To hear W. Jo Moser tell the story of her career in photography is like listening to a love story. Moser has been photographing the LGBTQ community for over 30 years, and on October 25 will be presenting a retrospective of her work — the digital retrospective exhibition Going the Distance: LGBTQ Life 1974 to 2015 — as part of “Querying the Past,” a series of works hosted by USM's Women and Gender Studies Program and the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine.
The Phoenix spoke with Moser by phone about her life documenting the LGBTQ civil rights movement and what to expect from the show.
Can you tell us a little bit about your journey as a photographer? How did you get started? What inspires you?
Well, I was in my early twenties when I got started. I started taking pictures on a trip to Europe, and I was just fascinated with people, with relationships between people, with communities. I went to San Francisco State to get my Masters in Sociology, and this was right around the time of the civil rights movement and the Summer of Love. I didn't really consider myself a “professional photographer” at that point, I was just learning. But right around then I came out as a lesbian, and I fell in love with the [gay and lesbian] movement. I really started honing my street photography craft around then. Then in 1989, my now-wife and I moved to Maine. I started photographing in Boston and in Maine, and then gay marriage came up, so I started getting work photographing those. I did 32 gay and lesbian weddings during the first two years of us being able to get married. So that's the short version of the story. It's amazing to look back and see how our community and our movement has grown and changed over the last 30 years. Even as someone who's a part of it as opposed to being on the outside looking in, I'm always learning.
How has the evolution of the movement reflected in your work?
I think that kind of answers itself, just seeing the different people who have appeared in my photographs as time goes by. Especially in Pride photography. I started taking pictures of gay and lesbian folks, and we didn't really talk about things like bisexual or transgender at the time. So it feels like there's been this whole new opening over the last several years, for people to just come out and be who they are, as well as for me to document that.
Would you say that your art is a political statement?
Absolutely. As an elder lesbian now, being able to be who we are and being able to claim that is essential. When we moved to Maine, my son was on the baseball team, and my wife and I would sit in the stands and people would ask which of us was “the mother.” So we're always trying to educate other people. I always have felt, and still feel, very strongly that we have to fight what's going on in the world around us, and taking pictures is my way of doing that — capturing people being exactly who they are, and letting the rest of the world know that we're here.
"Going the Distance: LGBTQ Life 1974 to 2015," photography by W. Jo Moser | University of Southern Maine, Talbot Auditorium, Portland | October 25 | Thu 7-8:30 pm | usm.maine.edu/wgs/going-distance-lgbtq-life-1974-2015