In this video excerpt of Dawoud Bey’s discussion with Carrie Mae Weems last February 2008 when Class Pictures was on view at Aperture Gallery, Bey explains how his subjects reacted to the project and what it meant to them, from the making of the portrait to seeing it framed in a museum or published in the accompanying book. He explains that part of his project is to give portrait subjects a chance to simultaneously pose for a photographer and also represent themselves in a written statement. Dawoud furthers that part of his goal is to draw communities, who may not necessarily go to their local museums, into the institution. Many of Dawoud’s subjects found the experience to be surreal and transformative in their own lives.
The exhibition Class Pictures is currently on view at the Milwaukee Art Museum and as part of the opening reception on Thursday, April 23, Dawoud Bey will give a talk and book signing. The exhibition and its coinciding monograph, Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007), feature Bey’s striking large-scale color portraits of students at high schools across the United States. For the past fifteen years, Bey has been photographing teenagers from a wide economic, social, and ethnic spectrum, and—intensely attentive to their poses and gestures—has created a highly diverse generational portrait that challenges stereotypes of teenagers. A brief autobiographical statement by the subject—by turns poignant, funny, or harrowing—accompanies each portrait.