Ken Gonzales-Day, Scripps College – Queer-ish

On Scripps College Week: Photography can reveal many hidden things about the people who lived centuries ago.

Ken Gonzales-Day, professor and Fletcher Jones Endowed Chair in Art, looks back at some.

Ken Gonzales-Day is a Los Angeles based artist whose interdisciplinary practice considers the historical construction of race and the limits of representational systems ranging from lynching photographs to museum displays. His widely exhibited Erased Lynching series (ongoing), along with the publication of Lynching in the West: 1850-1935 (Duke University Press, 2006) transformed the understanding of racialized violence in the United States and raised awareness of the lynching of Latinos, Native Americans, Asians, and African-Americans in California and helped to ground anti-immigration and collective acts of violence within the larger discussion of racial formation, policing, and racial justice movements.

Works from the Profiled Series have been exhibited internationally and grew out of research into the history of racial depiction found in historic expositions and educational museum displays from the Field Museum in Chicago, The Trocadero Museum in Paris, and the 1915-1916 California-Panama Exposition in San Diego, to name a few.

Gonzales-Day has received awards from the California Community Foundation, COLA, Creative Capital, Avery, and Art Matters. Fellowships include, The Rockefeller foundation in Bellagio, Italy; The Terra Foundation in Giverny; The Getty GRI; Smithsonian SARF and SAAM fellowships; and he received a Guggenheim in Photography in 2017. Gonzales-Day holds the Fletcher Jones Chair in Art at Scripps College and is represented by Luis De Jesus Los Angeles and serves on the Board of Directors for L.A.C.E., Los Angeles and on the Advisory Board for the Archives of American Art Journal.


“Queer-ish” is the name of an exhibition that highlights a collection of 19th and 20th century vernacular photographs. There are snapshots of everyday life and subjects, depicting people who may have identified as queer. These images encourage viewers to consider the link between photography, representation and LGBTQ+ communities, as well as the role of photographs in shaping the “queer imaginary” as a generative space that is exploratory, precarious, celebratory, potentially unseen, and always subject to change.

The exhibition includes early queer heroes like Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Christine Jorgensen, Claude Cahun, Bruce of Los Angeles , and so many others, who have contributed to the history of photography.

The selected image is entitled Two men with canes holding hands. It is a tintype photograph and measures four inches by two and a half inches.

There is an intentionality in their pose. Facing forward and looking into the camera, they each hold canes in one hand and clasp hands with the other. Their feet almost touch. One looks a little taller and their hats sit differently on their heads, but each reflects a constellation of matching elements, from hats and canes, to their expression of confidence. Even the bench’s backrest seems to form an X that suggests an uncanny doubling or equivalence between the figures. Were they lovers? The eye is naturally drawn to their hands. Did men ever clasp hands like this? So gentle, so trusting.

The image is about touch but suggests a deep affection that foregrounds the space between then and now.

The way they hold their hands is so unexpected that I am reminded, of the importance of photographic research for understanding the past and for shaping a better future.

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