Giard Foundation Honors Mark Doty

Before his death in 2002, Mr. Giard had made almost 600 portraits of East End writers such as Edward Albee, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss, Lanford Wilson, and Suzanne Gardinier
Mark Doty, a poet and memoirist, in a 1992 picture by Robert Giard Robert Giard

The late Robert Giard, a photographer and longtime Amagansett resident, began making portraits of gay and lesbian writers in 1985 after seeing “The Normal Heart,” Larry Kramer’s play about the AIDS crisis. By the end of the evening, he wrote in the introduction to a 1997 book in which a number of the photos were collected, he had decided that his work “should be of use to other gay people by recording something of note about our experience, our history, and our culture.”

Before his death in 2002, Mr. Giard had made almost 600 portraits of East End writers such as Edward Albee, Blanche Wiesen Cook, Clare Coss, Lanford Wilson, and Suzanne Gardinier, and others from across the United States, from Adrienne Rich to Marion Zimmer Bradley, Allen Ginsberg, Andrew Dworkin, and Mr. Kramer.

Jonathan Silin, Mr. Giard’s partner of 30 years, founded the Robert Giard Foundation in the weeks immediately following his partner’s death. “I was concerned that his work, which was so historically important . . . I wanted those portraits to be kept safely and be administered properly,” he said last week.

The foundation will hold its first East End fund-raiser in Springs on Sunday, with Mark Doty, a poet and memoirist whose work has earned a National Book Critics Circle Award, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the T.S. Eliot Prize, and a National Book Award, as the guest of honor.

In “Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers,” published by M.I.T. Press, each of Mr. Giard’s black-and-white prints is paired with a selection of the writer’s work, chosen with their collaboration.

The book served as a companion volume to a 1998 photo exhibition of the same name at the New York Public Library, which acquired many of the portraits for its collection.

Mr. Giard and Mr. Silin both taught at Southampton College for a time — Mr. Giard as a photography teacher and Mr. Silin as an education professor. Both were familiar sights, riding their bikes everywhere around town.

The couple began renting a house in Amagansett in 1971, and moved there full time in 1974.

“Whenever I wasn’t teaching and could come up with the money — and sometimes even when I couldn’t — I traveled to photograph for the series,” Mr. Giard wrote in his book. “Often I felt like Mercury, bearing greetings, gossip, and opinions across time and space from one member of the writers’ community to another.”

Mr. Giard never learned to drive and would haul his knapsack full of film and equipment across the country on public transportation, becoming acquainted with a writer he would visit in one geographical area and often then expanding his contacts and subjects through a network of their acquaintances and friends. He died on a bus en route to Chicago at age 62, of an apparent heart attack.

He was “a little bit of a medieval troubadour,” Mr. Silin said last week, “going from one person to another.”

“He managed to gain access to many communities,” he said, meeting and photographing Native American, Latino, and African-American writers, and those who were still not openly gay. “He was able to gain trust through his connectedness and his respect for their work.”

At the beginning of his project, when he told people he had so far photographed 30 gay or lesbian writers, they expressed surprise. “You mean there are more?” he said people asked him.

In 2004, the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale acquired from Mr. Silin Mr. Giard’s entire archive, including, according to the library’s website, “more than 1,500 vintage prints, 7,800 related work prints, and extensive correspondence, records, diaries, and other papers.”

Mr. Giard “kept copious diaries,” Mr. Silin said, in which he recorded all of his interactions with every one of his subjects. He made notes about the writers’ work, his visits to them, their sittings, and about his photographic printing process. He began his work with each writer with a careful reading of his or her oeuvre.

He was known for his masterful darkroom work and for his South Fork landscape photos. Mr. Giard was also commissioned to photograph the 321 women who had received grants from the Thanks Be to Grandmother Winifred Foundation established by Deborah Ann Light, who was also an Amagansett resident, and was working on that project at the time of his death.

After securing Mr. Giard’s archive, Mr. Silin said, the foundation arranged a traveling exhibit of the photographer’s prints, and then established its fellowship program.

Six artists, or collaborators, working in photography, video, or film in areas addressing sexuality and gender identity have so far received the foundation’s annual award of $7,500.

The award, one of the largest in its field, draws up to 80 applicants a year and, said Mr. Silin, is particularly important “because there’s so little government money for arts funding, particularly in these areas that are considered by some to be controversial.”

In conjunction with the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in New York City, it is given to those considered outside the mainstream, without other major sources of funding or institutional affiliations. Yearly applications are due on Nov. 15, and information is provided on the foundation’s website, at robertgiardfoundation.org.

Mr. Giard, said Mr. Silin, “was always outside the mainstream, in terms of funding. He always had his own vision and commitment, and he didn’t let anything stop him.”

The current fellow, Ka-Man Tse, a photographer and video artist based in New York who is working on a series of large-format photographs featuring subjects in the Hong Kong L.G.B.T.Q. community, said in an e-mail that the award “is an incredible platform to continue the dialogue and momentum . . . through storytelling and image making.”

“We’re hoping to be able to give out more fellowships and increase our reach,” Mr. Silin said. The foundation’s annual fund-raiser provides the fellowship money. It will be held at Sue Shapiro’s residence on Gerard Drive in Springs from 5 to 7 p.m. Sponsor tickets are $250; others are $125. They can be purchased through the foundation website.

Mr. Giard photographed Mr. Doty in Provincetown, Mass., in 1992. On a drive together to Provincetown, the two had a “long, very engrossing, quiet, engaged conversation,” Mr. Doty recalled over the weekend at his house in Springs. It was about the time when his collection “My Alexandria” was published, and Mr. Giard had read it, and his other work, “very closely,” Mr. Doty said.

The poet has been photographed often, by a number of well-known and accomplished photographers. But, he said, the portrait Mr. Giard took of him, which was used on the jacket of “My Alexandria,” is a favorite.

In the picture, taken in the foyer of Mr. Doty’s Provincetown house, the entire setting — the writer, the wood of the walls, the leaves of a hanging plant, and the spines of the books in a bookcase — is painted with silver light, Mr. Doty said.

Mr. Giard’s approach “was very gentle,” Mr. Doty said. “Sometimes people read your work and assume they know you.” Mr. Giard “wasn’t like that.” The photographer had an “appreciative curiosity,” he said, seeking insight “both into my background and into my thinking.” Mr. Giard’s pictures are “not about the photographer’s idea of you, but about receptivity.”

“I felt I could just be totally open with him, and relax into the lens. What is better than the sense of people being really, truly interested in you . . . without self-interest?” he asked. “What better quality in a photographer, than to make you feel known and knowable? You want to open yourself to be known, or relax enough to be known.”

“Bob was kind of a natural psychologist, without any training,” Mr. Silin said. “He related with all sorts of people, from all walks of life, and he could make them feel comfortable.”

At the time he was photographed by Mr. Giard, Mr. Doty said, two things were happening. The gay and lesbian community was increasing in size and scope. “Things were being mapped; communities were being described, were being made visible,” he said, and a literary community was coalescing.

  At the same time, as the number of H.I.V. and AIDS cases became known, there was a “feeling of being imperiled,” said Mr. Doty, who wrote about the loss of his partner to AIDS in his memoirs, “Heaven’s Coast” and “Dog Years,” and a book of poetry, “Atlantis.”

A lack of answers from the medical and scientific community added to the unease. In the face of what was happening, Mr. Doty said, people felt that “now is the time to inscribe your experience; show it to the world.”

“People were dying,” Mr. Silin said, and Mr. Giard felt compelled to create his photographic document “under the pressure of AIDS . . . this sense of being part of a vulnerable culture in a vulnerable world.”

Leafing through his copy of “Particular Voices” at his dining table on Sunday, Mr. Doty paused a moment to ponder pictures of this or that acquaintance or friend. It’s “startling,” he said, to look at the faces now, decades later, of those who are now older, or, in some cases, gone.

Ten years into the project, in his book’s introduction, Mr. Giard said that in reviewing the archive, “I find myself looking at a slice of literary and social history.”

“The integrity that he brought to that process,” the poet said of Mr. Giard, “has resulted in this legacy. It’s hauntingly beautiful work.”

Mr. Doty, who is a distinguished professor and writer-in-residence at Rutgers University, said he is honored to be “joining a list of wonderful and very acclaimed writers” recognized by the Giard foundation.