Simple Language

Gene Thornton, by Robert Giard, 1984

I have an image of a distant cousin, Gene Thornton, that I love. I learned only recently that one of my favorite photographers, Robert Giard, made it. Giard's portraits are simple, unadorned, never tricky or clever, and subtle. What I love is that they are images of people as they simply are. The portraits are honest and humble. They are not images representing the subject as an icon or participant in a clever pun. The negative space, scale, and subtlety of light and shadow is flawless. His landscape images have the same humble and poetic tone.

Giard began this approach in 1985, after seeing a performance of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart, about the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. The play influenced Giard to began documenting significant gay and lesbian literary figures in this straightforward and authentic way. 

A selection of these portraits was published by MIT Press in 1997 as the anthology Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers. In 1998, The New York Public Library mounted an exhibition of his work with the same name.

I feel sorry for my friend, Blake Little, who has photographed me for twenty years. Each time we shoot a new headshot, I bring along my image of Gene Thornton, and ask for the same thing. This is, no doubt, like when a client sits down and hands you a Saul Bass, and says, "Can you match this?"

Above: Left to Right, Top to Bottom

Bernard Cooper 1989: Donna Kate Rushin 1987
Charles Henri Ford with Indra. The Dakota, NYC: Eric Bentley, 1986
Irena Klepfisz, 1987: Charles Henri Ford
Allen Ginsburg: Brad Gooch 1986
Chris Soller: David Leavitt 1987
Dennis Cooper: Edmund White 1985
Essex Hemphill 1991: Marianna Romo Carmona and June Chan
Giard Bechdel: Sapphire, 1988

Bare Hedge 1981

Teeter Totter House