Through the eyes of photographer Honey Lee Cottrell #throwbackthursday
To paraphrase an old saying, memory is in the eye of the beholder. This was one way to describe the legacy left behind visionary photographer and filmmaker Honey Lee Cottrell, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer last September 21.
Cottrell was known for pioneering lesbian erotica in the 1980s through her contributions to the women’s sex magazine On Our Backs. She revolutionized the way we saw female nudes while validating women’s rights to pleasure.
Honey Lee Cottrell’s vision
Together with Debi Sundahl, Nan Kinney, and Susie Bright (the “core four”), Cottrell was there when On Our Back was founded. She gave it its style and success, proposing a “Bulldagger of the Month” centerfold for the first issue.
She said she wanted “to stand this Playboy centerfold idea on its head from, I would say, a feminist perspective… what would I do if I was a centerfold and how can I reflect back to them our values?”
Serving as the contributing photographer for seven years, she imbued in the magazine something that wasn’t “the regular kind of centerfold, but something that will make a difference, shake people up, show the other side of the mirror.”
But she took not only photographs of friends and lovers, but also documented the queer and kink cultures for years.
Honey Lee Cottrell’s contribution
Before she died, Cottrell donated her papers to the the Cornell University Library Human Sexuality Collection.
Her contribution includes extensive photo archives of the world of 1970s and 1980s Bay Area sex radicals, self-portraits and vision statements for feminist publications.
“The whole notion of people who were unseen was something that motivated her throughout her life, from the time she came out in 1966. She didn’t see images of lesbians so she wanted to create them,” said Brenda Marston, curator of the Human Sexuality Collection.
Honey Lee Cottrell’s words
Speaking about herself, Cottrell said, “I have taken photographs of my lovers, myself and the world around me since 1968. Some of my self-portraits are documents for myself so that I can see how I look in the world. Others look at me. How can I know what they see?”
“Sometimes my pictures are like journal entries. They document my interior states of being as well as situate this experience in the world. (The world for me is divided into straight and gay parts.) I also use these photos in the process of constructing myself,” she added.
“When I share that process with others my intentions are twofold: To be honest about who I am; to assist in the viewer’s process of self-construction,” Honey Lee Cottrell said.