Artists Attack! Ten Lesbian Photographers You Should Know (About)

Art Attack Month:

0. 1/28/2012 – Art Attack Call for Submissions, by Riese
1. 2/1/2012 – Art Attack Gallery: 100 Queer Woman Artists In Your Face, by The Team
2. 2/3/2012 – Judy Chicago, by Lindsay
3. 2/7/2012 – Gran Fury, by Rachel
4. 2/7/2012 – Diane Arbus, by MJ
5. 2/8/2012 – Laurel Nakadate, by Lemon
6. 2/9/2012 – 10 Websites For Looking At Pictures All Dayby Riese
7. 2/10/2012 – LTTRby Jessica G.
8. 2/13/2012 – Hide/Seek, by Danielle
9. 2/15/2012 – Spotlight: Simone Meltesen, by Laneia
10. 2/15/2012 – Ivana, by Crystal
11. 2/15/2012 – Gluck, by Jennifer Thompson
12. 2/16/2012 – Jean-Michel Basquiat, by Gabrielle
13. 2/20/2012 – Yoko Ono, by Carmen
14. 2/20/2012 – Zanele Muholi, by Jamie
15. 2/20/2012 – The Malaya Project, by Whitney
16. 2/21/2012 – Feminist Fan Tees, by Ani Iti
17. 2/22/2012 – 12 Great Movies About Art, by Riese
18. 2/22/2012 – Kara Walker, by Liz
19. 2/22/2012 – Dese’Rae L. Stage, by Laneia
20. 2/22/2012 – Maya Deren, by Celia David
21. 2/22/2012 – Spotlight: Bex Freund, by Rachel
22. 2/24/2012 – All the Cunning Stunts, by Krista Burton
23. 2/26/2012 – An Introductory Guide to Comics for Ladygays, by Ash
24. 2/27/2012 – Jenny Holzer, by Kolleen
25. 2/27/2012 – 10 Contemporary Lesbian Photographers You Should Know About, by Lemon/Carrie/Riese

[feature image by Sophia Wallace]

photo by Alice Austen

by Lemon & Carrie & Riese

Lesbians are perhaps more visible in the contemporary photography scene than any other aspect of popular visual art these days, but it’s been a long time coming  — at the turn of the century, it was still nearly impossible for lesbian imagery to even see the light of day, let alone the cover of Vanity Fair. 

The first well-recorded case of lesbian-produced photography is Emma Jean Gay, who was born in 1830 and taught herself photography in 1888. With the help of her ethnologist friend Alice Fletcher, who Emma had a big fat lesbian crush on, Emma moved out West and began photographing the Nez Perce. In the early-to-mid-20th century, gender bending and Sapphicly suggestive imagery would come from ladies like Alice Austen, Frances Benjamin Johnston and  Margarethe Mather.

Many lesbian photographers we’re familiar with today rose to prominence in the 1970s and 80s — people like Cathy Cade, JEB (Joan E.Biren), Tea Corinne, Mumaz Karimjess, Chloe Atkins, Deborah Bright, Fiona Arnold, Jill PosenerLinda Kliewer, Jean Weisinger, Zone Paraiso Montoya and Hanh Thi Pham.

Today’s most well-known lesbian photographers are, hands down, Annie Leibovitz and Catherine Opie. The former is best-known for her editorial magazine work, and that’s true of many of the photographers we’ll discuss here today. Lately the commercial and the artistic seem to blur together more than ever, and a new generation of keen-eyed queers are making waves in the industry. Here are ten you should know about.


10 Contemporary Lesbian Photographers You Should Know (About)

[in no particular order]


1. Cass Bird


Cass Bird photographed by iO Tillett Wright

This one time, Cass Bird photographed Kate Moenning as if Kate Moennig was Patti Smith. It was a thing you’d actually wanted all your life but didn’t know about it until Cass Bird did it.

Kate Moennig by Cass Bird

Bird, a Smith graduate raised in Los Angeles and currently residing in Brooklyn with her wife and two kids, is a popular editorial, celebrity, commercial, fashion and documentary photographer whose work appears regularly in magazines like The New Yorker, Detailes, Dossier, Paper, Dazed & Confused, Fader, Rolling Stone and New York Magazine, as well as in campaigns/catalogs for brands like Urban Outfitters, Converse, Levi’s and Sony.

cate blanchett by cass bird

Bird’s show “JD’s Lesbian Utopia” (which documented her travels around the US with JD Samson of Le Tigre) was a hit at Deitch Projects (NY) and she’s exhibited all around the world in places like the Brooklyn Museum, The Art & Commerce Festival of Emerging Photographers Tour and One Institute. Her non-commercial work tends to focus on ideas around gender and sexuality.

Cass Bird via JD's Lesbian Calendar

Her subjects appear to be bursting with hope, love and generalized exuberance and a distinctly Californian sense of eternal youth.

Bird’s book Rewilding features photos taken during the summers of 2009 and 2010, when Bird took a bunch of women noted for “their ease with their sexual identities, but also for their relative awkwardness in front of the lens”  — friends, studio assistants, and women she’d found on the street — to Sassafrass, Tennessee to create a “joyous portrait of modern femininity and a frolicking celebration of women’s camaraderie.” The book comes out on February 29, 2012 and features an intro from Jack Halberstam, the author of Female Masculinity.


2. Zanele Muholi


Zanele Muholi

This week, Jamie told us all about how Zanele Muholi uses “visual activism” to protest the violence and queerphobia that plagues South Africa.  With her photography, Muholi chronicles the lives of black, queer and trans* South Africans who are sometimes rendered invisible or even “immoral.”

from Faces and Phases by Zanele Muholi

In her ongoing series Being, Muholi captures the tender and sweet expressions of love between lovers, friends, parents and children.  But then there was this time when the Minister of Arts and Culture in South Africa, Lulu Xingwana, pronounced her exhibition “pornographic and immoral.”  Muholi responded: “In art immorality cannot exist. Art is always sacred.”

from Being by Zanele Muholi

Though she once said that she had hopes of trying out other professions — such as dancing or gynecology — Muholi found that she “reached a climax, a feeling of bliss” when she took photographs.


3. Annie Leibovitz

Annie Leibovitz

If you feel like you have heard of Annie Leibovitz it’s because you have. She’s one of the best-known American photograpers working today and her elaborate (and often incredibly expensive-to-produce) work appears regularly in major print publications including Rolling StoneVanity Fair and Vogue.

Keira Knightly for Vanity Fair

Perhaps you also know this photo of Ellen Degeneres holding her breasts. With 142 Rolling Stone covers and countless influential editorial spreads, her work is nothing short of iconic.

Whoopi Goldberg by Annie Leibovitz

She mostly takes picture of famous people doing famous things, like the time when she photographed a naked John Lennon curled up next to a fully clothed Yoko Ono five hours before Lennon was shot and killed.

John Lennon and Yoko Ono by Annie Leibovitz

Leibovitz was romantically involved with Susan Sontag, an American essayist and activist. Her work has been ingrained in our national consciousness and are some of the most meaningful images of our time. The recent documentary Life Through A Lens gives a relatively intimate look at her life and work.


4. Sophia Wallace


If you are a Tumblr Lesbian, it is possible that you have come across some of Sophia Wallace’s work on the Internet.  Her photographs have popped up on popular queer blogs like Genderqueer. Plus, she has her own tumblr where she features her work and things that other people have said about her work.  Wallace uses her photography to expose social constructions of race and gender and challenge normative perceptions.  In her autobiographical project Truer, she attempts to topple heteronormative ideals of domesticity and desire as she documents her own home life.

Wallace is a graduate of Smith and NYU and lives in Brooklyn now, where she shot most of the photos for her series Girls Will Be Boys, a commentary on female masculinity.

Wallace’s work tries to subvert preconceived notions of how gender should look.


5. Robin Roemer


In addition to operating her own highly-revered wedding and lifestyle photography business, documentary & portrait photographer Robin Roemer has become a recognizable name in the queer community for her shots of female queer icons like Lady Gaga, Uh Huh Her, Tegan & Sara and Margaret Cho.

Robin has worked for clients including MTV Networks and Levi Strauss & Co and her work has appeared in places like InStyle, NYLON, O Magazine, Curve New York Magazine, and Lady Gaga’s Deluxe Art Book.

Robin Roemer is a familiar name around here — she’s Autostraddle’s photographer and therefore responsible for the Autostraddle Calendar Girls, a project that has gradually evolved with new angles every year and a consistently dynamic and captivating group of actual queer women.

via Autostraddle 2013 Calendar Girls

Julie & Brandy via Autostraddle 2012 Calendar Girls

Also for Autostraddle, Robin has captured events like the post-marriage-legalization celebration in New York City and The GLAAD Awards for Autostraddle as well as conducted photoshoots with celebrities like Kim Stolz, The Cliks, The Candy Slice GirlsNicole Pacent & Julie Goldman.

Perhaps the most distinctive element of Robin’s work is its reverence for and commitment to the absolute holiness of the photograph’s subject(s) — the world she captures is one of beauty, strength, and fun. But it’s earned beauty/strength/fun, and Robin’s imagery reveals these qualities to be just as complicated as the more readily-byzantine glances at sorrow or strangeness. She deals with issues of queer identity and female sexuality with an empowering vision that challenges the stereotypical idea of “what a lesbian looks like.”



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Riese is the 41-year-old Co-Founder of as well as an award-winning writer, video-maker, LGBTQ+ Marketing consultant and aspiring cyber-performance artist who grew up in Michigan, lost her mind in New York and now lives in Los Angeles. Her work has appeared in nine books, magazines including Marie Claire and Curve, and all over the web including Nylon, Queerty, Nerve, Bitch, Emily Books and Jezebel. She had a very popular personal blog once upon a time, and then she recapped The L Word, and then she had the idea to make this place, and now here we all are! In 2016, she was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Outstanding Digital Journalism. She's Jewish and has a cute dog named Carol. Follow her on twitter and instagram.

Riese has written 3212 articles for us.


  1. Excellent list.

    Cathy Opie’s Dyke Deck is the best thing ever. I’d invite people round to play snap with it but I find that game unnecessarily confrontational.

    • Ive recently come in contact with a first edition dyke deck if anyone is interested in purchasing :)

  2. On an 18 adventure so jam-packed with amazing and terrible and wonderful and mundane experiences, Catherine Opie in the guggenheim, the room with her series of surfers is one of my clearest memories of actually stopping to ‘smell the roses’. I had never heard of her before, I was actually there to see the building… so lucky!

  3. I love this! I’d also include Maro Hagopian:
    You also featured her once on your site:

    Leslie Van Stelten, of course:

    and Bex Wade:

    Thanks for this post. Truly amazing. That, and the only visual art I can actually look at and say something more than “I like it” or “I don’t like it” is photography, so it speaks to me.

  4. What about Tasya van Ree??????

    Though everyone on this list is wonderful :) lot’s of new artists for me to explore!

  5. I love Catherine Opie’s work. Her “Self-Potrait” photo was one of the most startling images I’ve ever seen.

  6. This is a great article…thank you for sharing. Lesbian photography (both of and by lesbians) is so important. If anyone out there wants more of the same, check out Sapphic Australia (, which is amazing…it’s a website comprised of lesbian imagery and photographs from around the world, including uploads from members. Worth a visit.

  7. Zanele Muholi is amazing…and she is such a enjoyably quirky person. You have to love the woman for that and the absolute power behind her art. Especially in an African context.

  8. There is absolutely nothing that differs between males who photograph the female nude and women who photograph the nude female. Except for the lack of complaining Xitching and moaning because some guy is photographing nude women, the genre is precisely the same — I am happy I never listened to these crazed feminists and wacko liberals.

  9. I’m trying to find the photographer whose work I bought in Ptown in 2005.
    Beautiful nudes.’In Your Keeping and ‘Never be Denied’
    I can’t read the signature but I remember it was an Italian sounding name.
    I can send pics if you think you can help.

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