The Fae Richards Photo Archive – Veracity in the Ficticious!


“The Watermelon Woman came from the real lack of any information about the lesbian and film history of African-American women. Since it wasn’t happening, I invented it.”                                   

Dunye and Leonard’s work: The Fae Richards archive strikes me as the use of a construct, indeed engineered fiction to tell about women, lesbianism in the Black community and the absence of real figures from this group in film, or in fact in contemporary American history.

Without doubt there were almost certainly black American lesbian’s in Hollywood, however the prevailing orthodoxy and power of the film studios must have made it impossible for women, let alone African American women to come out into society for much of the 20th Century. Black women will also have had racism to contend with compounding them being able to live an open life with regard to their sexuality. A further dimension was also the very traditional view of the church’s in black communities who to this day can have a negative stance around homosexuality.

In tha absence of genuine historic evidence, Leonard and Dunye have created a fictitious movie star, Fae Richards. Using traditional photographic styled records such as publicity images, family album images, film stills, candid images, the character of Richard is brought to life. There is a veracity to the fiction through the use of photographic evidence that looks very plausible. Although a falsehood, the faux archive tells of a wider truth and for me poses the question; can there be more truth ain a fictitious archive than in a genuine documentary archive where the honesty and intent of the photographer is unknown?

I am genuinely intrigued by this work and Dunye’s notion of ‘photographic falsification. We covered quite a bit about the photo as ‘document’ earlier in the course and as noted at the time in reference to Wells(2009) Photography as a technology can manipulate how we perceive the world around us. It is this very idea that Dunye and Leonard exploit using what they describe as ‘archival conventions’ to tell us about the life of black women who have never been included in the collective 20 century history or archive. This to me seems to be a process where the ends justify the falsehood.

Reading about this work has set me thinking about assignment 5 and how I might use the idea of a fictional narrative


Wells, E. (2009)Photography: A critical Introduction Routledge, Abingdon

The Fae Richerds Archive. Birmingham City University Art & Design Archives for cross discipline creative practice, found at:


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