Went there yesterday to see Dawoud Bey's exhibit Class Pictures at the Silver Eye Center and hear his lecture at the museum. I was specifically interested in this project because Bey had combined written statements from his subjects along with his portraits. This is similar to what I did in Precious Objects so was pretty interested in his approach and how it might have differed from mine. Bad news was that they closed the Center for the afternoon so I had to depend on looking through the window plus the projected images in the talk. Good news is that I learned and saw a lot.
First, from an historical marked in front of the museum, I learned that Victor Herbert conducted the Pittsburgh Orchestra at the beginning of the twentieth century. Cool enough, albeit irrelevant. What was relevant was the absolutely stunning (and a bit overwhelming) exhibit of the work of Pittsburgh photographer Teenie Harris. It is a show not to be missed. It is an amazing document of a community over a very long time span. There were a number of things that struck me personally. One was that Harris had documented the history of racial segregation that was a background theme (nice way of saying it was pretty much just some statistics) when I put together Every Place - I have ever lived. The foreclosure crisis in twelve neighborhoods. He brings alive what my project only hinted at. Second was the cultural iconography - from the images of Duke Ellington and other jazz musicians (my son's middle name is not Edward by accident) to the Negro Baseball leagues. Maybe a coincidence that I was recently photographing League Park, the home of the Cleveland Buckeyes?
The other thing that struck me was one of my discoveries about myself that came out of Precious Objects, my sense at wonder at the power of African-American fraterernities and sororities. I do not claim to the understand them, but still can hold them in respect.
The lecture was an added treat. Bey did a kind of history from how he got started in photography to his present work.
Back to the original question. Bey's portraits are more classicly done - they clearly reflect his esthetic. His statements are compelling, there is no question about that. In Precious Objects, for better or worse, I did the images more as records of how the subjects presented themselves with minimal intrepretation by me. On the other hand, the statements were critical to understanding each piece in Precious Objects. Not just the content, but the look of the statements was important. Sort of sweet to see two projects that schematically appear very similar but followed a different path.