Faux photos: Abigail Solomon-Godeau first Goldfarb lecturer

Art historian, curator and cultural critic Abigail Solomon-Godeau will discuss The Fae Richards Photo Archive (1997), an artist’s book by Zoe Leonard and Cheryl Dunye, in the inaugural Goldfarb Lecture in Visual Arts at York University on March 2.

Left: Abigail Solomon-Godeau

Drawing on her extensive work in the fields of photography, contemporary and 19th-century art, and feminist and critical theory, Solomon-Godeau’s illustrated talk, “Out of the Archives & Into the Streets: The Fae Richards Archive,” will look at the artist’s book as a medium of artistic and social commentary. (An artist’s book is most simply defined as a book created as an original work of art, rather than a reproduction of a pre-existing work.)

Cheryl Dunye is an African-American lesbian director, screenwriter and filmmaker whose work explores issues of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. Zoe Leonard is an artist and activist whose primary artistic medium is black-and-white photography. She co-founded the group Fierce Pussy in the early 1990s to protest discrimination against homosexuals.

The Fae Richards Photo Archive was originally created for Dunye’s spirited short film, The Watermelon Woman, which was shown at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York as part of the museum’s 1997 Biennial Exhibition. A faux-documentary about a fictitious person, the film tells the story of Fae Richards, a black lesbian actress and singer of the 1930s.


Above: An image from The Fae Richards Photo Archive

Arranged as a photo album, The Fae Richards Photo Archive contains snapshots, film stills, publicity photos and a few brief captions about the life of its fictitious central character. Emulating the form of a fan’s scrapbook, the book explores the lost history of black actresses in the Hollywood film industry. At the same time, it is a meditation on historical absence and the limits of the archive.

In providing a perspective on the marginalization of black women – especially black lesbian women – in American visual culture, The Fae Richards Photo Archive invites the viewer to consider the uses of marginal forms such as the artist’s book.

Solomon-Godeau is the author of Photography at the Dock: Essays on Photographic History, Institutions and Practices (1991), and Male Trouble: A Crisis in Representation (1991). Her essays, which have been widely anthologized and translated, have appeared in journals such as Afterimage, Art in America, Camera Obscura, October and Screen Education, and in many exhibition catalogues. Her curatorial work includes the exhibitions Sexual Difference: Both Sides of the Camera; Mistaken Identities and The Image of Desire: Femininity, Modernity and the Birth of Mass Culture in 19th-Century France. She has just completed a book titled The Face of Difference: Gender, Race and the Politics of Self-Representation, and is working on a new book called Gender, Genre and the Female Nude in French Art. She is a professor in the Department of the History of Art & Architecture at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Solomon-Godeau will deliver the Goldfarb Lecture in Visual Arts on Tuesday, March 2 at 3pm. in Room 312, Joan and Martin Goldfarb Centre for Fine Arts at York University. This free public lecture is generously supported by Joan and Martin Goldfarb. For more information, please call ext. 55187.