Juno Rosenhaus: Documenting the queer experience

Juno Rosenhaus: Documenting the queer experience

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Sometimes I find my interviewees randomly. A few weeks ago at the Mariposa Food Co-op, I was leaving the store and saw a small business card pinned to the bulletin board that caught my eye from an artist running a group called “Queer [as fuck] Artists Social Media.”

With a title like that, I had to call. I made an appointment to speak to Juno Rosenhaus, a self-described “portrait, art, and documentary photographer, andro-queer feminist, anti-racist and anti-fascist activist and drummer” and met up with her before her ACT UP meeting.

 

PGN: I think we are from the same area. I was born in Passaic, New Jersey, and you’re from nearby Nutley if I’m not mistaken.

JR: I am! Both of my parents were from Passaic, and I grew up going to my grandmother’s house there.

 

PGN: How old were you when you left?

JR: I was 17…. But it was a wonderful way to grow up being surrounded by parks. Winter, summer, we were always out playing. You’d cross the street and cut through the neighbors’ yard to yet another park. We had a middle-class upbringing, back then when there still was a middle class. I was a tomboy, of course, played all the sports, and I’ve been interested in photography since high school. We were lucky enough to have photography classes — dark room, black and white, the whole thing, so that’s where I got started.

 

PGN: We were so close to New York that we’d go in all the time. Did you have the same experience?

JR: Yes. I’m the oldest of three kids, and my mom, specifically, took us all the time. We had relatives there too, so we’d go to museums and the theater and all sorts of things. We also went to the Montclair museum a lot.

 

PGN: I was just in Montclair yesterday for my cousin’s graduation party. What was one of your favorite outings in New York?

JR: Oh wow. I remember going to Radio City Music Hall when I was younger and then going to the city with my friends when I was a little older. We’d take the bus in and get off at 42nd Street and lord knows what we did from there. But I remember the buzz and excitement and all the people around, though I didn’t really get to know the city until I moved back to this coast.

 

PGN: When you left, where did you go?

JR: I went far, compared to my other classmates. I went to school in Arizona for the photography program there. That was a whole different life, and I spent a number of years there before moving to San Francisco.

 

PGN: What was the biggest culture shock moving to Arizona?

JR: The weather! There’s no winter per se, you have things like sandstorms and the summers are so ridiculously hot you can’t go outside, but of course I was that kid who still wore corduroy pants in the summer. On the good side, I was being introduced to photography on a whole new level. And art, I started out as an art major. I went to Arizona State which at the time was considered the biggest party school in the country.

 

PGN: There must have been beautiful scenery to shoot.

JR: You’d think, but Phoenix in my mind was a lot of golf courses paved over the desert. Nearby Tucson had much more interesting landscapes.

 

PGN: And then you moved to San Francisco. Had you come out before you moved there?

JR: You know, I can never say that I ever specifically came out. I just wanted to live like I was always out. But I think by the time I moved to San Francisco, I identified as bisexual. [Laughing] I really wanted to identify as a lesbian, but it just wasn’t the case at that point! I finally figured it out by reading, “Bi Any Other Name” which was a classic bisexual anthology. It helped me understand why I wasn’t totally comfortable in all lesbian spaces or all straight spaces. In the ’80s, it was such a binary world, and I was looking to fit into one world or another, and I didn’t. But that book was a revelation.

 

PGN: Speaking of binary things, I should ask your pronouns. I go by she/her, though I’ll answer to more.

JR: Me too. As a little tomboy, I was misgendered a lot, but I didn’t bat an eye if someone thought I was a little boy, though I do remember one incident when I was five or six where I was yelled at because I went into the girls’ room and yelling back, “But I’m a girl!”

 

PGN: So you’re a multigenre artist. What was the first art piece that your mother displayed most proudly?

JR: That’s funny because I don’t recall her ever displaying my art, but she still has a finger painting of my brother’s to this day!

 

PGN: Arizona was for photography, what did you study at San Francisco State?

JR: I did a little bit of a switch and was a sociology major with a women’s studies minor. That was my introduction to feminism on a much larger scale, but I also took a lot of art classes while there too.

 

PGN: What was the most San Francisco-ish thing you experienced there?

JR: Walking down Haight Street on some sort of drug, playing drums on the Hill or by the Golden Gate Bridge, or maybe living in a house and commune with 10 other people.

 

PGN: It sounds like you were living a ’60s life in the ’80s!

JR: A little bit! In fact, we were living in a place on Baker Street called the East-West House that’s been well documented historically.

 

PGN: What did you do after that?

JR: I actually moved back to Arizona and became very involved with the labor movement. It’s only about the past 10 years that I’ve become more involved with the LGBTQ movement and have been focusing on documenting that history. I’ve been working on different projects that commemorate artists and people who lived through the height of the AIDS crisis. One project is called “Bodies on the Line,” and it is a memorial to journalists who died of AIDS, and others who covered the epidemic. I’m also working on a photography project called “Vulvas Queered,” and it is the biggest project I’ve attempted. It’s a mixed-media photo project that allows people to explore their relationship with their vulva. I’ve found that no matter how open a person is, we all still have ways that we were taught to think about our genitals and dealing with ourselves. For trans folks, it can be even more complicated, sometimes combined with dysphoria issues, and this project gives everyone a chance to explore different notions. So many women are told that their vulva is too something — your labia is too big, your clitoris is too small, or something about their pubic hair — and it affects women. It makes people self-conscious, and this project gives people a chance to address it or change the image they have and hopefully start to accept themselves. They can create art to reflect a positive image for themselves.

 

PGN: Give me an example.

JR: It’s a photograph often combined with something. For example, I have one person who was into embroidery, which she learned from her grandmother who was a strident feminist; so, her vision was to take the picture of her vulva, print it onto fabric and embroider it. I photographed a transperson who does science-fiction artwork creating new types of genitals that are different combinations of genitals to create new variations. So, we took their artwork and put it on their genitals and photographed them. It was really empowering. I’ve done about 20 so far and looking to do a lot more. 

 

PGN: What is QASM?

JR: Queer (as fuck) Social Media is an agency that I put together a few years ago. I work with mostly queer artists doing website design, photography, social media management and training, and event coordination. Of course, I can also do photography for events, headshots, marketing promos, etc.  I’m excited to say I’ll be working soon with Ariel Gore, a fantastic writer who founded Hip Mama Magazine and has a new book coming out called “Hexing the Patriarchy,” which contains spells and other cool things.

 

PGN: How did you get into drumming?

JR: As a kid I wanted to drum, and thankfully my parents were really supportive. My dad got me a drum set, and I had that classic drum set in the basement set up and played all the time.

 

PGN: Crazy band moment?

JR: I drummed in grammar school marching band. I remember doing a concert once and there was me and one other snare drummer, and we had a big solo together. He froze, so I got a solo, solo!

 

PGN: I see you have quite a few tattoos, tell me about your first one?

JR: Mickey Hart, the drummer from the Grateful Dead has written books about the history of drumming, and in one of them, there are images found on cave walls of women drumming, so my first tattoo was one of those images. I also have a tattoo that represents my photography. It’s a quote that says, “You can’t see if the shutter is closed,” which applies to a lot of things.

 

PGN: If your house was on fire and you could only rescue one picture, which would it be?

JR: It would be one of my son at the table eating ice cream, totally in his element. I have it on my website.

 

PGN: Well, that’s a little tidbit I missed. You’re a mom!

JR: Yes, I have a 20-year-old son. I always wanted to raise a kid though I didn’t necessarily want to have one, but I did. I had a home birth, and it was incredible. It was pretty much just us his whole life, and now he’s on his own in San Francisco.

 

PGN: What’s a historical event you wish you could have photographed?

JR: Stonewall. Mainly because there are still questions about who did what when. I would have liked to have been able to document it all and share the information.

 

PGN: You had some great pictures from the marches in NY last weekend. I loved the pictures of the signs people were holding. What’s one of your favorites?

JR: There was a big sign that said, “Stop Stealing Our Haircuts!”

 

PGN: I saw that. It made me chuckle. What was your worst hair moment?

JR: Oh, it would have to be the perm, or the other perm, or the one after that. They were all bad, and I have a photo of at least one of them.

 

PGN: Hobby?

JR: I don’t know if it’s a hobby, but I love and obsess over maps, paper maps — eventually to be used in an art project I’m sure.

 

PGN: A sound that gets under your skin?

JR: [Laughing] Drum circles! A lot of times they’re not all quite on beat and it makes me twitch.

 

PGN: Any pets?

JR: I wish I could have something now, but I can’t. I had all sorts of things growing up: goldfish, cats, gerbils, multiple dogs, but my all time favorite was Blacky, a lovable mutt, smart as heck, who would wait on me patiently while I put on my shoes to go for a walk. Blacky was a pal.

 

PGN: Last song you listened to?

JR: Something at the Liberation March.

 

PGN: Favorite historical figure?

JR: Emma Goldman. She wrote, “Living My Life.” She was totally radical in all sorts of areas from thinking to sexuality. A lot of what she wrote or said informed how I envision my life and how I live it.

 

PGN: Favorite G-rated curse word.

JR: Sometimes I’ll say, “Sugar on a mountain!”

 

PGN: Well sugar on a mountain, I think that brings us to the end of the interview. 


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