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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)

From Here I Saw What Happened and I Cried is a work composed of 34 19th-century photographs appropriated and altered by artist Carrie Mae Weems. These include daguerreotypes commissioned in 1850 by Swiss naturalist Louis Agassiz, who traveled 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 rephotographed and enlarged each of the existing images, using a red filter when she reprinted them. She placed the prints in circular mats and beneath glass that had been sandblasted with text. Regarding her choice of text Weems 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 Weems reveals how photography has played a key role throughout history in shaping and supporting racism, stereotyping, and social injustice.

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.

The visual or narrative focus of a work of art.

A term describing a wide variety of techniques used to produce multiple copies of an original design. Also, the resulting text or image made by applying inked characters, plates, blocks, or stamps to a support such as paper or fabric.

A representation of a particular individual.

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.

To request, or the request for, the production of a work of art.

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