The Female Closet

The Female Closet, 1998 (color/sound) is a 60 minute documentary that uses archival photographs, home movies, interviews, and other visual materials to explore the closeted lesbian histories of artists Alice Austen, Hannah Höch and Nicole Eisenman. Utilizing groundbreaking research, newly discovered home movies, and archival photographs, and other visual sources, The Female Closet. is a cultural interrogation of the closeted and not-so-closeted lives of three women artists.

Alice Austen was an early twentieth century lesbian documentary photographer who lived on Staten Island and who recorded the people and places around her. She became lovers with Gertrude Tate in 1897 and lived with her until 1945. Hannah Höch is a better known Weimar artist who is recognized for her photomontages created during the 1920’s and 30’s in Berlin. However, the fact that she lived twelve years with Till Brugman, the Dutch writer, is not well known. Nicole Eisenman is a contemporary New York painter who has experienced being in the closet in her teen years yet “out” in her adult life. The recovery and recontextualing of their personal/social lives as well as their photographs, photocollages and paintings have the potential for being particularly revealing.

For contemporary lesbian representation, the closet has been one of the most vexed and complicated institutions of lesbian history. The closet mentality is largely responsible for relegating the simple fact of one’s sexual preference to the realm of gossip and innuendo encouraging homophobic attacks. An exploration of lesbian history involves a complex negotiation of visibility, secrecy, codes and knowledge: Hammer continues her groundbreaking work in lesbian history with this new informative and entertaining documentary.

60 minutes, color, sound, 1998

The website of visual artist and filmmaker Barbara Hammer. View clips, read synopses and information about the films, and purchase DVDs.