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The Photographic Record

Since its inception, photography has helped build a collective archive of human experience.

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried

Carrie Mae Weems
(American, born 1953)

1995. Chromogenic color prints with sand-blasted text on glass, 28 works: 26 3/4 x 22" (67.9 x 55.8 cm); 4 works: 22 x 26¾" (55.8 x 67.9 cm); 2 works: 43 1/2 x 33 1/2" (110.4 x 85 cm)

With From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried, Carrie Mae Weems reveals how photography has played a key role throughout history in shaping and supporting racism, stereotyping, and social injustice.  This installation is comprised of appropriated photographs of slaves in the American South and other 19th- and 20th-century photographs of Africans and African Americans that the artist found in museum and university archives. Among the photographs she selected were daguerreotypes commissioned in 1850 by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, who traveled through the American South with a photographer, making portraits of slaves. Agassiz intended to use these portraits as visual evidence to support his theories of the racial inferiority of Africans, and to prepare a taxonomy of physical types in the slave population.1 “When we’re looking at these images,” Weems has said, “we’re looking at the ways in which Anglo America—white America—saw itself in relationship to the black subject. I wanted to intervene in that by giving a voice to a subject that historically has had no voice.”2

Weems re-photographed and enlarged these images and printed them through colored filters: two blue-toned images bookend a grouping of images printed in red. She framed the red-toned prints in circular mattes, meant to suggest the lens of a camera, and placed all of the prints beneath glass sandblasted with text. About her choice of text the artist has said: “I’m trying to heighten a kind of critical awareness around the way in which these photographs were intended.” She hopes this strategy “gives the subject another level of humanity and another level of dignity that was originally missing in the photograph.”3

From Photography: A Cultural History by Mary Warner Marien, p. 40
Carrie Mae Weems, audio interview for MoMA 2000: Open Ends, The Museum of Modern Art and Acoustiguide, Inc., 2000.

One who uses a camera or other means to produce photographs.

An image, especially a positive print, recorded by exposing a photosensitive surface to light, especially in a camera.

A representation of a person or thing in a work of art.

A classification system that organizes humans into large and distinct groupings based on appearance or geographical lineages. The concept of race has been criticized for being a simplistic, socially constructed categorization that has led to racism, or the unequal and unfair treatment of people based on race.

Standardized and oversimplified assumptions about specific social groups.

A representation of a particular individual.

A form of art, developed in the late 1950s, which involves the creation of an enveloping aesthetic or sensory experience in a particular environment, often inviting active engagement or immersion by the spectator.

A photographic technique invented by Louis-Jacques-Mandé Daguerre in 1839. A daguerreotype uses a silver or silver-coated-copper plate to develop an image in a camera obscura. The image is formed when the light-sensitive plate is exposed to light through a camera lens. A daguerreotype was a unique, direct positive image that could not produce copies.

In the visual arts, appropriation is the intentional borrowing, copying, and alteration of preexisting images and objects.