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Matinee: Dawoud Bey Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

15 February 2020

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 241st in our series of Saturday matinees today: Dawoud Bey on Photography as a 'Transformative Experience'.

This weekend the Dawoud Bey retrospective An American Project opens at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Earlier this week, we sat in on a half-hour interview with the photographer before touring the exhibit. And we'll publish a review of the retrospective shortly.

But meanwhile, we thought we'd feature this NewsHour interview with Bey and Jeffrey Brown from almost a year ago. Brown focuses on the shift in Bey's focus from shooting candids of the people in Harlem to imagining what traveling the Underground Railroad in the 1800s must have been like.

This history of self-liberation, he says, plays out even today as people all over the world are escaping persecution as refugees.

So the clip starts with those Harlem street shots that celebrated a neglected community in art.

"African Americans in photographs are very often been viewed through a lens of social pathology," he says. "So I wanted to respond to that kind of representation." By going beneath the surface to a more complex portrait.

But the interview took place as Bey's exhibition Night Coming Tenderly, Black was showing in Chicago. It's what Bey calls "a radical reimagining of history" focused on the Underground Railroad of the 1800s.

The extremely dark images, inspired by the work of Roy DeCarava, depict what Bey imagines were the scenes of way stations an escaped slave may have seen. The job was to "making the invisible visible in the photographs in a way that is palpable, in a way that resonates."

This history of self-liberation, he says, plays out even today as people all over the world are escaping persecution as refugees.

Brown remembers Bey's Birmingham Projet in this piece as well. That too was a problem of visualizing the past in the present. Bey's ingenious solution, explained in the piece, is also very moving.

The interview manages to be a 6:39 retrospective in itself. But if you want to see An American Project in person (which is the only way to appreciate the mural-like images Night Coming Tenderly, Black) it will be at SFMOMA until May 25 before traveling to Atlanta for the summer and going to the Whitney in New York City after that.


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