Robert Giard (1939 - 2002) was a portrait, landscape, and figure photographer who came relatively late to the practice of photography. A native of Hartford, Connecticut, he majored in English literature and received a B.A. from Yale (1961), then an M.A. in Comparative Literature from Boston University (1965). For a time he taught intermediate grades at the New Lincoln School. By 1972, he began to photograph, concentrating on landscapes of the South Fork of Long Island, portraits of friends, many of them artists and writers in the region, and the nude figure.
In 1974, Giard settled in Amagansett, Long Island, with his life partner, Jonathan Silin, an early childhood educator, where they remained for nearly thirty years until Giard’s death. In the beginning years of his career, Giard did much of his landscape photography during the late autumn, winter, and early spring when many of the fashionable houses of “The Hamptons” were boarded up for the season. The empty surrounding grounds assumed for him “a mysterious, even somewhat sinister air.” Similarly, his studies of the male and female nude tended less toward an idealizing rendering of form than a description of a specific person. Giard saw this as subsuming “the nude under the heading of the portrait ... they are pictures of people who are naked.”
Ultimately, it would be in the area of the formal portrait that Giard’s career made its most indelible mark. In 1985, after seeing a performance of Larry Kramer’s The Normal Heart dealing with the crisis of AIDS, Giard set about documenting in straightforward, unadorned, yet sometimes witty and playful portraits, a wide survey of significant gay and lesbian literary lights. His portraits included such iconic figures as Edward Albee, Allen Ginsberg, and Adrienne Rich, as well as emerging novelists making their first mark, including Sapphire, David Leavitt, Shay Youngblood, and Michael Cunningham. A selection of these portraits, culled from the five hundred examples he had by then already amassed, was published by MIT Press in 1997 as the anthology Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers, which then served as the companion volume to the New York Public Library’s 1998 exhibition of the same name.
At the time of his death in July, 2002, just shy of his 63rd birthday, Giard was working on a portrait documentation of the three hundred twenty-one grant recipients from around the country of The Thanks Be To Grandmother Winifred Foundation, which until 2001 supported projects by women fifty-four years and older that benefited other mature women. Grants supported research and artistic projects, as well as efforts to alleviate social, economic, and medical problems for women in a given locality. Giard, traveling the country by train, bus, and plane (he never had a driver’s license) succeeded in photographing two hundred forty-one of the women grantees, and kept a journal of his travels and his many visits to a richly diverse group of American women in small towns and major cities.
Robert Giard was the recipient of many grants and awards, and the published version of Particular Voices won a Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Best Photography/Art Book in 1997. Giard had a long and distinguished solo and group exhibition career throughout the United States. Examples of his work are in collections of The Brooklyn Museum, the San Francisco Public Library, the New York Public Library, and the Library of Congress. Giard’s complete archive, including work books and ephemera, is now housed in the American Collection of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University.