For artist Carrie Mae Weems, photography is a snapshot of “an act of performance in space.”
On Monday night at 6 p.m. in the School of Art, Weems presented a lecture on her experience as a photographer and artist, accompanied by a display of photographs from some of her projects, including childhood pictures with her family. The talk also zoomed in on her personal experiences with art and her desire to make her photography a medium that is equally relatable to people of different backgrounds. The lecture was attended by more than 50 students, faculty and local residents.
Weems began her presentation by showing personal photographs of her family and friends, and people who had inspired and impacted her life in different ways. Some were candid shots of her loved ones hugging, others were family portraits. She also showed pictures from her professional exhibitions.
“To be an artist it takes an enormous amount of commitment,” Weems said. “[You have to] deal with the depths of who you are, and attempt to deliver the truth, the key to who you are, and what you therefore decide to share.”
Weems also presented examples of her work from two specific collections of photographs, the “Hamptons Project” and “Beacon.”
“Beacon” consists of a collection of photographs where Weems is part of the subject of the picture — standing, with her back to the camera, in a long black dress, looking at the background.
Weems said she was wearing the same dress, and had the same pose in all these pictures primarily to achieve consistency, to have people know that it was the same person in all the pictures. She added that the repetition of a particular element is what calls attention to the “presence of meaning.” Similarly, the “Hamptons Project” focuses on deconstructing the meaning behind the perfected image of the Hamptons.
“I was deeply impressed by Weems’ commitment to her work, specifically the way she brings to light buried histories of African-Americans and women in the United States,” said Liena Vayzman, a gender equity and policy postdoctoral associate from the Yale Women Faculty Forum.
For “Beacon,” Weems noted that most of the pictures taken as part of this project were photographed in front of important historic places such as museums and historical monuments. Others were taken because of the beauty of the surroundings, she added.
“[I’m] bearing witness, confronting something, [serving] as a guide to the viewer standing with me, [we are] witnessing something together though our experience of it might not be the same,” Weems said.
She added that the way light shines in Italy is very different from the light in New York — and this difference changes the way things are described in that space. What she tries to do through her photography is find a universal message that can bridge people of different backgrounds.
“That is endlessly my question,” Weems said. “How do you create an image that will embrace more people?”
New Haven resident Annabel Rhoden said that she especially liked the delivery of the presentation, and the way Weems spoke. She added that it was a specific way of speaking that was “almost performative.”
The talk took place at 36 Edgewood Ave. and was open to the general public.