Robert Joseph Giard Jr.


Died July 16, 2002

College: Branford

Widow: Dr. Jonathan G. Silin
50 Yarmouth Road
Toronto M6G 1W9

French and Irish one side of his family and Lithuanian on the other, Bob grew up in a working class section of Hartford and was the first in his family to go to college—in his case with a full scholarship to Yale. Bob was always a promising student; at his junior high school graduation, his family was floored to hear him introduced as the class valedictorian—they had no idea. As for his sexual orientation, he largely kept it hidden until after college—his close friends in Branford —Bob Phillips, Jack Cullinan, I, and the late Peter Roth—were unaware.

In the face of the AIDS crisis, in 1985 Bob launched his ambitious project to record, through photographs and writings, something of the gay experience, history, and culture in America. Among those he met and photographed are some of the leading lights of American letters: Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs, Edward Albee, James Purdy, Adrienne Rich and Tony Kushner. The result was his landmark book, Particular Voices: Portraits of Gay and Lesbian Writers (MIT Press).

Bob has had a very active creative afterlife. The Robert Giard Foundation (, established the year of his death, has the overall goal of preserving and enhancing his photographic legacy. Another goal is to support young artists working with human sexuality and gender. The Robert Giard Fellowship is open to artists working in photography, photo-based media, video, or short-form film.

In 2004, the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library acquired Bob’s complete archive as part of the Yale Collection of American Literature. It contains more than 1,500 vintage prints and 7,000 related works, including all his portraits of gay and lesbian writers, plus portraits of friends, artists, and writers. Also included are his landscapes, still lives and nudes along with an archive of his entire career.

After several years in Manhattan, Bob lived for the last thirty years of his life in Amagansett, Long Island, with his life partner, Jonathan Silin, a writer and early childhood educator. His life there was happy and productive. After his Portraits book, his next and final project was a commission from the Thanks Be to the Grandmother Winifred Foundation to photograph their 321 grant recipients, older women who had initiated projects that benefited adult women. At the time of his death he had photographed 241 of the recipients. For the last eight years of his life he traveled, mostly by bus, throughout the U.S. meeting and photographing his subjects and it was on such a trip, in the midst of his work, that he died. He worked literally to the last day of his life.

Bob and his work will be remembered and admired for decades to come. But for me, he was simply the best friend I had in college, and I have missed him every day since he died.

— by Robert Chipley