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'What It Means To Be Seen' Exhibit On Display At Ryerson Image Centre

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What does it mean to be seen -- and visible -- as an out and proud queer person?

Visibility and a shifting cultural consciousness surrounding any civil rights movement go hand in hand, and the journey for mainstream acceptance of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community is no different. A key part of large-scale social acceptance of queer people over the years has always been photographic.

In pushing the concept of "What It Means To Be Seen" further, Sophie Hackett has curated an exhibit at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, Canada, that complicates this idea, as well as showcases the diverse bodies and experiences that make up the queer community.

In order to better understand this exhibit, The Huffington Post chatted with the exhibition's curator, Sophie Hackett, this week.

The Huffington Post: Why is this collection important?
Sophie Hackett: The works in this exhibition are drawn from a number of collections -- including the Ryerson Image Centre and the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archive here in Toronto, the International Center of Photography (New York), the Musée Nicéphore Niépce (Chalon-sur-Saone, France), as well as from private collectors and artists -- and they represent a range of different media from gelatin silver prints to Polaroids to YouTube videos that circulated both in the public realm through newspapers, magazines and the internet, as well as in private circles of friends. On the occasion of World Pride, it was important to bring this diverse range of works together to showcase how photographic images have played a key role in making queer communities more visible and have served as tools for bringing a sense of collective characteristics, experiences, and ambitions for queer communities to light.

How did you go about curating this collection?
I thought first of all about the kinds of images that come to mind when I think of queer communities, for instance demonstrations, Pride parades, couples, drag performances, friends getting together. I also thought about how these images have circulated over the last few decades, both pre- and post-Stonewall. I did a lot of research, looked at a lot of archives and collections -- both private and public -- talked to artists and my fellow photo historians. Gradually, the two-part structure emerged – Public Faces and Private Worlds, with a sub-section I called Reading Lessons, about the ways queers have reinterpreted and reclaimed photographic images from the past to form a queer visual history.

How has photography over the years functioned as a tool to form a collective queer consciousness?
Photographs have stood (and continue to stand) as documents of our lives and activities. From Weegee and Bill Eppridge, whose photographs relegated queers to a dark and seedy underworld, to the works of the photographers of the Black Star press agency and the Body Politic in the 1970s and 1980s that put our rage and our love on view -- as a challenge to the status quo, without shame – we see how things have changed. They have also stood (and continue to stand) as potent tools of activism. During the AIDS crisis, activists created camera-ready images by organizing actions and memorials, like die-ins and the AIDS quilt – images that would easily convey the enormity of the illness and the urgent need for a response. We have also formed a queer visual history by looking back and reading images from the past.

What do you hope people take away from this exhibit?
I hope visitors take heart in seeing how far we’ve come and, at the same time, they realize that we must continue make ourselves visible -- in all the fierce and playful ways we always have.

"What It Means To Be Seen" will be on display at the Ryerson Image Centre in Toronto, Canada until Aug. 24. Head here for more information and check out a slideshow of images from the exhibit below.

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