Honey Lee Cottrell – a visionary photographer and filmmaker who pioneered lesbian erotica in the 1980s through her contributions to the women’s erotica magazine On Our Backs – has passed away. The cause was pancreatic cancer. She was 69 years old.
Cottrell is famed for revolutionised the female nude, validated women’s right to pleasure, and opened possibilities for women to see themselves and their desires in new ways through her engagement in a variety of feminist, artistic, and sex education projects.
She was one of the “core four,” along with Debi Sundahl, Nan Kinney, and Susie Bright, who gave On Our Backs its style and success.
When it started in 1984, she proposed a “Bulldagger of the Month” centrefold for the first issue.
She explained that the idea was
… to stand this Playboy centrefold idea on its head from, I would say, a feminist perspective… what would I do if I was a centerfold and how can I reflect back to them our values?” Her idea was not to be “the regular kind of centerfold, but something that will make a difference, shake people up, show the other side of the mirror.”
Cottrell was a contributing photographer to On Our Backs for seven years.
She photographed her lovers and friends and documented queer and kink cultures for decades with her first camera, a 35 mm Nikkormat.
The lesbian gaze meant that there was a contemplation. A restraint, a sincerity and a warrior-quality. This lesbian look was compelling. While your heterosexual woman model might compel the rest of the world to look at her, a lesbian was addressing you.”
Gayle Rubin, anthropologist and theorist of sex and gender politics, notes:
[Honey Lee] was never someone who put herself out front…. She was more of a quiet observer, but a persistently potent presence. She had a kind of strength and solidity that seemed to anchor things around her; as if she provided the gravity that held various circling planets in their stable orbits. And she just kept generating images, events, relationships, connections.”