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Illuminating LGBTQ Movers and Shakers

An exhibition of more than 80 images of notable LGBTQ people is currently on view in San Francisco’s City Hall. Open to the public, this exhibition of portraits features celebrities and Bay Area notables photographed by Bay Area native Roger Erickson. Curator Meg Shiffler, Gallery Director for the San Francisco Arts Commission, felt it was necessary to include members of San Francisco’s “creative community” in addition to nationally recognizable figures like Wanda Sykes, Rachel Maddow and Chris Colfer. “The SFAC Galleries,” Shiffler writes, “is committed to exhibiting the work of diverse artists representing diverse communities. ‘OUTspoken: Portraits of LGBTQ Luminaries‘ exemplifies this ongoing commitment.”

“OUTspoken” opened June 7 and runs through October 16, 2015. We asked Shiffler to tell us more about the exhibition.

Photo District News: Where did the idea for the show come from?

Meg Shiffler: Roger contacted the SFAC Galleries with an exhibition proposal. He grew up in the East Bay and was excited at the prospect of mounting his first major exhibition in the Bay Area. When we began to speak about the exhibition it became clear that it was best suited for our City Hall space, where the SFAC Galleries curates/produces three exhibitions annually. Our City Hall space features up to 100 works of art per exhibition, so it took about a year of working together before we were ready to mount the show.

PDN: What were some of the things you had to consider for the exhibition?

MS: The show needed to open in June to correspond with our local PRIDE celebrations, and it needed to feature local luminaries alongside the national figures. Roger was extremely excited about the idea of photographing Bay Area LGBTQ movers and shakers, and adding those images to his substantial portfolio. In addition to photographing Supervisors Campos and Wiener, the local subjects came from various segments of the arts community. The culturally diverse group features both established and emerging forces from various sectors of our LGBTQ community. The curatorial decision was made to section the 77 works into thematic groupings, with the local subjects integrated with the national subjects. This exhibition re-enforces the important role San Francisco plays at the forefront of  the national and global dialogue about LGBTQ equal rights.

PDN: How did you pick the images for the exhibition?

MS: The final selection of images for the exhibition was a shared curatorial effort between Roger and the SFAC, where I, along with Associate Curator Jackie Im, worked on curatorial aspects of the exhibition. It was an incredibly positive experience working with Roger, and ultimately we decided to exhibit almost all of his existing portfolio next to the 22 newly commissioned Bay Area images. Then images were selected to be featured on 9′ x 6′ photographic banners in the North Light Court at City Hall, and on posters in 40, 3′ x 12′ downtown kiosks on Market Street from the Embarcadero to the Castro.

We worked very hard to make the photograph of the Gay Men’s Chorus [Slide 2] happen, and the shot is incredible. This was a very very challenging shoot, but the resulting epic image features about 150 Chorus members in tuxedos lounging on the steps of City Hall’s grand staircase in the Rotunda. We’re grateful to all of our subjects, and to the members of the Chorus especially for their patience and good humor.

PDN: What do you hope City Hall visitors take away from the show?

MS: This has been a year of great strides in LGBTQ equality and awareness. Among other things, 37 states now have legalized same-sex marriage, and the transgender and queer identity dialogue is at the forefront of media coverage. That said, there are still an incredible number of issues for the LGBTQ community to overcome. “OUTspoken” features bold, ambitious and successful individuals that have made it a point to be out and proud in their communities and within their professions. We hope that people will leave the exhibition with a sense of celebration for the ongoing work of the artist, the successes of the individual subjects and the LGBTQ community at large. And housing this exhibition in SF City Hall will remind visitors the role San Francisco and its citizens have played, and are still playing, in two arenas: fighting for civil rights and enriching the world through diverse cultural production. —Amy Wolff

Related: Picture Story: Breaking Free of a Gender Box (for PDN Subscribers only; login required)

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