[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]
[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]

[Archive of the lesbian photographer Shelby Cohen, including 1980s BDSM, the Gay Games, Theatre Rhinocerous, and many other projects]

San Francisco, etc. the photographer, [1980s-2010s]. A major photographic archive containing over 10,500 original photographic negatives and slides and more than 700 original prints. These photographs, many of which were taken for the groundbreaking sex-positive magazine On Our Backs, document San Francisco's lesbian leather community and the rise of sex clubs during the feminist sex wars, as well as San Francisco’s wider queer community as reflected in Theatre Rhinoceros, AIDS fundraisers, the Gay Games, gay weddings, political activism and music festivals. Also included in the archive are an additional 3000+ negatives/slides and 100+ prints showing Shelby's artistic growth and her concurrent work as a professional photographer for the San Francisco Giants. Although many of these photographs were taken on assignment, the considerable majority have never been published or exhibited, and, with a handful of exceptions, are offered here without restrictions.

Shelby (b. 1959) is an overlooked presence in the histories of this period, in part, perhaps, because of her youth at the time. She graduated from San Francisco's Academy of Art in 1984, with a strong student portfolio, included here, that demonstrates her proficiency as a photographer as well as many of the themes represented in the archive as a whole: lesbian erotic photography, gender queering, BDSM, butch/femme identification, political activism, AIDS, and the portraiture that would become her stock in trade for the next 35 years. In 1985 her first photographs were accepted for publication by the then-fledgling On Our Backs (OOB), with whom she would be published until 1996 over the course of eight assignments, including cover shoots and featured articles, and in Nothing but the Girl: The Blatant Lesbian Image, edited by OOB’s Susie Bright and Jill Posener (New York: Freedom Editions, 1996). Shelby also joined the production staff of Theatre Rhinoceros in 1985 and, over the course of the next 11 years, photographed production images for nearly 40 different shows; almost 4,000 negatives and 240 prints from this work are included in the archive.

Of particular significance are the approximately 1100 negatives and 50+ prints of lesbian BDSM photography, many of which were taken on assignment for OOB, Rack Productions and Spectator. These include over 400 negatives taken at BDSM-themed erotic and fashion shows sponsored by Rack Productions at Amelia’s Bar on Valencia St., some from which were published in OOB and Bay Area Reporter; over 100 negatives of mid-‘80s Pride parades featuring the Cogent Warriors, a local women’s leather/biker group with whom Shelby was involved; over 200 negatives of the 1987 San Francisco Ms. Leather contest and first ever International Ms. Leather contest, held the same year; nearly 300 negatives from a risky erotic photoshoot for OOB featuring Bobbie Wilkes, Sky Renfro, Shadow Morton, and Debby (last name unknown) performing butch/femme BDSM sex at night in public areas on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge; and nearly 100 negatives from an erotic photo shoot for Spectator of porn star Kym Wilde with an anonymous Stanford doctor in a fetish hood. These photos — taken with the same professionalism, artistic sense, and ability to make her subjects feel at ease in front of the camera that Shelby brings to all of her work, regardless of whether those subjects are children posing for school pictures, or porn stars in strap-ons — capture with an inherently humanizing eye a variety of the ways in which lesbian practitioners of BDSM explore issues of power, gender, and representation.

Shelby was one of few women photographers working in this area at the time, a fact that is important with respect to her non-erotica work as well, both in terms of the breadth of her work and the perspective she brought to bear on it. Her photographs of Gay Games II, for example, held in San Francisco in 1986, are almost entirely of women competitors, yet most of the photos published in A Sense of Pride: The Story of Gay Games II, by Roy M. Coe, the quasi-official history of the event, are of male competitors. Similarly, Shelby is able to capture nuances of parenting and pregnancy — she had a son with her partner in 1988; a nude photo of the two of them during her partner's pregnancy is included in Nothing but the Girl — of feminism and sex-positivism, and of the financial constraints of being a woman working photographer not available to most others.

Particularly after the birth of her son, Shelby’s focus turned more toward developing her portraiture business, including many studio sittings of gay and lesbian couples. Several thousand more negatives, prints and digital files from this portion of her career are included in the archive, although they are not in the above tally; these are under restriction, due to the fact that many of the studio portraits include minors.

A remarkable photographic archive, offering a unique look at San Francisco’s lesbian BDSM, erotic, and queer communities during the feminist sex wars and the AIDS crisis. Interested parties may request an itemized listing of the archive, as well as sample galleries of photographs. Arrangements may be made to examine it in person as well.

Cat.No: 262594

Price: $75,000.00