Never before seen photos of LGBTQ icon Marsha P. Johnson

Getty Images, Marsha P. Johnson
View of American gay liberation activist Marsha P Johnson (1945 - 1992) (left) during the Pride March (later the LGBT Pride March), New York, June 29, 1975. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images) Photo: Fred McDarrah, Getty Images

From the Beats to Bob Dylan to the actors and artists of the day, Village Voice photographer Fred McDarrah was there, up-close and documenting New York’s counterculture for over four extraordinary decades.

In that time, McDarrah turned his inquisitive eye and sympathetic lens to a city undergoing momentous social change. And as it turns out, he had a pretty good eye for history, too.

Related: Color of Pride: Marsha P. Johnson fearlessly paved the way for your civil rights

So when McDarrah covered the aftermath of a police raid at the Stonewall Inn during the very early hours of June 28, 1969, he wound up as an eye-witness to one of the most pivotal moments in cultural history.

To this day, his photographic record – consisting of barely a dozen frames or so – of the Stonewall uprisings remains one of the most important visual documents of our times and a moment that has echoed in the decades since.

And if the post-Stonewall environment was about a new freedom for New York’s gay, lesbian and transgender community to be out and to be seen, then McDarrah’s lens was there to document that freedom.

Getty Images, Marsha P. Johnson
View of American gay liberation activist Marsha P Johnson (1945 – 1992) (left) during the Pride March (later the LGBT Pride March), New York, June 27, 1982. The masked marcher at right is unidentified. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images) Fred McDarrah, Getty Images

For decades, McDarrah would do just that. Through documenting the evolution of Pride – the faces, the marches, the everyday and the extraordinary – his photos provide us with a wonderfully unique document of that evolution as it unfolded.

Throughout his career, McDarrah amassed over a quarter of a million images and like most news-led photo archives, what was published for the weekly magazine report was just the tip of the iceberg.

Behind every famous frame we recognize today lay contact sheets and negatives, unpublished material waiting to be rediscovered by fresh eyes and fresh lines of inquiry. Such is the vibrancy and value of any historical record, as it allows each generation the ability to decode and discover new relevancy.

Getty Images, Marsha P. Johnson
American gay liberation activist Marsha P Johnson (1945 – 1992, wearing headband) and an unidentified woman in facepaint, on 7th Avenue South, between Grove and Christopher streets, at the second annual Stonewall anniversary march (Gay Liberation Day), later known as Gay Pride, New York, New York, June 27, 1971. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images) Fred McDarrah, Getty Images

When we turned to McDarrah’s Archive to re-examine his coverage of Pride through the years, we were thrilled to discover new frames and now familiar faces amongst the contact sheets that were originally not seen.

Marsha P. Johnson’s unmistakable exuberance as she connects with McDarrah’s lens in 1975 and a rare frame of Johnson and liberation activist Sylvia Rivera together as they march along Greenwich Avenue in 1970 are just two of the gems we can now add to the permanent historical record–and we are truly thrilled to do so.

The New York of McDarrah’s time has largely disappeared of course, although the immediacy and relevance of his work will, like any great photo archive, remain ripe for rediscovery for generations to come.

Getty Images, Marsha P. Johnson
Members of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), including co-foundering gay liberation activist Sylvia Rivera (1951 – 2002) (holding banner, left) and Marsha P Johnson (1945 – 1992) (holding banner, right), demonstrate outside the New York Women’s House of Detention (at 10 Greenwich Avenue), New York, New York, December 21, 1970. (Photo by Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Imges) Fred McDarrah, Getty Images

Bob Ahern is the Director of Archive Photography at Getty Images.

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