Retro Photo Archive, in collaboration with DUPLEX, presents Naked Seduction: Elizabeth Sunflower 1970-1972. This series of photographs, captured between 1970 and 1972 in the burgeoning North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco, centers the role of sex workers in propelling the feminist movement from a counterculture ideal to a national conversation. The photographs are divided into unique story lines that weave together to tell a larger narrative: focusing on avante garde exotic dancers and models that were emerging from the underground and normalizing sex in a time when the socially marginalized were misunderstood and less tolerated.
The themes found in this series show a clear parallel between the women’s liberation movement of the 1960s and 70s and current day struggles for equal rights. In Sunflower’s images we see the tension between morality, equality, and justice – a tension that is increasingly relevant today. Powerful examples of the early feminist movement, each photo depicts the strength and courage of women uniting to claim their power. 50 years later, we frustratingly find ourselves in the all-t oo-fa m ili ar position of protesting for many of the same rights that these women fought bravely and unabashedly for back then. As politicians and special interest groups continue to consolidate money and power in our modern landscape, these photographs are a painful reminder of the constant push-and-pull between conservatism and progressive ideals in America.
Immediately, the primary focus of these photographs might be the nude figures and expressions of iconic exotic dancers like Carol Doda and Lola, turning cultural norms upside down by abandoning modesty and embracing nudity in a public forum. Equally on display, however, is the familiar heteronormativity of “the male gaze”. Sunflower had an incredible eye for documenting the societal disparity between men and women, utilizing these scenes to demonstrate the contrasts and double standards of the time. She was able to capture the beauty of the female form while displaying the hypocrisy inherent in the male dominated socio-political world; men wanted the luxury to experience stripper culture while still maintaining control over women’s bodily autonomy, women’s political voices, and women’s rights.
Elizabeth Sunflower (1943 – 2008} was a prolific photojournalist based in San Francisco, CA. She lived and worked out of the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco documenting alternative pop-culture of the 1960s and 70s. Sunflower primarily focused on photographing news and pop culture beginning in the late 1960s and continued actively into the 1990s. As a young emerging female photographer Sunflower sought out what she believed were important San Francisco stories and eventually the greater Bay Area. By the early 1970s, Sunflower had established herself as a reliable photojournalist in San Francisco, being published regularly in print and becoming a wire service stringer where her images began to get a national audience. This is the first exhibition of her work since her passing in 2008.
Curated by Ricki Blakesberg
Naked Seduction : Elizabeth Sunflower 1970-1972
April 22 -May 2, 2023
17 Essex Street
New York, NY 10002