Dawoud Bey | The One
In this week's issue, photographer Dawoud Bey tells TOC about two new exhibitions devoted to his work. (The Art Institute of Chicago unveiled "Harlem U.S.A." today. "Picturing People" opens at the Renaissance Society Sun 13.) One of my favorite series by the Chicago artist is "Class Pictures," which presents portraits of teenagers from six high schools across the U.S. alongside the students' autobiographical statements. Bey's explanation of how he created these photographs didn't make it into print, but it's worth reading: Did your subjects in "Class Pictures" write the statements about themselves in response to their photographs?
I had them do the writing before making the pictures. So it was me and the student and the camera alone in the classroom, and I would just ask them to sit quietly and to write something in response to this one question that I wrote. The question was a variation on, "Tell me something about yourself that no one knows, that you would like them to know if they were really going to know you." Sometimes I left the room. Sometimes I would just sit somewhere out of view. Once they were finished with the writing, I would just take it and put it in my bag. I never read what they wrote before making the picture. I thought it would have been the wrong thing to do at that moment, especially given the quality of revelation. We didn't do a lot of talking, because I didn't want to disrupt wherever they had gone through the writing. For me, it's always been about…[allowing] the subject the space to be themselves in front of the camera.