Jacqueline Livingston lived as an artist and died on the summer solstice, June 21, 2013, at home in Ithaca, NY, where she lived with her husband of 30 years, Leo Brissette.
Born in August 1943, Jacqueline Louise Barrrett, grew up in Chandler, Arizona, where her father worked on the Air Force base as chief of the Fire Dept. He died when she was 12 years old, leaving her mother to raise her and her sister. In the spring of 1962, she picked up a camera in her freshman art class at Arizona State University. She and her husband John Livingston helped organize the Students for a Democratic Society in Tempe, Arizona. She marched in the civil rights movement, protested the war in Vietnam, formed feminist consciousness raising groups in San Francisco, and worked for social and political change even when her first marriage ended and her second began after the birth of her son. She made photographs to cope with the two failed marriages and the stress of being a single mother on welfare, Livingston’s work turned a feminist gaze upon the male nude. She explored family, gender roles and a nudist lifestyle. By 1976, Livingston’s artistic profile brought her to Cornell University where she taught photography. Her art exhibitions of male genitalia and her feminist perspective generated controversy on campus and in the Ithaca community.
Cornell University did not renew her teaching contract in 1978. A year later, Howard Smith wrote a feature story for the Village Voice on a series of images she exhibited that included nude pictures of her then-husband, father-in-law, and 6-year-old son, sparking a firestorm of controversy. Livingston endured a groundless investigation into child abuse and intimidation by the FBI, who frequented her One-Artist Gallery in New York’s Soho district in 1982-83. Kodak seized her film and confiscated it as ‘pornography.’
“I refused to let my work be censored. Instead I decided to produce and distribute large posters of my photographs. Male nudes my weapon of choice,” wrote Livingston. Pulling an end-run around the closed circle of art critics and gallery owners for contemporary American photography, she sent 300 sets of the 14 Poster Mail Project to art museums and galleries and her exhibition hung during October 1979 in venues across the nation.
Jacqueline Livingston, along with 10 other named plaintiffs in a class action suit (Zahorik v. Cornell University), eventually won an out-of-court settlement with Cornell University in a sexual discrimination suit, but the traumatic experience of censorship continued to haunt her. Without an outlet for her art, Livingston found herself working odd jobs to support her family. In 1992, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Livingston navigated living with cancer through the camera lens, as she found herself up against the medical establishment in 1992 when only chemotherapy and radiation were sold as hope. Livingston investigated alternative treatments, including macrobiotic diets and acupuncture. She became a founding member of the Cancer Resource Center in Ithaca, NY. When she chose to undergo a mastectomy in 1995, she documented the loss of her breast.
Livingston moved to Maui, where she continued to photograph new generations of her family, the natural beauty of the world around her, natural birth and midwifery. And won awards for her new works. With a recurrence of cancer in 2010, Livingston’s photographs embraced universal themes and a surreal style. Livingston’s groundbreaking style has had a colossal impact on her contemporaries who also gaze upon the human form, especially in commercial and fashion photography. The mainstreaming of her peers—Sally Mann, Robert Mapplethorpe, Joel Peter-Witkin, Nan Goldin and others—into the canon of American Art photography and the cultural rehabilitation of these artists inspired Jacqueline Livingston to share her uncensored story of her life and times.in an unpublished memoir of photographs.
Livingston remains an internationally recognized American photographic artist with numerous gallery exhibitions and representation in museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Modern Art in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Frankfurter Kunstverein in Frankfurt, Germany, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, France, and the National Museum, Gdansk, Poland where she was invited to exhibit a one-person retrospective show titled “The Family Album: Spaces of Intimacy,” from April 27 to June 14, 2009. Jackie Livingston spoke at the opening, participated in the international symposium on her oeuvre, and discussed the relevancy of her art with national news media coverage.
Livingston graduated with a BA and MA in Art Education from Arizona State University. She taught photography at the UC Berkeley Extension Program in San Francisco, Cornell University, the University of Rhode Island, and Ithaca College.
Jacqueline Livingston is survived by her husband, Leo Brissette,her sistesr, Margaret and Barbara, her son Sam (Shalimar) and her grandchildren Vajra and Bell.
3 thoughts on “Jacqueline Louise Barrett Livingston Brisette (1943-2013)”
Thank you, Jill. Deeply moved by her life, courageous path, and death.
I was Jackie’s a photography student at Cornell. Although I studied engineering and computer science, Jackie nurtured my artist’s sense, while also teaching darkroom skills. She made such an impression on me, that within a year, I was administering the west campus darkroom and teaching a summer course in creative photography and darkroom technique. (I was only a sophmore at the time).
Here is a photo that I took of Jacqueline Livingston in class (1976 or 76) is here:
Although I never made a career around visual arts, Jackie had positive impact on my life and career. During a period in which she faced issues of censorship and community hysteria (ignorance, fear, and an institutional concept of decency), I identified with her strongly.
I finally reconnected with Jackie in August 20008 (more than 30 years after she was my professor). We exchanged a few emails. She liked receiving the photo linked above.