One of the most exciting parts of hosting contemporary art exhibitions is the opportunity to welcome living and working artists to SAM to reflect on their artwork and careers directly with audiences. Throughout the three month run of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue at SAM, we had the honor of welcoming both artists to SAM for conversations on their friendship, artistic processes, and collaborative exhibition.
If you weren’t able to get tickets to see their talks in person, you can now watch both conversations on our YouTube. Check out both conversations below for even more supplemental context following your visit to In Dialogue and be sure to catch the exhibition before it closes Sunday, January 22 at SAM!
Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialoguecloses in less than one month at SAM! While the exhibition is on view, we’re launching #SAMPhotoClub, an Instagram campaign that asks our followers to share their favorite photographs inspired by three common motifs of these legendary American artists.
We’re now accepting submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club: street photography. As a way to inspire continued participation, we’re spotlighting a few street photos taken by SAM’s staff photographers Alborz Kamalizad and Chloe Collyer. Read below to see a selection of Alborz’s favorite street photographs and discover which of Carrie Mae Weems’s street images has stuck with him the most.
Street Photography, 2021–2022
Photographer Jeff Wall has said that he thinks of the snapshot as the most fundamental type of photography, and that every other photograph derives meaning by its relationship to the snapshot. I like to think about this when I’m out in public with a camera. My street photos take about as much deliberation as a snapshot: they’re instinctive and quick. But through the combination of subject matter and composition, I hope to create a gentle feeling around what city life is like.
The things that consistently draw my eye:
1. How a camera can render the many different scales of reality that exist in and around a modern city. A deep valley becomes texture. The base of a lamppost feels monumental. Buildings and signs turn into abstractions.
2. Little signs of fleeting humanity. Walking through a city we’re surrounded by other people, yes. But there is also so much evidence for things that have already happened — signs of people we did not see. I’m drawn to these tiny stories. Likewise, there are people caught at a distance or in the middle of moments that are just slightly difficult to understand because we’ve somehow missed the essence of whatever set them in motion.
In either case, I’m drawn to the infinity of possibility in a city.
Harlem Street, Carrie Mae Weems, 1976–77
This photo perfectly balances spontaneity and almost mathematical precision. The straight-on view of the buildings (probably from the middle of the street?) makes a grid-like background out of doors, windows, bricks, stairs, and the vendor’s signage. Meanwhile, the people are in an utterly casual moment of everyday life.
Alborz Kamalizad (he/him) is a visual artist who moves between photography, animation, documentary filmmaking, and illustration. He was born in Iran, raised in the US, and currently works as a staff photographer for the Seattle Art Museum. As a visual journalist and photographer, his work has been featured by Los Angeles’s NPR affiliate, Mother Jones Magazine, the United Nations, The Nature Conservancy, MasterClass, and the Getty.
Participate in #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photo on Instagram and tagging us through Friday, December 20. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions for our final themes—family & community photography—later this week.
While Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue(November 17–January 20) is on view at SAM, we’re announcing photography submissions to three of the defining motifs of these legendary photographers’ artistic careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family & community.
With submissions to the second theme of SAM Photo Club—street photography—now open, we’re taking this time to spotlight the artwork of SAM’s two staff photographers: Chloe Collyer and Alborz Kamalizad. Although both photo-based artists are responsible for capturing all events, exhibitions, installations, programs, and more across all three SAM locations, they’re also working professionals too! Scroll down to browse through Chloe’s favorite street photos they’ve taken and learn which of Dawoud Bey’s street photographs on view in SAM’s exhibition inspires them the most!
Louis Mendes, NYC, 2016
A cherished portrait from when I met Louis Mendes, a legend in the photo world, outside of B&H in Manhattan. Famous for his lifetime dedication to polaroid street portraits in NYC, Mendes was nice enough to talk about film cameras with me and posed when I asked for his portrait. He seemed impressed by me and he took my photo free of charge.
Martin Luther King Day, 2020
Seattle is located in King County, the only jurisdiction in the USA named for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., so it seems fitting that documenting our annual MLK rally is a tradition for me. Documenting Seattle’s annual MLK and May Day marches are part of what shaped my eye and ethics as an emerging photographer. These events can be chaotic. I use my racing thoughts like a superpower and try to keep my eyes darting and my hands turning camera dials as needed. When I walk the streets of Seattle I think about the five generations of my ancestors who walked the same streets and the Native families who lived on this coast before that. When I document protests in Seattle streets, I think of C.H.O.P 2020 and of the 1999 WTO protests.
May Day Aztec Girl, 2018
The youngest member of CeAtl Tonalli, a traditional Aztec dance group, leads the annual May Day labor march in Seattle, Washington, 2018.
“Black Lives Matter” Black Friday, 2015
After the tragically preventable deaths of Mike Brown, Eric Garner and Tamir Rice, various groups across the nation chose Black Friday as a day of protest for Black lives. Black Friday 2015 was the first time I remember hearing “Black Lives Matter” at a rally.
Honor and Memory, 2021
At the height of the COVID 19, family members and allies of the MMIW (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women) gather in Seattle’s southend to show the intersectionality of issues effecting Native and Black communities like substance abuse, police violence, domestic abuse and the pandemic.
Day 1, 2020
The Friday after George Floyd’s death I heard the sounds of protest outside my window and joined a crowd facing off police. This turned out to be day one of over 100 days of continuous protest in Seattle. I documented almost every day.
White Coats for Black Lives, 2020
On June 6, 2020 thousands of Seattle’s healthcare workers, medical students, and citizens marched to raise awareness of racism in healthcare.
Southend BLM March, 2020
A march through Seattle’s Southend on June 7, 2020 brought thousands of people of all ages into the streets to call for justice for George Floyd and others killed by police.
High School Protests, 2016
Seattle high school students walk out of class to protest the threat to DACA posed by the newly appointed Trump administration in September 2016.
A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY, Dawoud Bey, 1988
Is there anything more perfect than a slightly imperfect image? This photo reminds me of portraits by the photographer Steve McCurry including Afghan Girl from an infamous cover of National Geographic in 1984. Empathetic eye contact. This composition is so stable and balanced, it makes me feel extremely comfortable and yet the misalignment of the subjects eyes is impossibly imperfect.
Chloe Collyer (they/them) is a photographer, journalist, and fifth-generation Seattle resident whose work is deeply connected to the history and communities of the Pacific Northwest. A natural born documentarian, their toolkit includes 15+ years behind the camera, an associate’s degree in commercial photography, and seven years of experience working as a photojournalist and photo editor. In addition to working as a staff photographer at the Seattle Art Museum, Chloe also teaches photography at Youth in Focus and Photo Center Northwest, and has had their work featured in The New York Times, Bloomberg Business, NPR, Buzzfeed, Real Change, Crosscut, and more.
Join #SAMPhotoClub by sharing your own street photography on Instagram and tagging us before December 30. Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram Stories. Stay tuned as we announce submissions to our final theme—family & community photography—in the coming weeks.
Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems are two of the most significant photo-based artists working today. Both born in 1953, Bey and Weems explore complex visions of Black life in America through intimate portraits, dynamic street photography, and conceptual studies of folklore, culture, and historical sites.
SAM Photo Club is an engaging Instagram program where we ask our followers to snap a photo according to exhibition-related themes, tag the photo with #SAMPhotoClub, and share it to their feed. Throughout the run of Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue(November 17, 2022–January 20, 2023) at the Seattle Art Museum, we’ll announce photography submissions for three of the defining motifs of their respective careers: self-portraits, street photography, and family and community.
Every week, we’ll share a few of the photographs we’ve been tagged in on our Instagram stories. At the end of the exhibition, we’ll compile the photos we’ve received across all three categories and share them on SAM Blog!
When to participate
Friday, November 18: Self-portrait photography
Friday, December 9: Street photography
Friday, December 30: Family & community photography
How to participate
Follow SAM on Instagram and keep an eye out for each theme announcement
Share your photographs with #SAMPhotoClub!
Watch the teaser below to get a glimpse of what you’ll see when you visit In Dialogue at SAM beginning Thursday, November 17. Get your tickets now to find all of the inspiration you need for your own submission in SAM’s galleries!
Two young artists meet in a photography class and become friends. It happens all the time. But the two people aren’t always Dawoud Bey and Carrie Mae Weems, who from that meeting at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1976 would go on to become two of the most celebrated photo-based artists working today. Over the next 46 years, Bey and Weems pursued their own practices, their artistic interests overlapping and diverging as they continued to be sources of friendship and inspiration to each other. Dawoud Bey & Carrie Mae Weems: In Dialogue, coming to SAM as part of a national tour, marks the first time their work—the subject of numerous solo and group exhibitions—has been shown in dialogue together. You are invited into their career-long conversations about art, culture, and history, all grounded in the lived experiences of Black Americans.
In Dialogue is organized in five thematic pairings. It explores the artists’ early work, as both Bey and Weems captured scenes of street life and domestic scenes with passers-by and family as subjects. Weems’ groundbreaking Kitchen Table series (1990), a fictional photo essay about women and their self-perceptions, signals a new direction combining text and image.
The artists have a mutual interest in the history of Black people in America and how history and lived experience manifests in landscapes and urban environments. Sites of historical importance surface in other contexts: Weems’ Sea Islands series (1991–1992) features locales of Gullah culture on the islands off the coasts of Georgia and South Carolina. To her lyrical images she adds accounts of oral history, mythology, and song. The history of slavery is confronted in Weems’ representations of 19th-century photographs of enslaved people—jarring images that turned the individuals into objects of racist study. In contrast, Bey’s Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017) turns the viewer in the position of a fugitive, arriving at nightfall at sites that were thought to be on the Underground Railroad, a network aiding enslaved people to freedom during the 19th century. In Weems’ most recent series, Roaming, she stages her own body within the city of Rome—a reminder of the city’s history, power, conquest, and domination from ancient to modern times.
Also on view in the exhibition are works that express the importance of commemoration in Black culture. Bey’s Birmingham Project (2019) memorializes the deaths of six young Black Americans murdered in the Alabama city in 1963, with portraits of present-day Birmingham-area children placed in diptychs with adults at the age the young people would have been today. Weems’ Constructing History series (2008) focuses on well-known images of 20th-century tragedies such as the assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and John F. Kennedy, reenacting them with students and community members in Atlanta.
“The work of these two artists and friends have never been more relevant as we consider the meaning of multiple histories in our lives and surroundings,” says Catharina Manchanda, SAM’s Jon and Mary Shirley Curator of Contemporary Art.
– Rachel Eggers, SAM Associate Director of Public Relations
This article first appeared in the October 2022 through January 2023 article of SAM Magazineand has been edited for our online readers. Become a SAM member today to receive our quarterly magazine delivered directly to your mailbox and other exclusive member perks.
Imogen Cunningham often took photographs of unsuspecting strangers on the street. Uncomfortable with confrontation, she found beauty in capturing daily public life without interference. At times, she used windows, spun around, or bent over and pretended to be searching for something in her purse to distract from the sound of her camera’s click. She called these surreptitious photographs “stolen pictures.”
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore marks a stark contrast from Cunningham’s typical street photographs. In this image, her subject—a Black woman dressed in a long coat, stockings, and heels—has spotted Cunningham. Waiting for the bus, her right eyebrow is raised as she looks directly into the camera.
The woman’s stare is intensified as the image is cleverly reflected off of a storefront window, dividing the composition down the center, and creating a “doubled” illusion. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect and often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective.
In this audio recording produced by the J. Paul Getty Museum, Chris Johnson, chair of the photography department at the California College of the Arts, discusses Cunningham’s “stolen pictures” and the changing dynamic shared between Cunningham and her subject after being spotted. Tune in to all 13 recordings as part of the free smartphone tour of Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective when you visit the exhibition at our downtown location through February 6.
Double Image, Sutter St. and Fillmore, ca. 1940
Narrator: Taken in Cunningham’s San Francisco neighborhood, this photograph captures two figures waiting for a bus. On the right, a man wearing a hat holds a paper bag. In the center, a woman stands dressed in a winter coat with her purse at her feet.
Chris Johnson: She’s giving Imogen a very strong direct gaze and there’s nothing reticent about that gaze and I think Imogen liked that because she was a strong outspoken woman herself.
Narrator: The image is doubled in the reflection of the storefront window on the left. Cunningham was fascinated with this effect, something she first encountered in the compositions of eighteenth-century Japanese prints. She often used mirrors or glass to create this perspective. The doubling effect places the woman in the center of the image and creates a dynamic between individuals, including the photographer.
Chris Johnson: The implied relationship between the photographer and the woman who’s giving her that gaze… between the black woman and the white man who is presumably ignoring both of them,Imogen and this black woman are in their own world. The white man is in his other world. He has his back turned to us. So Imogen is affirming her allegiance to this black [woman] and I really think the meaning of the image resides there.
Narrator: These “stolen pictures”, as Cunningham called her street scenes, were sometimes taken without the subject’s knowledge and represented a stylistic departure for her. But in this case, the central figure directly confronts Cunningham, and us.
Chris Johnson: Isn’t this a clear example of photographic seeing, you know, the way that the camera sees differently than the way eyeballs see?
Imogen Cunningham was well known for encouraging the creativity of others and endlessly pursuing inspiration. SAM is honoring this influential photographer by encouraging you to hit us with your best shot.
While Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective is on view at Seattle Art Museum, we’ll announce submissions to four of the defining genres of Cunningham’s career: portraits, botanicals, street photography, and dance. At the end of the exhibition, members of the exhibition advisory board will select their top five favorite submitted images and we’ll feature them here on SAM Blog!
Imogen Cunningham’s striking portraits are among the most celebrated in the history of photography. In her photographs of plant life, Cunningham abstracted the natural world and offered a unique way of seeing through the art of photography. Through avant-garde and candid portrayals of city life in her street photography, Cunningham offered images of diverse communities in San Francisco and beyond. And as champion of other artists, Cunningham’s spark of creative possibility generated a wide sphere of influence as her photographs of dancers brought attention to her own work and the work of dance artists.
When to participate
November 15: Portrait photography
December 6: Botanical photography
December 27: Street photography
January 15: Dance photography
How to participate
Follow us on Instagram & keep an eye out for each genre announcement
Share your photographs with #SAMPhotoClub
Imogen Cunningham: A Retrospective showcases the endless innovation and profound influence of this remarkable photographer who pushed the boundaries for both women in the arts and photography as an art form. Nearly 200 of Cunningham’s insightful portraits, elegant flower and plant studies, poignant street pictures, and groundbreaking nudes present a singular vision developed over seven decades of work. Get tickets to the first major retrospective in the United States of Cunningham’s work in 35 years and find some inspiration for your submission to #SAMPhotoClub.
Looking for an art prompt to focus your lens? Check out this activity we created for artists of all ages back when we were in quarantine!
– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, SAM’s Digital Marketing Manager