Heike Bauer, Melina Pappademos, Katie Sutton, & Jennifer Tucker, co-editors, Radical History Review 142: “Visual Archives of Sex” (January 2022).

Editors’ Introduction: “Visual Histories of Sex: Collecting, Curating, Archiving,” Radical History Review 142 (2022): 1-18. [Free online through Duke Univ. Press].

The contributors to ‘The Visual Archives of Sex’ theme issue of Radical History Review study the visual histories of sex by examining symbols, images, film, and other visual forms ranging from medieval religious icons to twenty-first-century selfies.

This image features in Carol Leigh’s curated art section of the RHR theme issue.
Photo by Dejan Habicht; courtesy of Tadej Pogačar (2001).

Writing about the issue, a reviewer from Birkbeck College, University of London says in a blog that,The histories they tell are manifold and often surprising. They range from the role played by police mugshots and private photographs in documenting the lives of working-class trans women in Spain during the late Franco regime, explored by Javier Fernández Galeano (postdoctoral fellow at Wesleyan University), to the racialised production of American beauty ideals after World War II, as shown by Yale English Professor Sunny Xiang. Germanist Kyle Frackman, from the University of British Columbia, explores visual erotica in East Berlin’s queer underground during the 1970s. Birkbeck’s own Lynda Nead, Pevsner Chair of Art History, in turn examines photographs of Ruth Ellis, who in 1955 became the last woman to be hanged in Britain, to explore the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which gender norms shaped her (self) image and public reception.”  

A curators’ roundtable discussion hosted by Bauer and Sutton features reflections by Ashkan Sepahvand, curator of Odarodle: An imaginary their_story of naturepeoples, 1535-2017, which reckons with the colonial imbrication of Berlin’s Gay Museum (2017), Jeanne Vaccaro, co-curator of Bring Your Own Body: Transgender between Archives and Aesthetics (New York 2015), Annette Timm, co-curator of TransTrans: Transatlantic Transgender Histories (Berlin 2019-20), and Meg Slater, co-curator of Queer, the first exploration from a queer perspective of the collections held at National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne. The project also includes reflections by João Florêncio and Ben Miller on the importance of gay porn for sub-cultural history, and Sarah Jones on teaching the history of sexuality with images as well as interviews with Roland Betancourt (about Byzantine sexual politics), Derek Conrad Murray (about Robert Mapplethorpe, Black Lives Matter and selfie culture) and Topher Campbell from ruckus!, the London-based Black LGBT community archive. It concludes with a curated art section featuring the work of activist Carol Leigh.  


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Jennifer Tucker is a historian who studies the interrelations of art and science, photography, and mass visual culture, with a specialization in 19th to mid-20th century British, U.S., and trans-Pacific history. The common threads in her diverse research fields are the dynamics of visual media in modern history, the nature of evidence, public perceptions and practices of history, and the interrelationships of science, technology, and the law.

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