Sunday, March 08, 2020

Dawoud Bey at SFMOMA

Dawoud Bey, a 66-year-old black photographer from New York who I had never heard of before, is having a retrospective at SFMOMA right now, and it's wonderful in all kinds of ways.

His first photo series, Harlem, U.S.A., were human portraits of his own neighborhood in the 1970s.

The intimacy between the photographer and subject reminded me a little of Diane Arbus, but with a completely opposite affect. There's an element of love and trust in these photos that resonate off the walls.

In the early oughts he worked on Class Pictures, a series of portraits of teenagers from around the country with short biographical statements by the subjects themselves.

Pictured above is Usha, Gateway High School, San Francisco, CA (2006) and she writes: "I can speak four languages. I am an actress, and when I was about thirty seconds old I reached up and took my dad's glasses off of his face. When I was eight years old, I visited my cousin's school in India. They didn't have a roof, so during the monsoons they got rained on. When I went home, I raised enough money to build them a roof and buy some school supplies."

The Birmingham Project from 2012 is a series of diptychs based on age, of the girls who were killed in the 1963 Baptist Church bombing and what age they would be if they had lived. In another room is Night Coming Tenderly, Black, a series of huge dark photographs of nighttime in the Ohio countryside where the Underground Railroad ran through. The pictures are non-reproducible and somehow give off a spooky 3D effect when you study them closely.

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