Portrait of a Decade: note from Ellen Shumsky

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Havana Airport, 1968 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Havana Airport, 1968 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Photographer Ellen Shumsky documented the Gay Liberation Movement from 1969 – 1972. Her images were published (under the name Ellen Bedoz) in many underground newspapers and counterculture anthologies of that time including COME OUT! and RAT. She was a founding member of Radicalesbians and a co-author of the Lesbian Feminist Manifesto “The Woman Identified Woman.” The Portrait of a Decade exhibit is now showing 45 of Shumsky’s images at the NYC LGBT Center through the summer of 2009.

This collection of 116 Black and White images captures the transformational spirit of this tumultuous decade through my personal odyssey. It follows me from the serene timelessness of Southern France where I first studied photography, through the Anti-Vietnam War movement, the Women’s Liberation movement, my experience in Cuba with the Venceremos Brigade, and most centrally my membership in the Gay Liberation Movement and the Lesbian Feminist organization, Radicalesbians. From 1969 – 1972 I dedicated myself to the self-chosen mission of documenting these Gay and Lesbian Liberation movements from a privileged insiders perspective.

It was through my participation in this revolutionary community that I healed my divided self – the closeted teacher, activist, American expatriate photographer in France; and the out lesbian comfortably embedded in the New York City gay subculture. The Gay Liberation Front and Radicalesbians were liberation experiences that spoke directly and immediately to my need to discard a shroud of shame and secrecy and to empower integrity, authenticity, resourcefulness, dignity and pride.

By the end of that decade, I was feeling constrained behind my camera. My photos had always been up close and personal portraits and I was now feeling the need to come out from behind the walls of glass (viewfinder and lens) for more intimate personal engagement. When my cameras were stolen, I took it as a sign. I embarked on training to become a psychotherapist. For the past thirty years I have been a psychotherapist in private practice, a psychoanalytic teacher and writer. My work as an agent for change now happens on the most personal level — one on one — as I help people to become their most empowered selves.

The following images are from PORTRAIT OF A DECADE: 1968–1978, Photographs by ELLEN SHUMSKY; Introduced and Edited by Flavia Rando, PhD; Graea Press 2009.

Gay Pride March, NYC, June 25, 1972 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Gay Pride March, NYC, June 25, 1972 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Women's Day, NYC, August 26, 1970 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Women’s Day, NYC, August 26, 1970 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Washington Square Park, NYC, 1970 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

Washington Square Park, NYC, 1970 | Ellen Shumsky. All rights reserved.

For your copy of “Portrait,” contact ellshumsky[at]aol[dot]com.

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