Roger Tootie holding Kyan and Leroy, Saratoga Springs New York
2010 silver gelatin photograph

Lori E. Seid Assists Ethyl Eichelberger PS122 NYC
1987 silver gelatin photograph

Performative Acts: Dona Ann McAdams

April 2 – August 15

One day in 1975 I ran out of film while shooting in San Francisco’s Dolores Park. Someone told me there was a camera store on Castro Street, so I wandered over. A man with a mustache and long hair was sitting in a barber’s chair. He asked what I wanted, and when I told him I needed a roll of Tri-X film to keep shooting, he said, “Just one?” Then he offered to set up a charge account for me, so I could come in anytime and get whatever I needed. The man was incredibly helpful and supportive and had a thick Long Island accent, not unlike my own at the time. He introduced himself as Harvey, and the following month I learned who he was. The “Mayor of Castro Street,” the owner of Castro Camera, was running for office. His name was Harvey Milk.

I was 21 at the time and attending classes at the San Francisco Art Institute, lucky enough to have teachers like Hank Wessel and Dennis Hearne and Gary Winogrand. They taught me how to make a good photograph—how to make art—but Harvey Milk taught me how to use that art to encourage social change.

Ever since those days in San Francisco, the artistic and the political have been inseparable for me. When Harvey was assassinated three years later in November, 1978, and my father died the following month from a coronary, I was seared to the core. They were both 48 years old, much too young to go.

I vowed then not to compromise my work but to make it by any means necessary. Life was too fragile and unfair not to fight for what I believed in. I would use the tools I had available—a camera and a few rolls of film. The Tri-X came from a charge account at Castro Camera. I’ve been shooting the same film ever since.

Read a recent interview with Dona McAdams and the Vermont Arts Council.