Two Photography Titans Are Coming to Seattle

This fall, Seattle residents have the opportunity to see the work of two of the greatest living photographers: Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems. Both are world-renowned artists who have meticulously told stories about Black people, Black history, and Black subjectivity in the United States since the beginning of their careers in the 1970s. And on top of that they are friends.

Originally organized by the Grand Rapids Museum of Art in Michigan, Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue will be making a stop at the Seattle Art Museum from November 17, 2022 to January 22, 2023.

Although they have been friends for almost fifty years, this show marks the first time Bey and Weems have performed together. While their approaches to the medium of photography differ – Bey is often more documentary, while Weems focuses on the self and narrative works – both artists are fundamentally interested in redefining and challenging power dynamics in art.

“It almost feels like the United States is catching up on the important work that these artists have done over five decades,” says Catharina Manchanda, curator of modern and contemporary art at SAM, who organizes the exhibition here in Seattle. “Whether it’s a celebration of the black community, whether it’s a way to spotlight power imbalances that exist in the landscape … or stories that have been overlooked — these are all issues they’ve dedicated their entire careers to.” “

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Consisting of over 140 parts, Dawud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue is divided into five roughly chronological sections that move through the artists’ early work—the establishment of their perspectives, their interest in America’s black history, and how landscapes appear and influence their work. This exhibition covers the half-century of their respective careers and includes photographs from Bey’s and Weems’ best-known series.

Here’s a closer look at three photographs included in the exhibition to warm you up for the November exhibition opening:

Dawood Beys Couple in Prospect Park (1990), gelatin silver print

I wonder where they are today… Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery and Sam

From 1988 to 1991, Bey roamed the major cities of the United States, setting up his large-format Polaroid tripod somewhere in public and asking black people to pose for him. Being careful not to just “take” Bey used a camera that immediately printed out a negative and a small black-and-white polaroid. He gave the photograph to his subjects to make the photographic encounter more equitable. This series – called street portraits– consists of intimate and complex depictions of black public life, performance and presentation at the time.

in the Couple in Prospect Park, the loving couple looks at the camera. Their gaze is direct and confident – they watch she to look at her. But despite our interruption, they still have an intimacy and nonchalance, as if Bey had caught the lovers in the middle of a private embrace. bey said High Museum of Art that photos like these arose from a desire to “describe the black subject in a way that is as complex as everyone else’s experiences.”

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Carrie Mae Weems Untitled (wife and daughter with children) out The kitchen table series (1990), gelatin silver print

Weems makes these narrative scenes so pervasively psychological. courtesy of the artist, Jack Shainman Gallery and SAM

Weems takes the more narrative route Kitchen table series. In 1989, she set up a camera at her kitchen table and photographed herself acting out various fictional scenes. The setting of the series never changes – the wooden table and the single triangular ceiling light – but you does.

The woman sadly drinks alone at the table, eats with a male lover, lets a friend brush her hair, does makeup with her daughter, looks straight into the camera. This photo essay portrays the life of a Black woman morphing into different selves – a mother, a wife, a friend, a sister, herself – and the different psychological states these modes entail. While blackness is certainly an element explored in this series, it also universally speaks to women’s experiences in their personal lives. This particular work has profoundly influenced the world of visual arts. Generations of artists who were their contemporaries or who came to Weems described the Kitchen table series as fundamental to their practice, reshaping their understanding of the medium of photography and the representation of Black people.

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Dawood Beys The Birmingham Project: Taylor Falls and Deborah Hackwork (2012), Archival pigment prints mounted on Dibond

Since these are large-format photographs, one feels confronted with the presence of the subjects. Courtesy of Stephen Daiter Gallery and SAM

Beys The Birmingham Project is a portrait series commemorating the four girls in the 1963 bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and the two boys killed in the violence that followed. The terrorist attack, carried out by members of the Ku Klux Klan, resonated throughout the United States, which was deep in the clutches of the civil rights movement. To compose the series’ diptychs, Bey invited children and adults from Birmingham to pose for the portraits. The children were the age of the bomb victims, while the adults were the age of the victims if they had not been murdered. Each photo consists of two different images, which are staged in such a way that both images form a whole. As in Taylor Falls and Deborah Hackwork, Taylor and Deborah are reflections of each other across a pool of time and experience. The entire series is a symbolic meditation on how racial violence is affecting generations of the black community, but also serves as an imagination of what the future might hold.

Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue opens at the Seattle Art Museum on November 17, 2022 and runs through January 22, 2023.

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