ROBERT GIARD at Stephen Bulger Gallery (1026 Queen West), to August 2. 416-504-0575. Rating: NNNN
Amidst the glorious madness of Pride, this show of photos by the late Robert Giard, a self-taught American photographer who took up the camera late in life, looks at a more contemplative side of queer life.
His black-and-white prints include stark winter landscapes, nudes and selections from his portraits of gay and lesbian writers (published as the book Particular Voices).
His male nudes look frankly into the camera, butches proud of their physical assets. They’re tasteful pictures without Mapplethorpe-style kink, suitable for a professional’s bedroom wall, but they still have an appealing, retro sexual charge.
Giard, a former English teacher, came into his own with his portraits. His project, begun in 1985 partly to capture faces of writers soon to be lost to AIDS, brought together his gay identity and love of literature. He travelled widely to shoot a queer literary who’s who: young and old; male, female and trans; black, Latino, Asian and white; famous and lesser-known.
Giard had an insider’s empathy for his sitters and allowed them to participate in their self-presentation. Sometimes the setting is revealing: Edward Albee and his dog sit in his lush garden next to a ledge that holds a large and a small toy house; Allan Gurganus’s book-strewn home is decorated with a wall of carnival masks.
Some sitters’ personalities fill the frame: members of the Other Countries queer black writers group stare a challenge to all; Audre Lorde raises her eyebrows questioningly; Minnie Bruce Pratt and Leslie Feinberg recline in an affectionate embrace.
These wonderful, quiet portraits don’t upstage their subjects with technical wizardry or glossy magazine art direction. The show is a timely celebration of the range of gay and lesbian creative lives.