November 12, 2010  |  Film, Modern Women
Barbara Hammer on Feminist Film

One of the key experimental filmmakers of her generation, Barbara Hammer (American, b. 1939) is renowned for creating the earliest and most extensive body of avant-garde films on lesbian life and sexuality. In this fascinating video interview, she talks about her career as a filmmaker and the development of feminist and queer filmmaking over the last thirty years.

Hammer was drawn to experimental film in the late 1960s while studying film at San Francisco State University. Coming out as a lesbian during that same period led her to radicalize her approach to directing; later, the second wave of feminism in the 1970s galvanized her purpose, and she soon became a pioneer of queer cinema. Her format and approach have taken different shapes over the years—in the 1970s her films dealt with the representation of taboo subjects through performance; in the 1980s she began using an optical printer to make films that explore perception; and in the 1990s she focused on hidden aspects of queer history in hybrid documentary films—but her more than eighty films are united in their use of avant-garde strategies to explore heretofore unrepresented voices. MoMA recently celebrated this prolific and thoughtful artist with a month-long retrospective of her extensive body of work.

A composite of two portrait images: Barbara Hammer in her Oakland studio yard. 1979. Photograph by Maria Brannstrom; Barbara Hammer on NYC rooftop. 2010. Photograph by Susan Wides. (c) Susan Wides,

Hammer also plays a prominent part in MoMA’s recent publication Modern Women: Women Artists at The Museum of Modern Art, which I had the pleasure to edit with Connie Butler, MoMA’s Robert Lehman Foundation Chief Curator of Drawings. In this book, Sally Berger, Assistant Curator in the Department of Film, writes about how Barbara Hammer and two other contemporary filmmakers—Carolee Schneemann and Su Friedrich—were profoundly impacted by Maya Deren, one of the most influential experimental filmmakers of the mid-twentieth century. I highly recommend her essay, “Maya Deren’s Legacy,” and all fifty essays in the book, which together offer a lively discussion around gender and the production of meaning in art.