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Carrie Mae Weems on her series "From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried"

Combining text and photography, contemporary artist Carrie Mae Weems explores the notion of a narrative within her work. Created by Getty Museum.

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  • duskpin ultimate style avatar for user John Lee
    Is the Paul Getty Museum partners with KA?
    (3 votes)
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  • leaf blue style avatar for user Melodie Ebner-Joerges
    I was wondering which archive she used to find the original photos? There seems to be scientific photos and then private photos. Extremely powerful images and the texts do emphasise that power.
    (2 votes)
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    • leaf green style avatar for user weber
      Some of the source photographs are very famous. One in particular--that of a man whose back is scarred from a whipping--has its context and history explained here: http://abhmuseum.org/2013/07/the-scourged-back-how-runaway-slave-and-soldier-private-gordon-changed-history/
      Two of the others are held by the Peabody Museum at Harvard (the two men whose images are labeled by Ms Weems as "A Negroid Type" and "An Anthropological Debate") which I believe underlies her choice of labels here, since these were taken in the 1850s, at the behest of then-prominent Harvard naturalist Louis Agassiz, who sought to bolster his theory that "races" represented separate creations.
      It is interesting how Weems makes it clear that she sees her work as transformative (through color, overlay, and text), and so much so that the credits at the end of the video are for the sources of these transformations rather than the sources of the raw photographs. Still, I think it would help the viewer to have a deeper understanding of her choices if we knew something about the photographs.
      (3 votes)

Video transcript

- [voiceover] Carrie Mae Weems discusses her 1995 to '96 photography series From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. (sad music) - [voiceover] Power and sex, they control so much of our lives. I spent a great deal of time looking at questions of race and gender and out of that came this piece From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried. You have this narrative that runs across the entire work, images that lay out a very specific development of history, of photographic history in the United States and of black history in the United States. They're all of the most part black and white photographs. I used a monochrome red, I placed mats over the top of them to obscure certain (mumbling), I add text on glass in order to also distance the original photograph and make clear this was something that was taken from something else, this was lifted. (sad music) The thing that I'd learned to do that if I paid attention to a pattern of repetition, that simple refrain of you became, you became, you became, or ha, ha, ha. (sad music) So there's three narratives that are working simultaneously and then the individual photographs for the most part stand alone as individual units. A narrative like you became a scientific profile, a negroid type, an anthropological debate, a photographic subject. They're all of these sort of singular moments that go on to make a more complex story. I suppose in a way it's like a film, the way in which film functions. (sad music) It doesn't have a single note, but it has many, it has notes of complication and duplicity and complicity. I love the rhythm of the text that's created that allows for the image to be amplified. (sad music)