How Joan E. Biren Inspired a Movement by Photographing the Lesbian Community

Joan E. Biren fearlessly documented authentic images of the lesbian community—and now, decades later, she's still fighting for representation of marginalized people in mainstream media.
“My camera was sort of a barometer of what was happening,” she said. “Black people or gay people or disabled people—you want to be reflected, you want to see that you’re not alone.”
Representation in art and media allows for marginalized individuals to feel seen and less othered by society. Biren, who was known as “JEB” didn’t see herself or people like her in any of the images circulating in the early 70s—so she decided to take matters into her own hands and set out to document the plights and progress of the lesbian community. She borrowed her camera and asked her partner to kiss her, while stretching the camera out to capture the moment—thus creating one of the first selfies.
At time where it was possible to become ostracized from your family and jobs for being gay, Biren said she had to earn people’s trust when capturing their photos. But she says it was a “privilege” to capture so many brave women on film.
“People tell me that they were just somehow empowered by seeing these images and it is the reason I made them,” she explained.