photographs

This page includes a bibliography of publications with my images, a list of exhibitions past and current, along with links and descriptions of selected photographic projects.

All images © Carla Williams. All Rights Reserved.

bodies of work

Untitled (1985-1990), from Pleasure and Beauty, 2008

Sorting through all of my photo boxes, I came upon a stack of Type 669 Polaroid 3½ x 4¼ prints, ones I’d quickly made about twenty years ago using one of those old Vivitar instant slide printers. Most I had shot using Polaroid 35mm instant slide film—Polagraph, Polapan, and Polablue. They were taken during my late undergraduate and early graduate years of study, when I was roughly between the ages of eighteen and twenty-four.

I recognize in these photographs an exploration of one’s physicality, beauty, sexuality, power, and pleasure through humor, seduction, and performance. As much as my older, wiser self would like to claim otherwise, what I know is that there was nothing deliberate or political in their creation—that came later—I was a young black woman exploring the way I looked before the camera. Their directness and honesty and playfulness were only possible for me before I knew the degree to which any of it “mattered.” As I continue to see some of my favorite young black women artists like Takara Portis and Zanele Muholi exploring the representation of our bodies I am certain that it is still important, still vital to make ourselves—our bodies—seen.

Nigton, Texas
Nigton, Texas, from Naming, Race and the Landscape

How do you show what you cannot see, what isn’t physically there, but what is nevertheless your subject? You can name it, to be sure, and thus direct your viewer to its meaning, but you cannot show it. Naming, Race, and the Landscape, is a collaborative exploration of how, through the process of naming, race and ethnicity are inscribed upon the American landscape. The fact that racial and ethnic identities cannot be physically embodied in the landscape and thus cannot be pictured in a photograph of that landscape compelled writer Carla Williams and me to explore the complexities of attaching race or ethnicity to such a subject. Traveling together yet working independently, we visit selected sites across the U.S., mapping a broad range of locations and ethnicities in the selection of sites whose naming presents some context for understanding our racial and ethnic history.

Kelly R., from Other Peoples' Clothes
Kelly R., from Other Peoples’ Clothes

I grew up in a family of seamstresses, so clothing and adornment has always been very important in my life, even when I was consciously choosing to subvert/deny its importance. After working at home for 3 years I recently took a new job that requires me to dress and go to an office that, aside from me, strictly adheres to a “business casual” dress code. As the only woman and only black person, I knew I could not show up in a polo shirt and khakis—it was not my personal style, and I knew that, despite what is stated, “casual” for white men is not the same as “casual” for black women. Suddenly I found myself spending a lot of time buying and making clothing, trying to figure out what coordinated, what was age-appropriate, and what suited my sense of style and individualism in a world that did not recognize me as an artist or writer, which is how I defined myself professionally. Wanting to integrate the way I was spending much of my time with my interest in women and self-portraiture, I asked the women who are closest to me—family, friends, partner—to lend me an article of clothing or outfit which I don and in which I photograph myself, allowing the dictates of the garment—how it feels, how it moves—and my knowledge of the owner to determine how I present myself in it. Unlike earlier work, I intentionally subvert my particular identity. One woman sent this statement along with her clothing, which perhaps best articulates the way in which we conceptualize clothing:

Since I moved here I wear every day a blackout curtain of black stretchy material to make my body disappear. Then I wear a colorful scarf to further distract with accessories. That’s my uniform. No one here has ever seen me in anything different. They think it’s me.

detail from All the Women in My Family

All the Women in My Family was conceived as a self-portrait—as the keeper of the family photographs and as someone who has spent most of the last several years deriving my professional identity from archival and historical work rather than imagemaking. I don’t literally appear in any of the photos, but these women are my flesh and blood—some I know well, some I never met. Some of the photographs I took; most are culled from family archives. Which ones are which doesn’t really make a difference for the viewer. There are general thematic connections—all school photos, for example–or familial connections, like a mother and daughter, or the same person as a child and as an adult. Family pictures are so much about memory, and memory is fleeting…the transparent medium and the way it curls and layers with other images evokes that quality of memory that isn’t fixed.

At the beginning of this year both of my grandmothers died within a few weeks of each other. This shift in the matriarchy of my family gives the piece a new resonance for me (it was originally created last fall), making me understand differently who I am in this family in relation to the other women without their presence any longer.

  • 1990-2004 (2004)

Related to this positioning of myself within the family dynamic, I have begun revisiting self-portraits I made 15 years ago to examine my personal transformation through aging. In the series 1990 – 2005, I have been rephotographing myself with the same background and lighting and same/similar hair but with the differences that 15 years have brought to my older, heavier body. I wanted the superficial aesthetic similarities of the photographs and seamlessness of the backgrounds because I wanted the physical differences of the body at first glance to be subtle–is this the same person? Were these images taken at the same time? How do they relate?

These pairs were conceived in response to a conversation a colleague related to me about an exhibition of work by a woman artist in her late 40s/early 50s who was photographing herself nude. My friend and some other art historians/curators/critics attended the opening, and their consensus was that the work was embarrassing because “her body is no longer tight,” or something to that effect, and they weren’t really going to deal with it. That struck me, not so much because of the obvious ways in which society values a particular corporeal aesthetic but moreover the way in which that thinking leads to a kind of de facto censorship, even in art, of bodies that don’t fit an arbitrary ideal.

  • mother and daughter (2000)
still from Mother and Daughter

still from Mother and Daughter

Wanting to integrate the photographs of the women in my family with the unused self-portraits I had, I created a web-based, 4-minute Shockwave “movie” entitled Mother and Daughter. It is expressly about the way in which a mother and daughter each relates to her own body and to each other’s bodies, both through experience and perception. The web presentation is a way to integrate all of my practices and to be able to publish it myself outside of a traditional museum and gallery system.

(click on the image to launch movie)

A Virtuous Negro's Head, from How To Read Character

A Virtuous Negro's Head, from How To Read Character

The gelatin silver photographs and photocopy transfers in this series of images are meant to be seen in pairs, with the transfer functioning as a kind of visual descriptive label and referent for the photograph. This work addresses the historical precedents of the particular kinds of visual representation. Through juxtapositions of nineteenth-century images and texts on racial differentiation and categorization with contemporary self-portraits, I hope to suggest to the viewer that such precedents, while seemingly absurd and outdated, still contain a great deal of resonance and power with respect to the way that we read and respond to contemporary images of African American women.

The portraits are an average size of 5 x 4′; the photocopy transfers are 22 x 30″. The choice of presentation, ie., the scale of the images and the framing and lighting, makes reference to the history of the formal portrait and the fact that certain subjects were not given this kind of aggrandizement and importance.

  • self-portraits (1985 – 1997)

publications

Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body. Edited by Barbara Thompson, University of Washington Press with Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, 2008.

Brandes, Kerstin. “Re-Considering Saartjie Baartman: Configurations of the ‘Hottentot Venus’ in Contemporary Cultural Discourse, Politics, and Art,” in Helene von Oldenburg and Andrea Sick, editors, Virtual Minds. Congress of Fictitious Figures. Bremen (thealit) 2004, 40­55. ISBN 3-930924-05-6

Brandes, Kerstin. “‘What you lookn at’ – Fotografie und die Spuren des Spiegel(n)s.” in Susanne von Falkenhausen et al. (Eds.): Medien der Kunst. Geschlecht, Metapher, Code. Marburg (Jonas) 2004, 148-163. ISBN 3-89445-337-0

Charles Guice. “Reflections in Black,” B&W Magazine 28 (December 2003), 54-65.

Janell Hobson. “The ‘Batty’ Politic: Toward an Aesthetic of the Black Female Body,” Hypatia 18:4 (October 2003).

Lisa Gail Collins.The Art of History: African American Women Artists Engage the Past, New Brunswick, New Jersey: Rutgers University Press, 2002.

Reflections in Black cover Deborah Willis. Reflections in Black: A History of Black Photographers, 1840 to the Present, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2000.

Anthologie de la Photographie africaine Anthologie de la Photographie africaine et de l’Océan Indien XIXe & XXe siècles, Editions Revue Noire, 1998. Winner, Nadar Prize, 1998.
New Yorker cover The New Yorker, Winter Fiction Issue, December 28, 1998 and January 4, 1999.

Chicago Art Journal, Spring 1998 “Historic Retrievals: Confronting Visual Evidence and the Documentation of Truth,” Lisa Gail Collins, Chicago Art Journal, volume 8, number 1, Spring 1998.

Our Grandmothers cover Our Grandmothers: Loving Portraits by 74 Granddaughters, Linda Sunshine, ed., New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang, Spring 1998.

Contact Sheet 94 Contact Sheet 94, Light Work, Syracuse, New York. 1998.

25 and Under cover 25 and Under/Photographers, edited by Alice Rose George, The Center for Documentary Studies and W.W. Norton & Co.: New York, 1996. Golden Light Award Book of Merit, Maine Photographic Workshops, 1996.

Reframings cover Reframings: New American Feminist Photographies, edited by Diane Neumaier, Temple University Press: Philadelphia, 1996.

exhibitions

“Pleasure and Beauty,” Visual Studies Workshop, Rochester, NY 01.23 – 02.27.2009

“Connections,” Jenkins Johnson Gallery, San Francisco 02.05 -02.28 (SF) & 02.05 – 03.14.2009 (NY)

“Posing Beauty,” venues to be announced 2010

“1968: Then and Now,” Nathan Cummings Foundation and Tisch School of the Arts, NYU 2008

“Body Memory,” Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton, NJ 10.11 – 01.04.09

“Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera,” Museum of the African Diaspora 06.19 – 09.28.08

“Black Womanhood: Images, Icons, and Ideologies of the African Body,” Hood Museum of Art 04.01 – 08.10.08

“Land Rits: Land at the Confluence of Human Cultures,” Northlight Gallery, Arizona State University 02.18 – 04.05.08

“Image and Identity,” Southeast Museum of Photography 03.01 – 05.23.08

“Blacks In and Out of the Box,” California African American Museum 09.13 – 12.30.07

“Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera,” Wadsworth Atheneum 01.14 – 06.19.06

“Here and Now,” de Saisset Museum, Santa Clara University 05 – 07.05

“Subject to Oneself:” A Group Exhibition of Self-Portraiture, Playspace, California College of the Arts, San Francisco, 9.21 – 10.7.04

“99 Square Pegs,” Ladyfest*East digital slide show, New York, 06.02.04

“The African Effect: Kara Walker and Carla Williams,” Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, New Mexico 03.26 – 04.23.04

“Disclosures,” Calvin College, Grand Rapids, Michigan 02.15 – 03.16.01

Brochure cover “Precedence: Emmet Gowin and His Students,” Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, School of Art & Design, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, 09.06-30.00

Reflections in Black invitation “Reflections in Black: A History Deconstructed” (Part 3) (Click on announcement for venues and dates)

Past, Present, Future announcement “Past, Present, Future,” The College of Santa Fe Fine Arts Gallery, 28 January – 18 February 2000

Treatment Exhibition card “Treatment: Women’s Bodies in Medical Science and Art,” Dinnerware Gallery Tucson, Arizona March-April 1999
“The Human Figure In Photography,” Graff Fine Arts Center Gallery, Dixie College St. George, Utah 1998

National Black Arts Festival 1998 catalogue National Juried and Invitational Exhibition, National Black Arts Festival, Georgia State University Art Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia, 1998

“25 and Under,” traveling exhibition organized by the Center for Documentary Studies and Doubletake Magazine
Washington State University Richland, Washington 1998
Duke University Durham, North Carolina 1997
Parsons School of Design New York, New York 1996-1997

“Alternatives ‘98,” guest curator Clarissa Sligh, Ohio University, Athens, Ohio February 1998

Arts Festival of Atlanta 1995 catalogue “Searching for Memories: Black Women and the 1895 Atlanta Exposition,” a collaborative installation with Clarissa Sligh, Carla Williams, and Deborah Willis, in “Messages from the Everyday World: The Bathhouse Exhibition,” Arts Festival of Atlanta Atlanta, Georgia September 1995

“African American Women Photographers,” Salena Gallery, Long Island University Brooklyn, New York January – February 1993

exhibition announcement “Of Pride and Pain: Photographs by Christian Walker, Deborah Willis, and Carla Williams,” The Light Factory Charlotte, North Carolina November 1992 – January 1993

LACPS announcement “LACPS Annual Exhibition,” Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies at USC Lindhurst Gallery Los Angeles, California June – July 1992

“Contemporary Women Photographers,” University Art Museum, University of New Mexico Albuquerque, New Mexico 1991

How To Read Character announcement “How To Read Character,” The Teaching Gallery, University of New Mexico Albuquerque, New Mexico January 1991

National Exposures 90 catalogue “National Exposures 90,” Sawtooth Building Galleries Winston-Salem, North Carolina September – October 1990

National Aperture 3 catalogue “National Aperture 3,” Sawtooth Building Galleries Winston-Salem, North Carolina March – April 1988 winner of Canon Excellence Award

collections

  • University Art Museum, University of New Mexico at Albuquerque
  • The Art Museum , Princeton University
  • Light Work, Syracuse, New York
  • Chrysler Museum of Art, Norfolk, Virginia

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