Joan E. Biren

Joan E. Biren/JEB Pioneers Portrait

Joan E. Biren is a native Washingtonian. 
Photo © Patsy Lynch

“... My thing was to take pictures of the people that other people weren’t taking pictures of, to make visible what was invisible ... I always try to present the entire diversity of our community. That’s always very much in my mind in all of my work.”

"I always try to present the entire diversity of our community.  That's always very much in my mind in all of my work.:

“The thing about the Furies is that, for as short a time as we existed, we had a big impact. The ideology was very influential....”

JEB, as Joan E. Biren is known to most of the world, is an internationally recognized documentary artist. Her photographic and film work has chronicled the lives of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people for more than 30 years, bringing them a new visibility.

JEB’s films include  No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis LyonRemoving the Barriers, used to train healthcare providers to improve service to lesbian clients; Women Organize!; and, Solidarity, Not Charity on relief efforts in New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina. For Love and For Life and A Simple Matter of Justice documented the 1987 and 1993 gay rights marches on Washington.

In her twenties, following education at Mt. Holyoke College and Oxford University, JEB was part of the Furies collective, a radical experiment in lesbian feminist separatist organizing. Though the collective lasted only about 18 months, it had a profound influence on lesbian thought through  its newspaper, The Furies, and other publications.

It was in the collective that JEB began developing her skills in photography. Her books Eye to Eye: Portraits of Lesbians (1979) and Making a Way: Lesbians Out Front (1987) brought groundbreaking visibility to lesbian lives. In 1997, George Washington University mounted a retrospective exhibit of JEB’s work, Queerly Visible: 1971 – 1991, which later toured the nation.

For many years, JEB traveled the country presenting her multi-projector slideshows and running photography workshops. In the late 1980’s, she moved from slideshows to filmmaking.  JEB’s award-winning films have been seen on the Sundance Channel and public broadcasting stations. She is the president of Moonforce Media, a non-profit company, which produces and distributes films and videos that challenge people to work for social justice and awards The Tee A. Corinne Prize, an annual grant to lesbian media makers.

The Joan E. Biren Papers and visual materials will be permanently archived at The Sophia Smith Collection, the premiere women’s history collection, at Smith College.  Researchers can also access the Joan E. Biren Photographic Collection at George Washington University.