The Artistry of Barbara May Cameron: A Life in Focus

barbara may cameron was a well known photographer and a filmmaker represents a dynamic fusion of visual storytelling.

On May 22, 1954, Barbara May Cameron was born. She was a Hunkpapa Lakota from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s Fort Yates band in Fort Yates, North Dakota.

She was raised by her grandparents on the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota.

After finishing her elementary and secondary education on the reservation, she went on to study photography and film at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cameron moved to San Francisco in 1973 to attend the San Francisco Art Institute.

barbara may cameron excels in capturing a singular moment, freezing it in time with precision and artistry, a filmmaker expands this vision, weaving a narrative through a sequence of moving images.

The photographer’s keen eye for composition, lighting, and detail can significantly influence the visual aesthetics of a film, adding depth and visual richness to each frame. In turn, a filmmaker’s ability to craft a compelling story provides context and continuity to the photographer’s individual snapshots. This partnership often results in a harmonious blend of still and moving images, creating a cinematic experience that transcends the boundaries between the two art forms.

Her photography and filmmaking embark on a creative journey, each contributing their unique skills to produce a visual masterpiece that tells a story both frame by frame and in the collective motion of the narrative.

Cameron helped organize the Lesbian Gay Freedom Day Parade and Celebration from 1980 to 1985, and in 1981, she contributed to This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, edited by Cherre Moraga and Gloria E. Anzalda. Her article Gee, You Don’t Look Like an Indian from the Reservation examined racism and homophobia from both within and outside the Native American community.

She contributed to the seminal collection A Gathering of Spirit: Writing and Art by North American Indian Women in 1983. Beth Brant edited the anthology, which featured works by twelve Native lesbians.

Cameron served as vice president of the Alice B. Toklas LGBT Democratic Club and co-chair of the Lesbian and Gay Democratic Club in the late 1980s agenda for action.

Cameron went to Nicaragua in 1986 with other women who called themselves Somos Hermanas (We are sisters) to study and show solidarity with the women there, as well as to help improve their lives.

She was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in 1988 for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition. That same year, Dianne Feinstein, then-Mayor of San Francisco, appointed her to the Citizens Committee on Community Development and the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. Frank Jordan, the next mayor, appointed her to the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women.

Cameron served as executive director of Community United Against Violence (CUAV) from 1989 to 1992, assisting victims of domestic violence and hate crimes.

She received the Harvey Milk Award for Community Service in 1992 and was the first recipient of the Bay Area Career Women Community Service Award the following year.

She also took part in the International Indigenous AIDS Network during the International Conference on AIDS in Berlin that year. She spent 1993 traveling to various Indian reservations across the United States to educate people about AIDS.

Cameron’s essay No Apologies: A Lakota Lesbian Perspective appeared in the 1996 book New Our Right to Love: A Lesbian Resource Book.

She was a board member of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and the American Indian AIDS Institute, as well as a consultant to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the United Nations.

The Department of Health and Human Services of the United States.

She founded the Institute on Native American Health and Wellness, with her first project being the publication of Native American women writers’ works.

The James Hormel LGBTQIA center at the San Francisco Public Library houses Barbara Cameron’s papers.

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