Dawoud Bey’s Vivid Photographs Redefine the Representation of Black Culture
Bey’s practice over the past decade has led him to interrogate memory and space through portraits and landscapes. In what is perhaps Bey’s most moving series, “The Birmingham Project” (2012), he photographed the community of Birmingham, Alabama nearly 50 years after the 16th Street bombing. Baptist Church. The portraits combine teenagers with elders to make tangible the memory of the four girls who lost their lives in this attack and the time that has passed since. “The Birmingham Project is the first project in which I directly took on the challenge of visualizing the past in the contemporary moment,” Bey explained, “to create a kind of liminal space somewhere between past and present.”
This artistic shift to questioning, in his words, the “narrative of place and the stories embedded in place” through landscape imagery, is one that Bey has described as akin to learning a language. different. Still, it’s a style he’s completely comfortable with now.
In the 2017 series “Night Coming Tenderly, Black”, Bey traces the escape routes of slaves following paths along the Underground Railroad. The dark color palette makes images hard to see, while offering a visceral sense of what flight might have looked like for those fleeing Southern plantations at night.