From the mid-1950s to the late 1960s, a network of crossdressers found refuge in the Catskills region of New York State. Susanna with her wife Marie created safe spaces at two modest resorts for guests to freely crossdress en femme at a time of strictly defined gender roles. Guests used photography to build their femme identities and their network. These snapshots – candid, playful, and at times staged, blending family and fashion photography conventions – have since come to be known collectively as the Casa Susanna photographs.
Casa Susanna brings together for the first time three collections of photographs created by this network of crossdressers: from the AGO’s holdings, from the personal collection of artist Cindy Sherman, and from the collection of Betsy Wollheim. Seen together, these 250 images, provide insight into this historically significant crossdressing scene, allowing us to develop an understanding of this world and its connection to the lives of trans and crossdressing people today. These affirming photographs circulated among crossdressers by mail, as well as in the pages of Transvestia, a community magazine, copies of which will also be on view
The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated publication that brings together recent research, an expansive selection of photographs, and pages of Transvestia, adding another important account of the ways photographs have served to build queer communities. Co-published by Editions Textuel, it includes essays by co-curators French photo historian, Isabelle Bonnet and AGO Curator of Photography, Sophie Hackett, as well as noted American scholar of trans history Susan Stryker.
Casa Susanna is coproduced by the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Rencontres D’Arles.