Honoring an Artist

Local lesbian photographer and activist Joan Biren receives prestigious award at Creating Change

by Will O'Bryan
Published on February 9, 2012, 7:34am | Comments

Coming to Baltimore for the first time, the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force's Creating Change, ''The National Conference on LGBT Equality,'' was bound to have local flavor. D.C.-based Benjamin Jealous, president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), for example, delivered the keynote address at the Jan. 25 to 29 event.

The conference also put a spotlight on the area's richness of diversity by honoring local lesbian photographer, filmmaker and activist Joan E. Biren (aka ''JEB'') of Silver Spring with the Susan J. Hyde Activism Award for Longevity in the Movement.

Joan E. Biren

Joan E. Biren

(Photo by Min Enterprises Photography)

In her acceptance speech, Biren, 67, offered four reasons why she was ''happy and humbled'' to receive the award, named for the woman who serves as director of Creating Change.

''First, it's named for Sue Hyde – talk about someone who keeps on truckin','' she began. She continued by acknowledging her gratitude for her longevity; expressing appreciation that others recognize art can help change perceptions; and recognizing the Task Force's work.

''I was so humbled and thrilled to get this award,'' Biren later told Metro Weekly. ''Everyone was just so genuine in their congratulations. It just made me very happy that I had done this work. I did it because I thought it was important. I didn't necessarily expect the value of it to be recognized till I was long gone.''

Biren, whose work included the groundbreaking 1979 photography collection Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians and 1987's Making A Way: Lesbians Out Front, also receives $10,000 as part of the award.

''After you've worked all this time with no one paying you, it's certainly amazing to have it recognized financially,'' said Biren, adding that her current work includes involvement with the Bayard Rustin centennial celebration, and that these days her mission may have less to do than creating than with preserving.

''At this point, I'm not making new work as much as I am making sure everything is archived well and helping other people in my generation make sure things are being preserved,'' she explained. ''I've always said my work was to make the invisible visible. But now it's to make sure it doesn't disappear again.''