myself at the, probably the last one. I’m going to be like jumping from Saturn to Uranus. I’m looking real happy, you know?

What you going to do when you’ve done your best and no one, no one, no one sees it that way. That is a quote or as part of a song that Toshi Reagan wrote. Toshi generously brought me into this project. She was working with “B” I forget his last name, but, B ends up not being able to follow through because of some personal issues. And Toshi reached out to me and she read methis lyrics and immediately I thought of my Syzygy series and I sent them a few images. And they loved it.

It’s now hanging in or it’s standing in Houston, Texas. It’s really cool. Like, it’s always been like a little bit of a secret ambition of mine to have a billboard. And so now I finally have one. I’m thinking about family legacy. We have here, Charles H. Bullock, who is my great, great grandfather. He’s the person on the right-hand side with the mustache and the hat black hat. On the left-hand side of your picture, you’ll see, Madam CJ Walker, who I’m sure you will know was the first black female millionaire in America. So I’m sure Oprah has got some pictures of her hanging in, in her place. And then the handsome Booker T. Washington. They’re in the middle. And then the other folks are like newspaper people and doctors. I’m sure many of them were there because they were benefactors. So the story goes that my great-grandfather, was hired by the YMCA, and he set up different YMCAs all over the States. So this one was in Indianapolis. He set up one in New Jersey, Montclair which is where I came from, where I grew up.

Back in those days during segregation they were called colored wise. It was a real Mecca for black and Brown people. They didn’t have any place to congregate. So they had parties at the YMCA. They learned how to swim, how to read. You know, and they felt they belonged.

And so, it’s in my mind, I’ve taken the Baton from my great grandfather.

You know, he knew back that we deserved better, that we as Black and Brown people deserve equity, you know? And so I feel it’s my duty to just grab that Baton and keep going. And if you’re saying I don’t have, you know, a great grandfather. Well, maybe it’s going to be you.

Maybe you’re going to be the next person that creates that family legacy. And maybe I’m standing next to Kamala Harris. Or Deb Willis, who, if you haven’t read any of her books, she’s the, one of the most amazing people I know. And who knows Rihanna.

You know, I think, I guess because I’m now 61 and three quarters I think about the future. I think about time and what I’m going to be leaving behind. You know, and it’s just really important to me. That’s really all I want to say, except for the last little point would be, my cousin Bumpsie passed away on Friday from COVID and he’s the first person in our family who passed away and I just wanted to dedicate this, talk to him.

He was so amazing. He was a black cowboy. He went to all the rodeos. He was really handsome. He never, every time we talked, he always asked about my partners. You know, he was just a really great person and, and I just want everyone to be safe because as you all it’s still out there. You know, so ya’ll thank you for being here with me. I’m going to come out of my little screen mode here and come with you all. Thank you so much. 

Q&A

Jeanette: Thank you so much, Lola, we have tons of activity happening in the chat, but Florencia and Sara are going to kind of navigate them. I was just going to ask a few questions.

Some things that stood out to me, you were kind of on a roll, so I just let you kind of let you do your thing and it was so great to hear.

I think it’s always wonderful, in artists talks to hear the actual background and understand the concepts and the ideas and how things came to be. I’m actually wondering if I could ask you to re-share your screen just so I could go back to some of the images, if you wouldn’t mind. There was just a few points that I think it’d be easier to make with the screen.

Lola and I were speaking earlier today and something that’s really important to me and to WMN publication, is this need for intergenerational dialogue, and that’s something that I’m also so grateful to have. We’re so grateful to have Lola here discussing, because, my generation is someone in my early thirties and people even younger, we have such a different understanding of pride. I think its really important for us to see images and Lola sharing stories about the community and speak to a time in which people were fighting for their lives. And not that we’re not now, cause we certainly are.

These two images are just, such a wonderful and joyful. I know you weren’t behind the camera in these particular images, but just the joy that I see of you and your partner at the time, and even the people in these compromised positions who are out there and, these images are so needed to be seen by everyone. I think as someone who’s part of the community, it gives me hope, but I also would love for these to be seen. And I know they have gotten out to wider audiences, but even wider audiences, which is something Lola and I were talking about too, is the lack of dyke representation. Period.

Especially in like the photo world. And as a photographer myself it’s so I’m hopeful to see another Dyke photographer. Especially of color whose finally being recognized in the way that you should have really been this whole time. Lola and I love the way that, as a fellow photographer that you talk about your use of film, um, the way that you work with the color. And I think something that stands out to me is.

How do you, when you are connecting with people on your deciding to take people’s portraits, ’cause they’re quite traditional, you know, aesthetically, are you, and you’re talking about kind of getting high and I can sort of relate to that. Are these all folks that, you know? and I guess I’m more referring to the maybe post-work of this, do you. Do you know, all of them often? or are they people that sometimes, you know of and as do you usually spend time with them beforehand? Or how do you, kind of, create that connection in order to create the portraits you usually reach out or is it more organic or is it kind of a mix?

LF: Um, well, first of all, um, I just wanted to say about Tracy. I think Tracy got the front cover for Sarah Schulman’s new book about ACT UP and I believe she’ll have a lot of her a lot of her work in Sarah’s book. So I’m really happy about that. I mean, I remember actually seeing this picture of Ray before, but I never saw Julie and I before. So, you know, like it just, I never saw that. And then this picture of Anthony, I never saw this. That’s the beauty of photography because our memories are not like you know,, you think you remember something, but it’s not really what would have happened. Definitely, most of the people are my friends. Most of them, I’m just going to move these along cause it does make me a little sad. So I’m just going. And move on to that what we want to that one.

So yes, generally most of the people are my friends. My friends have been very supportive of me. And that’s one thing and I’m going to come back to that. But when I’m working with my models, who are generally my friends. It depends upon a series. The series that I’m thinking about, like for the older lady series, sometimes I get them to talk about their grandchildren. It’s like the thing about like something happy. Cause I, you know, I don’t always need for them to smile, but I need to have some whatever’s going on inside their head be happy thoughts. Cause that kind of comes through their eyes.

For Surpassing. I tell people to think about pride, and to think about power. Think about someone that you admire. When I said that Carrie Mae Weems said “Oh, I’ll just think of you. And I just like went under my cloth. Like I was just kind of like, Oh my God, Carrie Mae Weems just said, you know. Just said. Um, so yes, I worked towards getting people to, um, to, to think about whatever kind of emotion I want them to, you know, To think to think about, um, and then just the other thing about my friends is that, um, you know, all my life. I’ve just been blessed with, with so many wonderful friends.

I mean, you know, you seen, my friends are up still, you know, they came from London, you know, and this is, I guess this is kind of if there is a good part about this, this virus is that we can like zoom to all these different places that we wouldn’t normally be, which is really amazing. As you said, my work is getting more well known. I’ve got some studio visits coming up next week that I’m super excited about. I won’t say too much about it. I don’t want to jinx myself, but, finally, I’m getting, I am getting known and what that means, it’s not really about me. I like to always say that, I’m like the modern day, Harriet Tubman, you know, like Harriet, didn’t say like y’all all down yonder is a river, good luck. You know what I mean? I know it’s a little dark out. She went and she took the people and she took them to the river. Right. And she went back and she kept doing that.

And for me, my joy or my success is like, our community’s success. That’s how I look at it. You know, when I look on Instagram and I see this person got this grant and that person got this residency. And I’m truly happy for them.

But like we were talking earlier, Jeanette, you know, we still are living in this patriarchal society and us dykes. You know what I mean, women are at the bottom of the old ladder, so to speak, and I know it’s dykes are even kind of lower than that. And then the Black and Brown dykes, or even lower than that, you know what I mean? So it’s, it’s for me. It’s. Maybe it’s corny, but that’s why I get up in the morning. You know what I mean? I’m kind of like, okay, what’s what do I have to work on? Now? That’s the substance thing that just keeps me going.

It shouldn’t have to be things there should be equity across the board. I kind of think to myself like, well, what would I be? What kind of art or would I be making? If everything was good.

JP: Yeah, absolutely. I’m so glad that we landed on this image and I want to also encourage people. Don’t be shy. Ask questions. So hopefully some people will throw some things in the chat. I just had another comment about this image. And then one other question, I think this is maybe one of my favorite images. First. I love the kind of inversion of color and that’s something that I feel like I haven’t seen a lot before. I love the gesture, just the whole aesthetic of this image, I think is so strong. And I love the way that we see the hint of the breasts and the person to the right… and it’s so kind of unclear, like what is this person’s gender and what exactly is going on and where are we? And I love that we’re not necessarily given that information, but we see such power in the gesture and in this sort of confrontation of, what we’re really confronted with as a viewer.

For me this, yeah, this image is just is so powerful and. I’m just really glad that you made it.

Another question that I had is in regards to sort of your more recent work like we were discussing earlier about Afrofuturism. And I had seen that work, I think first, when I went to your website and I’m curious because it seems like you’ve always turned your camera towards other people from what I’ve seen of your work, how it’s been navigating making self portraiture and also, I guess I could maybe think of why it might be conceptual for me as a viewer.

I’m curious about that experience, especially because I feel like it really coincides with, this challenge, we all have now of isolation and I know for myself as a photographer as well, it’s very challenging. I work with other people too and navigate that of finding folks to photograph, and I’m curious how that plays out for you with that experience as an artist of someone who’s been making work for so long, what that’s like and what that relationship with yourself is like through the lens.

LF: Yeah, well, um, you know, I think because my earlier work was, very traditional. I was very much under the influence of James Van Der Zee. He photographed the new Negro. And so I suppose I

in my mind, I was photographing like the new queer eye, the new black and Brown people than do you know, seasoned woman in every kind of very stylistic kind of very traditional type of way.

I do see some of that same kind of framing and composition. But it’s, it’s different because it’s me. I’m the reason why it started up. Well, the reason why the series, is me, is actually because in Woodstock, there’s not a lot of black people. I was like, okay, I’m doing Afrofuturism so needs to be a black person.

You know what I mean? So I kind of looked in the mirror and I thought, well, you’ll do you know.

That’s how that story. Although there’s a million people that are still really want to photograph, I don’t have to bother them right now. I photograph here my apartment and you can’t really tell, but it’s. You know, it’s a New York apartment. It’s big enough for me to do a shot, many of the legends series were done here. 

JP: You were just talking about photographing yourself.

LF: It’s been just really great because other than my buddy, Jim and Anna who are in this Zoom tonight, they live in the neighborhood and they have helped me do a few of the shoots because even though I could do it with a timer, like I did, I did a lot more up in Woodstock. There’s still this kind of fear in me that I really don’t want to be outside for too long. So if I bring one of my buddies along and then they can help me photograph myself.

Its conceptual because I’m making a story up, I’m making a narrative. I’m not just photographing a person that’s going to be in my  series, you know, I’m making this whole story up. It’s like a whole allegory. I’m thinking I’m hoping to go to West Africa. I really want us to photograph a lot of my outfits made of African prints. I mean, I don’t know when the incarceration system will get better, but, we have a new government coming in in January and things have got to get better. I mean, I can’t imagine them getting any worse. It’s like when you come from slavery and you’ve got this DNA in you that says “I’m going to be free one day”

I have to have hope. Maybe it’s not gonna be in my lifetime. I was arrested for being in the wrong place at the wrong time from walking while black, you know. It created a situation where I lost my job for a little while and I’m still paying off the debt from buying groceries because I wasn’t working because my teaching license was suspended.

You know what I mean? It’s people that look like me. Let’s put a face on what these people look like that get arrested for no reason whatsoever. 

JS: Anybody else have any questions?

Audience: What was the response to this image when you first showed it?

LF: This was part of my show at the Clit Club. Cute girls. Drinks. So.

 I think it was just part of the atmosphere. You know what I mean? We had downstairs, we had like sexy those sexy videos before DVD. VHS. Yeah. VHS. We would get these VHS and we’d have these kinds of like sexy VHS videos playing downstairs, and then we’d have the sexy slides show. My sexy photos going on upstairs. Even though I was part of ACT UP and we would have different kinds of shows I did not get included in a lot of those shows. I think part of it was a bit of Dykephobia. During the eighties and nineties, photography was still kind of like a new art, right? If you think about painting or sculpture, it’s still kind of new. I was doing this from 1980s to the 2000s and I just think people just in general, didn’t get the cross color process. Because first it was black and white and then it was color. And now here I’m doing this weird color. I think people just didn’t really get it.

And I also think maybe at that time, maybe I wasn’t as versed in my verbiage as I am now.

I’ve always been a little bit of a kind of quiet person and, I’ve learned over the years how to be an assertive person. This couple they were from Montreal. They were really crazy. It was a fun photo shoot. 

JS: We have a question from Ksenia.

Ksenia: Lola, I’m wondering if your use of reverse color and the earlier work, was it all informed by Jimmy photographs of the mid late 80s.

LF: No cause I created this in the 70s, so I’m not familiar with that artist at all. No, no reference to artists. 

Audience: Can you talk about the vernacular coded language used among dykes and lesbians and how did black lesbians/dykes connected in the 80s and 90s? Was there a “Hanky code: or something similar for lesbians?

LF: I think that was one of the wonderful things about the Clit Club. It was very diverse, there were so many different types of people. It was run by People of color,  girls of color. It was probably one of the few places I can remember that Dyke bars where it was such a great mixture of people. 

I see the younger folks when they were able to go to clubs. I see the change in. I know there’s a few parties and some other parties that are predominantly for people of color. I think they’re inclusive as long as you’re part of the community, you are welcome to come in, but it is predominantly for people of color. So I know a few kind of once a month parties. I have a few friends of mine have deejayed there

JS: Our generation,  I’m considered a millennial, I guess a little bit of an older millennial, but it feels a little bit like a loss of these spaces. And when we were discussing, Jeb. And I, when you really think about why those spaces existed such as the Michigan Women’s Festival and the lesbian communes, and many more of these bars that I think we’re down to 3 at this

point, if they even make it in New York. It was out of survival, it was out of a need and you had to really find those spaces.

I think Jeb really taught me that, you know, it wasn’t always great and it wasn’t always as wonderful as it might seem. When you look back at something that you weren’t necessarily a part of. think it is still hard not to miss that, not to want that as the generation that have

created apps like dating apps and the internet. So people aren’t prompted to go out as much, or they meet in different ways and you can access people totally differently. And you build community in a different way. So I would say like something that the 3 of us at WMN felt like we was missing. Not only in the art world, but I think communally is we love our queer whole LGBTQ+ community, but we really wanted to kind of carve a space for dykes because it can

get quite mixed, which is, which is awesome. And we want that.

It’s also like we were speaking before a little. It’s so important to have like physical spaces too.

Like Ginger’s in park slope, is pretty mixed, but you know, I would say it does lean more towards lesbian. Same with Henrietta Hudson’s same with Cubby Hole. But, you know, when you look at Stonewall, it’s traditionally for men and they have like a “girl’s night”. 

LF: I just love the word Dyke. I think that’s probably one of the reasons why I said yes to you all

Because, I don’t know what, what it is about the lesbian word. I don’t know why I don’t like it, but I just always liked Dyke, it sounds to me like I’m someone who’s like an activist, whereas lesbian sounds like. I don’t know. Maybe not as fun. I don’t really know what that means, but yeah, I definitely do like Dyke.

Audience: I’m in the beginning stages of starting a Dyke artists collective worldwide. Be in touch if you’re interested. Lola, will you join the Dyke artists collective, but really my question is, are you thinking of doing a photobook of any of your series?

LF: Yes, I will be part of your collective first answer.

Yes. I would like to do books. One of the things is that a lot of my crosscolor work. Its: its analog, right? So I have around 25, 24 boxes, and I need to get them scanned. So often when I write for grants, that’s one of the things I asked for money for, because they need to be scans. So as much as I would like the newer work that I did in the 21st century, I really feel the crosscolor work is something that people seem to really like it. Which makes me feel really happy because I had forgotten about it. You know what I mean? It was just under my bed, like I said,

I hardly have any scans of them because they’re so massive and they’re really hard to photograph,I have to like get these really expensive scans for each one of them.

So an answer to your question. Yes. I would love to have a book and I would like for it to be a complete book. I am in conversation with a couple of different people who are publishers. And we’ll see what ideas they have,

Audience: How important was it for you as an artist to have that kind of support early on and were your parents artists.

LF: My parents were teachers, both of them and it’s, it’s bizarre to me that I’m a teacher now. Because I, for for many years, like as soon as I got out of college, I was a waitress. I did every job that you didn’t need a degree for because I just really wanted that flexibility in my schedule be an artist. And then. I got into my thirties, my mom kept saying pension, pension. So I was like I actually love teaching, but they weren’t artists. They didn’t know anything about art, but they were so supportive. My mom bought me a dark room and ever since I had all different kinds of small cameras, this little Minox camera. I was an only child and always like looking around and taking pictures, nothing quite political when I started out. But when I got to college, I mean in High school and my mom got me a 35 millimeter camera and she bought me a dark room.

Sometimes when I do my talks I have a picture of them in my, in my talk.

I told my mom that I didn’t want to wear dresses.I knew at that early age that I was a big old Dyke and my mom was like horrified that she had made me wear dresses for so long.

My dad immediately then, which has taken me straight to the boy’s department. And by, you know, what I would call now a masculine clothes. It meant the world to me and it’s,

the reason why I can be like, yes, I’m Lola Flash “How can I help you?” 

 You know what I mean? Like it’s our stand in front of a crowd or even do these talks.

I mean, I know I’m just here at home, but I’m talking to a lot of people. I feel very blessed that I had them, it’s been long enough that I can talk about them and we’re thinking about them and not cry,  and really just feel so blessed that they sent me up. I was reading before I went to school and now that I’m a teacher, it sort of saddens me with some of the kids I work with in Brooklyn, because they just don’t have that support. And I worked towards being that person for them, you know, that person that can encourage them. I think it’s also one of those things that when you get older, you realize how fortunate you are when you’re young. You’re just kinda like jumping around, just thinking you’re cute. You know what I mean? And then like, as you get older, you realize like this, they didn’t have that experience. The same experience that I did,

you know?  Yeah, it’s the reason why, why I’m Lola Flash?

JS: Thank you, Lola. I think that’s that. There was just some nice comments and sort of conversation happening between people and people thinking you in the chat. So, yeah, I think that we can sort of end here and. Thank you so much. Lola for being here and giving such 

thoughtful and personal talk, I can see everybody look at you. Thank you so much, and thank you everyone for taking the time to be here. Thank you everyone for being here, please stay safe, we’ll see you next time.

More about Lola Flash:

Lola Flash, Syzygy III

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Lola Flash uses photography to challenge stereotypes and offer new ways of seeing that transcend and interrogate gender, sexual, and racial norms. She received her bachelor’s degree from Maryland Institute and her Masters from London College of Printing, in the UK. Flash works primarily in portraiture with a 4×5 film camera, engaging those who are often deemed invisible. In 2008, she was a resident at Lightwork. Most recently, Flash was awarded an Art Matters grant, which allowed her to further two projects, in Brazil and London. Flash has work included in important public collections such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.  Her work is featured in the publication Posing Beauty, edited by Deb Willis, currently on exhibit across the US, and she is in the current award winning film “Through A Lens Darkly”. Flash’s work welcomes audiences who are willing to not only look but see.

19 replies on “Lola Flash Artist Talk”

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