Special Collections

Annette Dragon

“Act Up Fight Back Take Pictures: Ten Years of Queer Activism in Maine”

History of an Exhibition

Annette Dragon, a photographer, was active in Maine’s queer community in the 1990s. Her photographs often appeared in Apex: A Point of Departure, a Portland-based radical queer newsletter she co-founded. In 2000, Dragon brought together her photographs in “Act Up Fight Back Take Pictures: Ten Years of Queer Activism in Maine," an exhibition mounted in the University of Southern Maine’s Woodbury Campus Center. The exhibition was an inauguration for the acquisition of the Annette Dragon Papers which would become part of the University’s LGBT Collection of the Jean Byers Sampson Center for Diversity in Maine. The exhibition became part of the Papers in 2001.

Annette Dragon with cameraClick to view photographs
Annette Dragon is an out lesbian who has been documenting life in her native state of Maine for twenty years. In 1991 she co-founded the alternative newspaper Apex and became a member of the radical activist group ACT UP/PORTLAND. That began a decade of chronicling the fight for queer rights in Maine.

In the summer of 2005, Special Collections, the home of the Sampson Center, remounted the exhibition in the expanded USM library facility, built to house Special Collections.

In 2009, Ryan Conrad, a graduate student at Maine College of Art, reformatted the exhibition into “Future of the Past: Reviving the Queer Archives” as part of his thesis work. For that exhibition, Annette Dragon wrote an artist statement.

In the spring of 2010, Special Collections digitized the original exhibition. The only change to Dragon’s original 2000 exhibition was information added to the captions drawn from research Conrad did and the need to create individual captions for the online format. Dragon's photographs can now be continually enjoyed and stand as a testimonial to the LGBT Civil Rights movement in Maine.

Act Up/Fight Back/Take Pictures

Introduction to the original exhibition in 2000

In 1991, Annette Dragon photographed her first demonstration, an ACT UP Labor Day Demo in Kennebunkport, where then-president George Bush had a summer house. Hers wasn’t the only camera there. Besides the 1500 demonstrators, there were 500 (!) police types, many operating surveillance equipment. But her photos served a better purpose. Those first pictures went into Our Paper, a local gay newspa­per. In early 1992, they found another forum in Apex, the radical queer monthly, of which she was the co-founder, that was published through 1995. Her photographs have appeared in several national exhibits and publications, including Out magazine. Many found more local homes, as they circulated among activists as documents, memories, and inspira­tion for future activist work.

And there was lots of that. As Annette’s photographs document, groups like ACT UP/Portland and Queer Nation kept queer issues in the local spotlight constantly between 1991 and 1996. ACT UP/Portland sometimes had demos every week, it seemed, on issues ranging from AIDS resources and policies (check out the photos of the protest against the “Dracula Bill”) to the fight for single-payer health care to Linda Bean’s questionable run for the House of Representatives (look at the “Half Baked Bean Supper”) to condom crusades at high schools. From this work at schools—and great work from students at schools—came F.A.T.E. (Fight AIDS/Transform Education), a teens-organizing-teens project that engendered righteous activism at a number of high schools from Saco to Monmouth. Besides documenting the activism of these direct-action groups, Annette has also covered the ongoing struggle to win equal rights at the polls—in Portland (1992), Lewiston (1993) and statewide (1995, 1998)—and, of course, the annual pride marches in southern Maine and elsewhere. Viewed together, the photographs show the rockin’ history of recent queer activism in Maine. ACT UP. FIGHT BACK!

Artist statement accompanying the 2009 exhibition

I moved to Portland in 1990, began work in a camera store, and started shooting for the local gay paper Our Paper in 1991. My first self-assignment was to cover the ACT UP March on Kennebunkport, a national protest on the government’s lack of an AIDS policy. That day was also my first date with a new lover. The combination of photography, sex and politics was indescribably powerful. Soon, she became a key activist in ACT UP/Portland. My own association with and documentation of the group inspired my thinking, and influenced my whole life. The 1990’s were an opportunity to cover Maine’s queer activism in all its creative, confrontational glory. To this end,  I also co-founded the queer monthly APEX,which had much more radical content than the other local choices out there.

With a camera I have the power to stop time and provide proof. We were there.

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- Annette Dragon