Dawoud Bey: Polaroid Works

Coinciding with the release of Dawoud Bey’s new monograph, Seeing Deeply (University of Texas Press, Austin, September 2018), Stephen Daiter Gallery is pleased to present Dawoud Bey: Polaroid Works.

On view at the gallery will be large-scale prints of Bey’s early black-and-white Polaroid street portraits created mostly in his Brooklyn community in the late 1980s and very early 1990s; as well as his subsequent 1990s project of 20 x 24 inch color Polaroid studio portraits. These two bodies of work complement one another in process and outcome – both shot with large format cameras producing prints instantly, and both exhibiting Bey’s innate ability to create a genuine connection with his subject no matter who or where they were. These works also represent a conceptual shift in Bey’s early working process, taking him from small-format street photography, ultimately to a controlled studio environment where he favored the intimacy of the quiet room and the descriptive qualities of the much larger negative…

I had been making photographs “in the streets” for sixteen years, using a small 35mm camera for my Harlem, U.S.A. project and the “street photographs” that followed. Increasingly surrounded by photographer friends working in that tradition, I began to question not only my adherence to this method which favored a lack of contact with one’s subject other than a deep, if only momentary interest in them, but also to the ethics of working in this way which privileged the photographer at the expense of the subject.

It was this wanting to go beyond the fleeting or lack of formal engagement that led me, in 1988, to slow down and begin making portraits using a tripod mounted 4X5 camera. I used Polaroid Type 55 Positive/Negative film with this larger and more conspicuous camera. This film allowed me to make an instant print, which I would give to the subject, and also produced high quality negative from which larger prints could later be made. The shift to a more deliberate experience of photographing was not as jarring as it might have been…

By 1991 I wanted to continue this formal portrait work in a studio environment, removing the social signifier of place from the photographs and situating the subjects in a neutral space where the entire narrative came to reside in their physical presence. I learned about the monumental 20X24 Polaroid View Camera…


Dawoud Bey’s work is held by major collections, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, the National Portrait Gallery, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. In addition to the MacArthur fellowship, Bey’s honors include the United States Artists Guthman Fellowship, 2015; the Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography, 2002; and the National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, 1991. He is Professor of Art and a former Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago.

Additional Information

Exhibition Date
September 7th - November 24th
Reception Time
Friday, September 28, 5-8pm
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