Barbara Hammer

Barbara Hammer is a pioneer of lesbian-feminist experimental cinema. She has made over 80 films and videos since the early seventies including four feature experimental documentaries. She works in both film and video as well as installation and photography. Recently she has been working on the completion of her Lesbian History Trilogy (Nitrate Kisses, Tender Fictions, and Culture Doctor-working title). Her latest video documentary, "The Female Closet" won a Media Apple Award at the National Education Association Film/Video Conference and the French Womens' Journalist Association "Heart Throb Award". Hammer enjoys speaking engagements on gender politics, identity and film, lesbian representation. She lives and works in New York City. Her website is

"I love projected light. From my beginning work as a visual artist when I moved from painting to film making I wanted to see movement on the canvas. I built color wheels and sent light through them directly to the canvas. I handpainted film and projected those fragile marks into a Kaleidoscope I built of six mirrors from which I rephotographed the split images. These early concerns from the late 1960's are still important to my developments as a filmmaker of over thirty years. Now I use a rephotography device, an optical printer where I can work and rework each frame as if it were a painting or a visual two dimensional score.

My career of over three decades of film making can be chronologically divided into three themes: the early short lesbian/feminist films of the 1970's (
Dyketactics, 1974; Double Strength, 1978); the optical printing and landscape films of the 1980's (Optic Nerve, 1985; Endangered, 1988; Sanctus, 1990) and the feature-length documentaries of the 1990's (Nitrate Kisses, 1992; Tender Fictions, 1995; The Female Closet, 1998). Altogether I have made 80 films and videos.

During the first ten years of film making I found it important to represent what had never before been shown in film -- a lesbian life. I came out shortly after I began film making and I began to make images from my life as a lesbian artist and from the community into which I emerged -- the vibrant feminist and lesbian communities of the early 1970's. Between 1973 and 1980 I made over 25 short films dealing with subjects that were taboo at the time: menstruation, female sexuality and aging. These works were hand-crafted and often painted, scratched or refilmed as IO attempted to bring my aesthetic concerns of showing the materiality of film together with my social and ideological ideas. The results lay somewhere between an avant-garde tradition and the personal documentary. Making the invisible, visible was and still is, my preoccupation.

In the 1980's I felt that my films were not recognised outside the lesbian feminist communities. I considered myself an artist first and foremost and that's the way I wanted to be known. I consciously decided to take female representation out of my work and deal with formal concerns and landscape. I also began to use my optical printer to make the entire film rather than sections of the films. The gender was now implicit, i.e., the woman as the film maker, rather than explicit, the woman as subject. In
Pond and Waterfall, 1982, my first all optically printed film, I experimented with underwater photography to explore a vernal ponds, a stream, a waterfall, a sea as an open circle system of flow and return. I often selected the vantage point of split-vision with the lens half below and half above the waterline which had the subtle implication of the double vision required of a woman living in a man's world. The film is silent because I wanted the audience to be aware of their own self-contained fluid system, their body. I was awarded my firsts grant, a Jerome Foundation award for this film. The other more complex optically printed films that followed were selected for the Whitney Museum of American Art Biennials (Optic Nerve, Endangered and Sanctus ).

Since 1990 I have been most interested in retuning to my early concerns of invisible histories and representations with the additional interest of making more complex readings possible for a larger audience. Through juxtaposing a variety of film and video formats (35mm, Super 8, VHS) I create many different textures while simultaneously constructing an archeology of missing histories using both archival and contemporary footage. This approach in
Nitrate Kisses fulfilled my need to be creatively emerging with new formal concerns while at the same time using these juxtapositions to raise questions about who makes history and who is left out. Working with theoretical issues as well as my desire to reach a larger audience and my own more developed commitment to the film making process resulted in a film that screened at the Sundance, Toronto and Berlin Film Festivals and received a small commercial release (Cinema Village, N.Y.; Music Box, Chicago; Fine Art, LA).

At the end of
Nitrate Kisses I ask the audience to record and save their histories. I decided that I should follow my own advice and began to research modern and postmodern issues of autobiography--Tender Fictions.

I believe my work is taking a new turn on the spiral for I will be returning to painterly and landscape concerns with
Emulsion Impressions (working title) coupled with the sensibility of historical context. The works of turn-of-the-centry plein air painters who left Paris for the light and land/scapes of Southern France will be repositioned and reframed by an en-of-the-century plein air film maker."

Artist Code: 215


The Female Closet

1998, 60:00 minutes, colour, English

Tender Fictions

1995, 58:00 minutes, colour, English

Out In South Africa

1994, 53:00 minutes, colour, English

Nitrate Kisses

1992, 67:00 minutes

Vital Signs

1991, 10:00 minutes


1990, 19:02 minutes, colour, English


1990, 19:02 minutes, colour, English

Points of View

1985, 11:00 minutes, colour, English

Critical Writing

by Rachel Churner. Artforum, Apr 2018.
Performing Essentialism: Reassessing Barbara Hammer's Films of the...
by Greg Youmans. Camera Obscura, 2012, v. 27, no. 3.
From First-Wave to Third-Wave Feminist Art in Israel: A Quantum Leap
by Tal Dekel. Israel Studies, Spring 2011, v. 16, no. 1.
Some Say Love: Kim Sheppard's Films
by Lauren Howes. No More Potlucks, May 2010, no. 9.
Experimental Documentary Questionnaire/Responses
by Lucas Hilderbrand and Lynne Sachs. Millennium Film Journal, Spring 2009, no. 51.
by Unknown. Wack!: art and the feminist revolution, 2007. Los Angeles: The Moca L.A., 2007.
Pleasure Dome Brochure: Winter 2006
by Unknown. Pleasure Dome, Winter 2006.
On the Misrecognition of Images
by Amish Morrell. Fuse, Dec. 2004, v. 27, no. 4.
Videos Ante up the Fear Factor: This year's video-art feast marks...
by Catherine Osborne. The National Post, Apr. 10, 2004.
Loving a Disappearing Image
by Laura U. Marks. Cinemas: Journal of Film Studies, 1997, v. 8, no. 1-2.
Out In The World: An Interview with Barbara Hammer
by Victoria A. Brownworth. Metroline, Jan. 5, 1995.
Redesigning Women at The Illustrated Woman: The Second Annual...
by Douglas Fogle. Video Networks, Apr. 1994, v. 18, no. 2.
Lesbians and Gays Make the Movies
by Richard Lippe. cineACTION, Fall 1992, no. 30.
Learning How to Laugh: Filmmaker Cheryl Dunye at Image et Nation,...
by Judith Nicholson. Rites, Jan. 1992, no. 76.
Recasting images of AIDS to counter media distortions
by Cameron Bailey. Now, Oct. 20, 1988, v. 8, no. 7.
Angry Initiatives/Defiant Strategies
Deep Dish TV, Mar. 1 Spring, 1988.
Writing on the wall: Image and Text at the Woman's Building, Los...
by Robert Raczka. Artforum, May 1988, v. 15, no. 10.
Feminist Film and Video: Women at this international conference...
by Nancy Johnson. Fuse, Aug. 1981, v. 5, no. 6 & 7.
Women In And Out Of Focus
by Petra Robinson. Vanguard, Nov. 1978, v. 7, no. 8.
AIDS Media: Counter-Representations
by Lucinda Furlong. The New American Film and Video Series - Whitney Museum of American Art, Jan..