We'll Just Rock for Ourselves: Selections from the Lisa Davis Photograph Archive
On view in the David Earl Holt Gallery, April 24, 2018-July 22, 2018
Girls in the Nose filming Breast Exam music video, 1994 [AR.2010.022 (04-50-033)
In the 1970s the gay liberation movement was gaining momentum across the country, including in Austin, Texas. The 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City brought a spotlight to injustices against LGBTQ communities, and the following decades ushered in a fight for LGBTQ rights and visibility.
The number of out, or openly gay, performers in Austin’s local music scene by the 1980s was growing, with nationally recognized punk musicians such as Gary Floyd of the Dicks and Randy “Biscuit” Turner of the Big Boys. Masculinity was deep-seated within the hardcore punk scene, and few punk musicians were openly gay. Along with the underrepresentation of LGBTQ-identifying musicians, as lesbian singer-songwriter Gretchen Phillips points out, very few rock bands were female-led.
The boldness of Floyd and Turner encouraged Phillips to create politically charged and sexually frank music in female-fronted queer bands. The openness about sexuality from a lesbian perspective was arguably the beginning of the Riot Grrrl movement, which gave a platform for feminism in the punk rock scene. Phillips formed multiple lezzie rock bands, including Meat Joy, Two Nice Girls, Girls in the Nose, Lord Douglass Phillips, and The Gretchen Phillips Xperience. Other notable women in the lesbian music community included Darcee Douglass, Terri Lord, Meg Hentges, and Kay Turner, who played in various bands including Power Snatch, Sincola, and Swine King. The genres of these bands ranged from folk to experimental to funk, but at the core was the punk ethos of nonconformity and individuality.
Sandra Martinez opened Chances in the 1980s, widely remembered as a legendary lesbian bar and punk performance space. Frequented by men, women, straight, and LGBTQ people, Chances became a regular gathering place for benefits and political activism as much as for live music and drinks. While gay and lesbian bars of the 1970s existed in the backs of establishments and hidden from public view, Martinez decided in 1986 to take down coverings from the windows and give greater visibility and openness to the bar as well as to the LGBTQ community who patronized it.
Lisa Davis, a local photographer, was friends with several musicians who frequently played at Chances and other Austin venues, and she documented numerous bands, queer and straight, over her short lifetime. Davis was equally engaged in activism, as many within the music community were, and took part in protests with the Women’s Action Coalition and the Lesbian Avengers, organizations which voiced their messages against homophobia and misogyny through demonstrations and performance art.
We’ll Just Rock for Ourselves presents photographs from the Lisa Davis Photograph Archive (AR.2011.022) that document the lesbian musicians and LGBTQ activists of the 1990s. The title is taken from a Power Snatch song titled “No Thanks (We’ll Just Rock For Ourselves),” which was written in response to the song “Intellectuals Rocking for Women” by the all-male band the Pocket FishRmen.
Davis was a prolific photojournalist and her archive contains over 29,000 images, taken largely between 1978 and 1995. She documented everything from live music to the first 100 days of Ann Richards’ term as Governor to local high school sports. Her photography was published in local and national magazines and newspapers including Rolling Stone, The New York Times, OUT Magazine, and The Austin Chronicle. After battling major depression, Davis took her own life on July 14, 1995, at the age of 32. A memorial service was held for her in Austin at Umlauf Sculpture Gardens, and friends and members of the community gave donations in her memory to Out Youth, an organization founded in 1990 that serves Central Texas LGBTQ youth and their allies.
To see more images from the Lisa Davis Photograph Archive, visitors can come to the Austin History Center during open hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 10-6 and Sunday 12-6. An inventory of the collection is available online.
Click on the thumbnails below to see some sample images from the exhibit.