Ratio 3 is pleased to present Women I Love, an exhibition of Barbara Hammer’s early photographs and films. The exhibition, like the film after which it is titled, offers an immersive introduction to the distinctive combination of technical experimentation and earnest intimacy that defined Hammer’s singular vision of lesbian identity and authorship in the 1970s. Featuring artworks made while Hammer was living in San Francisco, Women I Love comprises the most extensive presentation of Hammer’s work on the West Coast to date.
Hammer’s black and white photographs appear throughout the exhibition, beginning with a selection of vintage silver gelatin prints made by Hammer herself, and continuing with a suite of recently editioned photographs printed from Hammer’s archived negatives. From self-portraits to candid shots of women—alone and in groups—in various states of repose and reverie, each photograph provides a glimpse into Hammer’s evolving life and work. Whether unflinchingly erotic or deliberately obscured by lens flares and double-exposures, Hammer’s photographs are invariably generous. In many regards, these stylistically varied photographs of the artist and her friends and lovers mark the beginning of the iconoclastic course Hammer would chart through subsequent decades.
While the judicious use of optical effects in her photographs attest to Hammer’s embrace of technical experimentation, her inventive command of her media is most apparent in her moving images captured on 16mm film. A monitor in the second gallery presents two of Hammer’s most iconic short films Dyketactics and Menses (both 1974), in a continuous alternating loop. Accompanied by soundtracks of synthesizers and distorted voices, the films present surreal images of uninhibited women congregating in groups, playfully satirizing womanhood and femininity into scenes that are equally touching and absurd.
Further into the exhibition, another pair of short films, Multiple Orgasm (1976) and Haircut (1978) demonstrate the breadth and continuous growth of Hammer’s filmmaking practice. Despite being made only years apart, these two silent films are strikingly distinct; where one is overtly erotic and composed of densley overlaid color footage, the other documents a quotidian scene in black and white. Together, the films demonstrate Hammer’s consistently inventive approach to experimentation, and the range of visual styles through which she explored and celebrated the nuances of different kinds of intimacy—from the autoerotic to the subtler domestic acts of nurture.
The final gallery features three longer films, screened successively in an hour-long sequence; Women I Love and Superdyke, two of Hammer’s most celebrated films, followed by Superdyke Meets Madame X, a collaboration between Hammer and Max Almy. The films and photographs comprising the exhibition highlight Hammer’s singular ability to recognize and capture the nuances of intimacy and sexuality in lesbian relationships and communities. Hammer’s work of the 1970s was pioneering both in its influence on contemporary filmmaking and in its representation of lesbian love and life.
Barbara Hammer was born in 1939 in Hollywood, CA and died in New York, NY in 2019. Recognized as an influential figure in experimental film, Hammer exhibited extensively throughout her career. Her work has been the subject of film retrospectives at major institutions internationally, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Tate Modern, and the National Gallery of Art in DC.
This exhibition is accompanied by a brochure with a commissioned essay by Sandra S. Phillips, Curator Emerita of Photography at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Ratio 3 thanks the Estate of Barbara Hammer and Company, New York, for their contributions and collaboration in presenting Women I Love.