Mary Votava

BA Honors | Photography


After medically retiring from collegiate soccer at the University of Notre Dame, I rediscovered my passion for photography and became an Art Studio Major with a concentration in Photography. Being from Portland, Oregon, I was raised with a great appreciation for finding beauty in the natural world around me, which sparked my love for photography. As a retired athlete, I also greatly enjoy getting back on the field or court as a photographer or in the stands as a fan. I am always looking for ways to connect my life and experiences with my work, which led to me celebrating the history and symbols of the sapphic community I am so lucky to be a part of through my thesis.


“In Plain Sight” explores LGBTQ+ identity through a photographic exploration of the historical use of “flagging” symbols, specifically within the sapphic community. These symbols are captured in both reverent displays and everyday settings, portraying their significant yet inconspicuous meaning. The Flagging symbols I chose after historical and community research are, a hairpin, Doc Martins, A Labrys, a carabiner, and a signet ring. These symbols are all displayed surrounded by florals that have different historical meanings to further elevate the symbols as well as gold frames to provide a reverent and celebratory framing of the objects. Each studio shot is then paired with a photo of the symbol how it might be used in the real world, hiding in plain sight, 

Throughout American history, LGBTQ+ identities have been both criminalized and stigmatized by the heteronormative world around them. To make themselves known to other members of the LGBTQ+ community without “outing” themselves in potentially dangerous situations, lesbians and other members of the LGBTQ+ community began to recognize the display of particular symbols to indicate someone’s identity. These symbols of flagging operate as a kind of beacon for those who recognize them, yet go insignificantly unnoticed by those outside of the community. My work captures these symbols photographically in both reverent still-life displays and amongst the world, hiding in plain sight. With a draw to understanding the historical context and symbolism of my own sapphic identity, my thesis was an opportunity to contemplate the experiences of LGBTQ+ members here. In a reflection of persisting struggles and unending resilience, I celebrate their triumphs in symbolic recognition.

This project is made possible in part by support from the UROP Academic Year Grant, Institute for Scholarship in the Liberal Arts, College of Arts and Letters, and the University of Notre Dame.


In Plain Sight