The Photograph Five

Lola Flash

September 2, 2023

Lola Flash is an artist and activist whose work has focused on genderqueer visual politics for more than four decades. An active member of ACT-UP during the height of the AIDS epidemic, they were featured in the iconic 1989 PSA poster Kissing Doesn’t Kill, created by the artist collective Gran Fury. Flash’s book Believable: Traveling with My Ancestors (The New Press) was published earlier this year, and her work is on view at the Whitney Museum of American Art through February 2024 in the group exhibition Trust Me

Lola Flash answered Five Questions from photograph.

Anonymous, Madam Walker et al at 1913 Indianapolis YMCA Dedication. Courtesy Madam Walker Family Archives/A’Lelia Bundles

Name a photograph that brings you joy. 

One of my favorite photographs and one that brings me joy, is a photo from the 1920s of my great-grandfather, Charles H. Bullock. He was the founder of many YMCAs – at that time, they were called the “colored Ys.” The photograph also includes Madame C. J. Walker and Booker T. Washington, who were both benefactors in this important institution. It makes me proud to continue my great-grandfather’s legacy, taking the baton and reimagining an equitable life for Black and Brown people.

Cover of Lola Flash: Believable: Traveling with My Ancestors (The New Press)

Favorite photobook?

Of course it’s mine, Believable: Traveling With My Ancestors, published by the New Press. It’s my first book and a great introduction to my work spanning the four decades of my career. My art is profoundly connected to my activism, fueling a lifelong commitment to visibility and preserving the legacy of queer communities, especially queer communities of color.

Silvia Rosi, installation of Teacher Don’t Teach Me Nonsense, presented in I See the Face of Things to Come, curated by Renée Mussai for PhotoIreland Festival 2023. Image courtesy PhotoIreland

Last exhibition you saw?

The last exhibition I saw was in Dublin [I See the Face of Things to Come, PhotoIreland Festival 2023], a group show by guest curator Renée Mussai. The thematic exhibition centers around a fluid interpretation of (self) portraiture – as repertoire, as chorus and soliloquy, as moving image, as vision, as breath, as vessel, as archive, as embodiment, as justice, as activism, as community (Renée’s words). The artists included Zanele Muholi, Phoebe Boswell, Aida Silvestri, and myself, to name a few.

Favorite work of art that’s not a photograph?

My favorite work of art would definitely be Amy Sherald’s portrait of Breonna Taylor. It appeared on the September 2020 cover of Vanity Fair and the painting has been acquired by the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Honestly, I love all of Amy’s portraits, but this particular image, renders Breonna in such a regal and empathetic way. Hopefully her family will eventually be able to hold on to Breonna’s beautiful portrait and not the horrific way that she was murdered.

Zanele Muholi, detail of installation from the series Somnyama Ngonyama, Hail the Dark Lioness, presented in I See the Face of Things to Come, curated by Renée Mussai for PhotoIreland Festival 2023. Image courtesy PhotoIreland

Photographer who’s influenced you?

….that  is a very hard question. I would say that Zanele Muholi is one of my favorite photographers. We are Black and gay. There are a lot of photographers that have influenced me, yet in Muholi’s photography, I see myself, not only in their images but also in Zanele themself. When we get the chance to hang out, we are talking the same language, expressing the same hopes for our communities to be free of harmful words and actions.