Before he becomes a photographer, Dawood Beau is trained as a jazz percussionist, watching John Coltrane as a role model to melt the craft with a commitment to social justice. As a teenager in the 1960s, Bey was blamed for the social and political upheaval of the civil rights movement, who sat in protest with his high school classmates and joined the Black Panther Party, whose news The letter he sold on weekends. By 1968, the struggle for racial equality was transforming with demonstrations against the war in Vietnam and the early stages of women’s liberation, creating a pattern of change and upheaval, culminating in the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated.
That year, Bey inherited a camera from his godfather, and soon began to study the history and techniques of the medium, focusing on images Gordon park And Roy Dekarava And learning to print and develop the film from a black photographer in his Queens neighborhood. Bei considered that although a photograph might look like a static record, carefully and intentionally, a photographer could illuminate the historians hidden beneath the surface more than they would see in a frame and clue audience. “The present never completely suppresses the past,” said the artist an interview In the aperture last December. “History is not inherent, it spreads.”
“An American Project,” A retrospective survey in the Whitney Museum of American Art shows the 68-year-old artist’s thematic understanding of history as both subjective and dynamic. Under Bey’s careful glance, history emerges as an active presence, transcribed in real-time by individuals and societies, transformed and transformed by the constant unfolding of the past.
Over two floors and nearly five decades of work, the exhibition distinguishes Bey as an artist within the canon of American photography whose adaptation to technological change in craft, his moral commitment to portraying black life in its richness Has not come at the cost of. And complexity.
In scenes created with a 35mm camera with a 4 x 5 tripod mounting device in the 19 1990s and early 1990s, Bey erased his appearance as a photographer in the early 1990s Have tried, slowed down their process and allowed their subjects to take charge. Created extensively, these photographs, such as a closely posed image of a young man riding a bicycle, demonstrate BI’s ability to enhance the interior of its subjects with not only attention to detail, but the audience. It also increases the awareness of , Such as Bey, sharing the space with another person. He continued the practice in his friends’ studio portraits, MultiNail Color Polaroids which portray Kerry James Marshall, Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Lorna Simpson – all members of an expanding artistic community.
The museum’s founding of these later works is particularly inspired: mounted in near-life-size on the gallery’s walls, the photographs are an encounter that keeps the viewer and the subject at an equal and mutually respectable distance.
The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art curated by Elizabeth Sherman and Corey Keller of Whitney, where the exhibition originated before a halt at Atlanta’s High Museum, marks a kind of homecoming for Bey in the exhibition, which was 1953 Was born in Queens. Bey has often cited in-depth experience visiting the 1969 exhibition. “Harlem on my mind,” Which was opposed by black artists to portray life in Harlem, involving only a few black artists; It was there that BI was seen, for the first time, images of ordinary black people in an institution that had long since excluded them. A decade later, Bey opened his first exhibition of photographs at the Studio Museum – a modest-scale black-and-white illustration depicting the minor keys to life in Harlem, often created during the Soron, for neighborhoods beginning in 1975. “Title”Harlem, USA“ The photographs are casual and social, depicting moments of quiet contemplation and celebration, as in the 1978 portrait of three elegant, older women wearing their clothes, as they lean over the police barricades.
Although Bey is perhaps best known for such sensitive and cleverly crafted paintings, it is his focus on location – a deep awareness of how people can find place in communities – that anchor their photographs. His work often stops the trap set for black imagery, the dual responsibility of eradicating the nation’s original sins and proclaiming a sense of progress, but BI also takes note of how places change over time .
In Whitney, BE’s 1970s snapshots of Harlem have been linked to a recent series, Harlem Redux, It examines the impact of gentrification on historically black neighborhoods and its major sites. A 2016 diptych of the series featured water-stained paper covering the facade of the former Lenox Lounge, whose famous zebra room was populated by the likes of Zora Neale Hurston and Billy Holiday. The pictures are set in a corridor in Whitney that looks at the skyscrapers in the Meatpacking District, itself a center for artists and cultural life, but has been transformed by the encroachment of the global capital. They are elegant and vivid, shivering with notes of yesteryear, but whose echoes resonate with contemporary life.
This type of resonance is most deeply felt in the series “Night Coming Tenderly, Black,” The 2017 series of large-scale gelatin silver prints appeared in black and brown grades. To do these tasks, Bey traveled along the subway tracks in northeastern Ohio, following the route of the fugitive slaves as he made his way north, and made daytime photographs that he made of a special Changed into crepuscular scenes through the printing process. The near-monochrome finish requires the viewer to move his body to see the serene views of the forest floor and the mundane white picket fence.
Devoid of any figures, these works first appear to believe the long, tortured legacies to which they agree. Vantage is often limited, the landscape is presented as if through gaps between trees. As we make our way through these images, we come ever closer to Lake Erie, the edges of which indicated that freedom was near. Despite the stillness of the images, it is possible to exclude the sound of the waves – a constant, immediate rhythm that scores the American story.
David Beau: An American Project
Through October 3, Whitney Museum of American Art, 99 Gainsvoort St., Manhattan, 212-570-3600 whitney.org. Advance tickets are required.
Tausif Noor is a critic and writer based in Philadelphia.