Photographer and Educator Dawoud Bey | 2017 MacArthur Fellow

Photographer and Educator Dawoud Bey | 2017 MacArthur Fellow


I make photographs of things that I think might
be taken for granted in order to give them more resonance and presence. My name
is Dawoud Bey and I’m an artist working in photography and video. My work has
largely been based on representation of the human subject. What I have been
trying to describe is a sense of the interior person. It’s that sense of
interiority that I try to provoke in the work around subjects, such as the black
subject or young people, who are not always within the larger social
conversation, thought of as having a rich interior life. Which is why with the
Class Pictures photographs, I also ask them to write text about themselves,
their own self-representation. One of the things that I try to do is to leave a
series of transformed relationships by provoking conversations that might not
have happened otherwise. I’ve been thinking about making work in Birmingham
in response to the memory of September 15, 1963. History has a way of becoming
kind of fuzzy and abstract, so I wanted to make photographs of African American
girls in Birmingham who were the exact same ages as the four girls who were
killed–to make tangible something that could be abstract and to deal with the
question of “How do you make the past resonant in
the contemporary moment”? My initial work was prompted by a desire to acquaint,
or maybe reacquaint, myself with a community that I had a connection and family
history with. Forty years later, from sporadic trips to Harlem, it was apparent
to me that the neighborhood was changing in significant ways, and I
wanted to make work about that change as it was happening. I’m making some new
work in Cleveland. They’re landscape photographs that are meant to invoke a
sense of the movement of fugitive slaves through the Cleveland and Ohio
landscape. Again, very different work for me, and I’m really excited about it. When
I heard that I was a MacArthur Fellow, it was a deeply affirming moment, you
know, to know that all of the work that I’ve done these past 40 years was
recognized by my peers at that level.

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