New Photography Show at GLBT History Museum Spotlights 1970s San Francisco Drag Queens

A new exhibition at the GLBT History Museum, "Reigning Queens: The Lost Photos of Roz Joseph," presents evocative photographs of San Francisco's epic drag and costume balls of the mid-1970s. The colour images were created by noted photographer Roz Joseph, whose drag-queen series was rediscovered after she donated the work to the GLBT Historical Society. The vintage prints will be displayed starting October 23.

GLBT History Museum
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“Roz Joseph documented a world of self-styled baronesses in diamond tiaras, elaborate ‘royal’ coronations and gender-bending performance,” notes curator Joey Plaster. “Her photos show how gay men deployed theatre and fantasy to make very real contributions to San Francisco’s gay community. We’re excited to bring these long-lost images back into public view almost four decades after they were made.”

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Roz Joseph was born in the Bronx in 1926 and studied photography in New York City. In the 1960s, she shot images in Europe and North Africa. In 1970, she moved to San Francisco, where she began photographing city scenes. In 1991, Chronicle Books published a volume of her work, Details: The Architect’s Art. She also published in Artweek and California Living. Her prints have been exhibited at the San Francisco Art Institute, the California Museum of Photography and Paradox Gallery. Joseph has been a resident of San Francisco for 45 years.

The curator of “Reigning Queens,” Joey Plaster, is a doctoral candidate in American Studies at Yale University. He formerly headed the oral history program at the GLBT Historical Society and currently serves on its board of directors.

Photo by Roz Joseph (courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society)
“Frieda, Ninth Empress of San Francisco’s Imperial Court” (circa 1976). Vintage colour print on Kodak paper. Photo by Roz Joseph (courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society).

Many of the drag queens Joseph photographed were associated with an organisation called the Imperial Court, which annually elects a drag empress who raises funds for local charities. Founded in San Francisco in 1965 and now established in cities around the U.S. and in several other countries, the Imperial Court system is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.

“Reigning Queens” will be on display October 23, 2015, through February 2016, in the Community Gallery of the GLBT History Museum at 4127 18th St. in San Francisco. Regular admission to the museum is $5.00 (general); $3.00 (California students with ID); free for members. The galleries are open Monday and Wednesday through Saturday, 11:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m.; Sunday, noon-5:00 p.m.; closed Tuesday.

Roz Joseph (courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society).
“Ambi Sextrous” ” (circa 1976). Vintage colour print on Kodak paper. Roz Joseph (courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society).

An opening reception featuring remarks by the curator and light refreshments is set for Friday, October 23, 7:00-9:00 p.m. (suggested donation: $10).

For more information, call (415) 621-1107 or visit

Photo by Roz Joseph (courtesy of the GLBT Historical Society)

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