FASCINATED BY HIS BLACK-AND-WHITE IMAGES of a man in a rumpled shirt emerging from the subway seemingly propelled by an angle of light and Billie Holiday captured in soft focus, photographer Dawoud Bey discusses the style and composition of photographer Roy DeCarava (1919-2009).
Bey says DeCarava was the first African American artist working in the medium of photography that he could look to as an inspiration. He reflected on the impact of the late Harlem photographer (and painter) for The Artist Project at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he examined a number of works by DeCarava.
“His photographs were not only of African American subjects, but his deeper contribution was as an African American artist who took that piece of himself out into the world and brought that into his work,” says Bey, in the video above. “He understood that his own particularly racial subjectivity was a deeply embedded part of the meaning of the work.”
“[Roy DeCarava’s] photographs were not only of African American subjects, but his deeper contribution was as an African American artist who took that piece of himself out into the world and brought that into his work.” — Dawoud Bey, Metropolitan Museum of Art
Born in Queens, N.Y., Bey lives and works in Chicago, where he is a professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago. His practice probes political and social issues through the lens of community-based projects. “Harlem USA,” his first solo exhibition, debuted at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. Two diptychs from his recent series, “The Birmingham Project,” were on view in the 2014 Whitney Biennial.
Bey, along with painter Mark Bradford, and costume designer Paul Tazewell participated in Season 4 of the museum’s project, which calls upon artists to engage with the institution’s storied collection and share what moves them and may compel their own work.
For each installment of the six-season series, the museum selects 20 artists. Several African American artists have participated in previous seasons, including Mickalene Thomas, Kerry James Marshall, Glen Ligon and LaToya Ruby Frazier. The next season launches in February 2016.
Mark Bradford on Clyfford Still
Los Angeles-based abstract painter Mark Bradford is co-founder of Art + Practice and currently has an exhibition on view at Hauser and Wirth Gallery in New York. Bradford talks about 1950s abstract expressionism in New York, focusing on Clyfford Still and his artistic intent. Bradford considers Still’s use of color, scale and mark making and how his works may have been responding to the politics of the time. CT
First published in 1956, Roy DeCarava collaborated with Langston Hughes on “The Sweet Flypaper of Life,” a snapshot of Harlem in text and photographs. “Dawoud Bey: Picturing People” accompanied his 2012 exhibition at The Renaissance Society. The recently published volume, “Dawoud Bey: Harlem, U.S.A.,” documents his 1979 exhibition for the first time. “Dawoud Bey: Class Pictures” features the large-scale portraits the photographer made of high school students across the country, a 15-year endeavor. “Mark Bradford: Scorched Earth” accompanied the artist’s exhibition at the Hammer Museum earlier this year. “Mark Bradford: My Head Became a Rock” is an 18-page limited-edition overscaled artist’s book that documents Bradford’s inaugural exhibition at Hauser and Wirth, Zurich (2014). Both titles were published this year.