Jill H. Casid, Kissing on Main Street


Jill H. Casid, “7 Jefferson Avenue SE, Grand Rapids, MI 49503,” from Kissing on Main Street, 2015, original SX-70 Polaroid.


Kissing on Main Street aims the instant-developing Polaroid camera at the four-way intersection of sex, imaging technology, vulnerable exposure, and policing that is public intimacy. In a tryst of abbreviation, public displays of affection inhabit the same letters as the now superseded personal digital assistant. Taking advantage of the coincidence of consonants that marks the ways in which public intimacy is transacted through the technologically mediated image, Kissing on Main Street turns the space of gallery installation into a site for negotiating the difficult sensations but also the political possibilities of public intimacy. Embedding the fleeting pulse of feeling into the technological, the instant-developing Polaroid, by its evasion of the public dark room, enabled the recording of erotic acts that challenge everyday policing of the norms of sex. In its condensation of the taking, making, and sharing of images as linked acts, the Polaroid performs as a vehicle of public intimacy in ways that are analogous to the smart phone devices and their embedded cameras.

At the same time, in its susceptibility to the altering effects of exposure to light and to touch, the Polaroid also serves as material metaphor for the vulnerabilities of sex highlighted by public displays of affection. Cases of gay bullying enacted through the online posting of sex-tapes, underage sexting, and the U.S. Supreme Court decisions that decriminalized sodomy and affirmed the right to marry a person of the same sex limit protected sex to the precariousness of private, consensual bonds and lay bare the limits on public intimacy. Far from being protected, public displays of affection expose us at the policed frontlines of sexual freedoms not at all to be taken for granted.

In “Plotting for Kisses,” psychoanalytic writer and therapist Adam Phillips writes that, “Truly infectious, kissing may be our most furtive, our most reticent sexual act, the mouth’s elegy to itself.” As an act on the fungible edges between the reticent and the flagrant, inside and outside, oral and genital, private and public, plotting for kisses promises to be or become infectious. It is precisely the volatile unpredictability of how affect travels between bodies in and through the technology of the camera and fragile print that is at the heart of Kissing on Main Street. If, as Joni Mitchell, sang, “In France they kiss on Main Street,” what happens when I/we take composing plots for kisses uneasily preserved in Polaroid emulsion into the public space of the gallery? In the solicitation to look, Kissing on Main Street stages an encounter to pursue the questions of what happens in and to the intimate acts of the Polaroid once we are enfolded as voyeurs and what happens to us in our exposure as not neutral witnesses but intimate actors, peering into the mirror-lined peep show boxes that display them.



An artist, theorist, and historian, Jill H. Casid is Professor of Visual Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison where she founded and served as the first director of the Center for Visual Cultures. Her queer feminist work with photography as a critical technology explores the volatility of the archive of deviance, the politics of public sex, the turbulent status of queer femininity, the sexual ethics of exposure, and the camera as not just a tool of surveillance but also a space of intimate encounter and vital accessory to subcultural practice. Her work has been exhibited both locally and internationally and is discussed in such surveys as Harmony Hammond’s Lesbian Art in America and Deborah Bright’s The Passionate Camera. She maintains a studio in New York.

Jill H. Casid, “Sylvia Beach Way, Princeton, NJ 08542,” from Kissing on Main Street, 2015, original SX-70 Polaroid.