Dark Room: Handling queer photographs: Sam Dolbear

Dark Room: Handling queer photographs: Sam Dolbear
Archive Shelf Location BALTIC2021M / 24/18.CHRI
Publication Date 21 Dec 2021

Coinciding with Phyllis Christopher’s exhibition Contacts at BALTIC and the publication of her book Dark Room: San Francisco Sex and Protest, 1988-2003 (Book Works, 2022), Ariel Goldberg, Languid Hands and Sam Dolbear contribute to a digital noticeboard reflecting on their own encounters with queer photographic archives.

Phyllis Christopher prints her photographs in home and community darkrooms, using various techniques to create unique analogue prints. Many of the works included in Contacts were hand printed for the exhibition and each image in her book Dark Room is reproduced from a print rather than a photographic negative. The way that Christopher’s photographs are made by hand resonates with the kinds of queer intimacy and do-it-yourself cultures that they show as well as how the images continue to circulate and are cared for. The digital noticeboard responds to Christopher’s photography and to issues of desire, consent, and labour that encircle queer photographic archives.

Sam Dolbear

In 1992, Phyllis Christopher took the photo titled ‘Cartoonist Kris Kovick, San Francisco, CA, 1992’, and initially published this work in On Our Backs magazine. My contribution provides a panoramic reading of this photograph, which features the photographed hand of Kris Kovick, poised with a pen above a page of a blank sketchbook, along with an ink drawing of a hand, and the inscription ‘Do Lesbians Cruise Hands?’ I begin with this photograph and return to it throughout, folding in various histories of hand-reading and hand-printing, touch and tracing, cruising and sexuality, intimacy and the archive. I seek to place the hand within a photographic, as well as a broader sexual, social, and historical context.

Sam Dolbear is a fellow at the ICI Institute of Culture Inquiry in Berlin. He completed his PhD at Birkbeck College University of London in 2018 with a thesis entitled ‘Names Written in Invisible Ink: Walter Benjamin, friendship and historical generation’. He subsequently became a visiting fellow at the Institute of Modern Language Research, exploring two figures of exile in London: the radio-producer and composer Ernst Schoen (1884–1960) and the sexologist and palmist Charlotte Wolff (1897–1986), about whom he is currently preparing publications. He has taught and published widely, including in Flash Art, Artforum, and Radical Philosophy, and was a founding member of the audio-radio collective MayDay Radio.


Author Sam Dolbear
Formats PDF, digital noticeboard
Related Artist Phyllis Christopher
Category Photography
Keywords Documentary photography, Black-and-white photography, photographic technique, Lesbian, Queer culture, Homosexuality, Protest, AIDS (Acquired immune deficiency syndrome), Sex, Archives, Sexuality, LGBTQIA+
Related City/Region San Francisco
Related Event Phyllis Christopher: Contacts (23 October 2021 – 20 March 2022)
Related Gallery BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art

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