Dawoud Bey

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Dawoud Bey
David Edward Smikle

1953 (1953)
EducationBFA, Empire State College; MFA, Yale University School of Art
Known forPhotography
Notable work
Harlem, USA
Class Pictures
The Birmingham Project
Night Coming Tenderly, Black
ChildrenRamon Smikle
AwardsMacArthur Fellowship

Dawoud Bey (born David Edward Smikle; 1953) is an American photographer and educator known for his large-scale art photography and street photography portraits, including American adolescents in relation to their community, and other often marginalized subjects.[1] In 2017, Bey was named a fellow and the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation[2] and is regarded as one of the "most innovative and influential photographers of his generation".[3] He is a professor and Distinguished Artist at Columbia College Chicago.[4]

Life and career[edit]

Born David Edward Smikle in New York City's Jamaica, Queens neighborhood, he changed his name to Dawoud Bey in the early 1970s.[5] Bey graduated from Benjamin N. Cardozo High School.[6] He studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York from 1977–78, and spent the next two years as part of the CETA-funded Cultural Council Foundation Artists Project. In 1990, he graduated with a BFA in Photography from Empire State College, and received his MFA from Yale University School of Art in 1993.[7]

Bey didn't receive his first camera until he was 15,[8] and has stated until that point he wanted to become a musician.[9] His early inspirations being James Van Der Zee[10] and Roy Decarava.[11]

He does not consider his work to be traditional documentary. He'll pose subjects, remind them of gestures and sometimes give them accessories.[12]

Over the course of his career, Bey has participated in more than 20 artist residencies, which have allowed him to work directly with the adolescent subjects of his most recent work.[13]

A product of the 1960s, Bey said both he and his work are products of the attitude, "if you're not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."[14] This philosophy significantly influenced his artistic practice and resulted in a way of working that is both community-focused and collaborative in nature. Bey's earliest photographs, in the style of street photography, evolved into a seminal five-year project documenting the everyday life and people of Harlem in Harlem USA (1975–1979) that was exhibited at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.[15] In 2012, the Art Institute of Chicago mounted the first complete showing of the "Harlem, USA" photographs since that original exhibition, adding several never before printed photographs to the original group of twenty-five vintage prints. The complete group of photographs were acquired at that time by the AIC.[16]

During the 1980's, Bey collaborated with the artist David Hammons, documenting the latter’s performance pieces - Bliz-aard Ball Sale and Pissed Off.[17]

Over time Bey proves that he develops a bond with his subjects with being more political. The article "Exhibits Challenge Us Not to Look Away Photographers Focus on Pain, Reality in the City" by Carolyn Cohen from the Boston Globe, identifies Bey's work as having a "definite political edge" to it according to Roy DeCarava. He writes more about the aesthetics of Beys work and how it is associated with documentary photography and how his work shows empathy for his subjects. This article also mentions Bey exhibiting his work at the Walker Art Center, where Kelly Jones identifies the strength of his work and his relationship with his subjects once again.[18]

Of his work with teenagers Bey has said, "My interest in young people has to do with the fact that they are the arbiters of style in the community; their appearance speaks most strongly of how a community of people defines themselves at a particular historical moment." [19] During a residency at the Addison Gallery of American Art in 1992, Bey began photographing students from a variety of high schools both public and private, in an effort to “reach across lines of presumed differences” among the students and communities.[20] This new direction in his work guided Bey for the next fifteen years, including two additional residencies at the Addison, an ample number of similar projects across the country, and culminated in a major 2007 exhibition and publication of portraits of teenagers organized by Aperture and entitled Class Pictures.[21] Alongside each of the photographs in Class Pictures, is a personal statement written by each subject. This rich combination of image and text expands the notion of the photographic portrait, and further creates portraits that are each incredibly powerful in its amalgamation, at times surprising, disturbing, and heart-wrenching.[citation needed] In 2018, his project Night Coming Tenderly, Black, consists of a series of photographs evoking the imagined experience of escaped slaves moving northward along the Underground Railroad.[22]

Currently living in Chicago, Illinois Bey is a professor of art and Distinguished College Artist at Columbia College Chicago, and is represented by Mary Boone Gallery (NYC), Rena Bransten Gallery (San Francisco), and Stephen Daiter Gallery (Chicago).



He has exhibited in a number of solo and group shows including Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995 at the Walker Art Center in 1995,[25] Dawoud Bey at the Queens Museum of Art in 1998, Dawoud Bey: The Chicago Project at the David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art in 2003, Dawoud Bey: Detroit Portraits at the Detroit Institute of Arts in 2004, and Class Pictures, organized by Aperture Foundation and on view initially at the Addison Gallery of American Art in 2007, and then touring to museums throughout the country for four years, including the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston, the Indianapolis Museum of Art, and the Milwaukee Art Museum[26] among others.

His work "The Birmingham Project" commemorates the six young African Americans killed in Birmingham, Alabama on September 15, 1963. The exhibition opened at the Birmingham Museum of Art[27] in September 2013, fifty years after the event. The exhibition opened at George Eastman House, International Museum of Photography and Film in 2016.[28]

In early 2019, the Art Institute of Chicago hosted an exhibition titled "Dawoud Bey: Night Coming Tenderly, Black", consisting of twenty-five black and white photographs that were captured along the Underground Railroad in Cleveland and Hudson, Ohio.[29]


  • Portraits 1975–1995. With essays by Kellie Jones, with A.D. Coleman and Jessica Hagedorn, photography (Minneapolis: Walker Art Center, 1995).
  • The Chicago Project. With essays by Jacqueline Terrassa and Stephanie Smith (Chicago: Smart Museum of Art, 2003).
  • Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey. With essays by Taro Nettleton, interview with Carrie Mae Weems (New York: Aperture, 2007).
  • Harlem, U.S.A. With essays by Matthew Witkovsky and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitt (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago and Yale University Press, 2012)
  • Picturing People. With an essay by Arthur Danto, Interview by Hamza Walker (Chicago: Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, 2012)
  • The Birmingham Project. With an essay by Ron Platt (Birmingham Museum of Art, 2012)
  • Seeing Deeply. With essays by Sarah Lewis, Deborah Willis, David Travis, Hilton Als, Jacqueline Terrassa, Rebecca Walker, Maurice Berger, and Leigh Raiford (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2018)


  1. ^ "Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project". www.nga.gov. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  2. ^ "MacArthur Foundation". www.macfound.org.
  3. ^ "Dawoud Bey: An American Project". whitney.org. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  4. ^ "Dawoud Bey - Faculty". Columbia College Chicago.
  5. ^ Blair, Gwenda. "Dawoud Bey's Portrait of '70s Harlem, Gathered for Today".
  6. ^ Sengupta, Somini. "Portrait of Young People as Artists", The New York Times, January 18, 1998. Accessed February 12, 2019. "Dawoud Bey, the acclaimed portraitist of African-American life, returned home to Queens recently.... Aklima Khan, a junior at Mr. Bey's alma mater, Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside, learned to notice details."
  7. ^ "Dawoud Bey '93MFA Exhibition at AAMP - Yale Alumni Art League". yalealumniartleague.org.
  8. ^ "Dawoud Bey's Biography". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  9. ^ "'An American Project': For decades, Dawoud Bey has chronicled Black life". opb. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  10. ^ "Dawoud Bey's Biography". The HistoryMakers. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  11. ^ "'An American Project': For decades, Dawoud Bey has chronicled Black life". opb. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  12. ^ "'An American Project': For decades, Dawoud Bey has chronicled Black life". opb. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  13. ^ For a comprehensive chronology of the artist's life as well as a list of his solo exhibitions, see Jock Reynolds, Taro Nettleton, Carrie Mae Weems, and Dawoud Bey, Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey (New York: Aperture, 2007).
  14. ^ "OIE to present Dawoud Bey, a photographer who looks beyond stereotypes - News - Bates College". www.bates.edu.
  15. ^ Blair, Gwenda (2012-07-25). "'70s Portrait of Harlem, Gathered for Today". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-02-13.
  16. ^ "Dawoud Bey: Harlem, U.S.A. | The Art Institute of Chicago". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2018-07-14.
  17. ^ "Dawoud Bey on His Powerful Photographs of Black American Life | Frieze". Frieze. Retrieved 2021-02-23.
  18. ^ https://search.proquest.com/docview/405239244
  19. ^ Kellie Jones, "Dawoud Bey: Portraits in the Theater of Desire" in Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995 ed. by A.D. Coleman, Jock Reynolds, Kellie Jones, and Dawoud Bey (Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 1995) 48.
  20. ^ Jacqueline Terrassa, "Shepherding Power," Dawoud Bey: The Chicago Project, (Chicago, IL: Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2003): 91.
  21. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (26 December 2008). "Dawoud Bey's Photos Only Part of the Picture" – via www.washingtonpost.com.
  22. ^ "Dawoud Bey embraces the darkness in new Underground Railroad Project". www.theartnewspaper.com.
  23. ^ https://www.gf.org/fellows/all-fellows/dawoud-bey/
  24. ^ Coleman, Chloe (16 October 2017). "Perspective - 'A radical reshaping of the world is possible, one person at a time': Dawoud Bey on being awarded a MacArthur genius grant".
  25. ^ Reynolds, Jock (1995). Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995. Walker Art Center. ISBN 978-0935640465.
  26. ^ Museum, Milwaukee Art. "Milwaukee Art Museum - Class Pictures". mam.org.
  27. ^ "Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project - Birmingham Museum of Art". artsbma.org.
  28. ^ Platt, Ron (2013). Dawoud Bey: The Birmingham Project. ISBN 978-1-934774-11-3.
  29. ^ "Dawoud Bey: Night Coming Tenderly, Black". The Art Institute of Chicago. Retrieved 2019-02-07.

Further reading[edit]

  • Bey, Dawoud, Jacqueline Terrassa, Stephanie Smith, and Elizabeth Meister. Dawoud Bey: The Chicago Project. Chicago, IL: Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, 2003.
  • Braff, Phyllis. “Dawoud Bey: 'The Southampton Project'.” New York Times. April 4, 1999, Arts Section, East Coast Edition
  • Coleman, A.D., Jock Reynolds, Kellie Jones, and Dawoud Bey. Dawoud Bey: Portraits 1975-1995. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 1995
  • Cotter, Holland. “Art in Review.” New York Times. Oct 25, 1996, Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • “Dawoud Bey: Portraits.” Art in America. Vol. 83 no.8 (August 1995): 23.
  • Glueck, Grace. “Faces of the Centuries, Famous and Far From It.” New York Times. September 17, 1999, Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • Johnson, Ken. “Dawoud Bey.” May 10, 2002, p. B35.
  • Johnson, Ken. “Enigmatic Portraits of Teen-Agers Free of All Context.” New York Times. August 21, 1998, Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • Kimmelman, Michael. “In New Jersey, Evolution in Retrospectives.” New York Times. July 18, 1997, Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • Leffingwell, Edward. “Dawoud Bey at Gorney Bravin + Lee.” Art In America. Vol. 101 no. 10 (November 2002): 154-155
  • Lifson, Ben. “Dawoud Bey.” Artforum International. Vol. 35 no. 6 (February 1997): 87.
  • Lippard, Lucy. Nueva Luz photographic journal, Volume 1#2 (En Foco, Bronx: 1985)
  • Loke, Margaret. “Review: Dawoud Bey.” ARTnews. Vol. 96 no. 2 (February 1997): 118.
  • McQuaid, Cate. “Teens in America, pose by pose.” Boston Globe. September 23, 2007, Arts Section.
  • Reid, Calvin. “Dawoud Bey at David Beitzel.” Art in America. Vol. 85 no. 4 (April 1997): 113.
  • Reid, Calvin. “Dawoud Bey.” Arts Magazine. Vol. 65 no. 1 (Sept. 1990): 76.
  • Reynolds, Jock, Taro Nettleton, Carrie Mae Weems, and Dawoud Bey. Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey. New York: Aperture, 2007.
  • Schwabsky, Barry. “Redeeming the Humanism in Portraiture.” New York Times. April 20, 1997, Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • Sengupta, Somini. “Portrait of Young People as Artists.” New York Times. January 18, 1998 Arts Section, East Coast Edition.
  • Zdanovics, Olga. “Dawoud Bey.” Art Papers. Vol. 22 no. 3 (May/June 1998): 43-4.

External links[edit]

  • Dawoud Bey on the African American Visual Artists Database