Laurie Toby Edison




I was born in 1942 in New York City, and I grew up in the intensely intellectual post-war world. My mother was a dress designer and my grandmother made jewelry. My family intended me for the academic intelligentsia. I was brought up in a museum culture where for me, art was a joy, and Abstract Expressionism was considered the final resolution of Western Art.

At that time, the air was filled with photographs and movie and TV images. In my neighborhood, some people had concentration camp numbers tattooed on their arms, and newspapers and magazines had photographs of the piled-up naked bodies of the Holocaust dead. Women had very few opportunities and choices. As a Jewish girl child I absorbed all of this.

I came to adolescence in the “beat” era, which was my first window out of the narrow box of 1950's society. I still remember reading Ginsberg's Howl on the subway at 14. The music and the mores of the black jazz scene helped me to open that window further. I decide not to become part of that intelligentsia but to work with my hands.

Since I was 19 I have made jewelry that is sculpture. Even now that I am also a photographer, the jewelry/sculpture work continues to be an important part of my life. I like to live in places where art and social change intersect — where it is possible to combine them. My two daughters have helped shape my work from their childhood.

I became involved in feminism in my 30s, and since I moved to San Francisco at age 38 it has been central in my life. I became active in the Fat Acceptance/Size movement working with Debbie Notkin. The Women En Large project came out of that — the book, gallery exhibitions around the world, and many speaking engagements that gave us the opportunity to see how our work transformed lives.

Just as Women En Large is my statement on the female nude, at least for now, Familiar Men is my statement on the male nude. The five years I've spent photographing men and talking with them have transformed my vision of masculinity in this time and place, as well as how I perceive the body in my work. My work on Women of Japan is transforming my work on the nude into clothed portraits.

When I look at my work, I see compositions framed by someone whose first visions were abstract — someone who needed to transform the images of the piled-up Holocaust dead into work that honors the living body. I show the disappeared, I make the invisible visible.