Carrie Mae Weems mined museum and university archives for photographs of slaves in the American South as well as other African Americans and Africans. She rephotographed and enlarged these appropriated images, printed them through colored filters—two blue images serve as bookends for a series printed in red—and framed them under sheets of glass etched with phrases such as, “you became a scientific profile” and “a negroid type.” Tracing a poetic narrative across a story of oppression, Weems said: “I was trying to heighten a kind of critical awareness around the way in which these photographs were intended” and give “the subject another level of humanity and another level of dignity that was originally missing in the photograph.”
Additional text from Seeing Through Photographs online course, Coursera, 2016
On the occasion of an exhibition of African Americans in early photography, Weems was invited by The J. Paul Getty Museum to comb through their photography collection. She selected nineteenth- and twentieth- century photographs of black men and women, from the time they were forced into slavery in the United States to the present, then rephotographed the pictures, enlarged them, and toned them in red. Each photograph is framed under a sheet of glass inscribed with a text written by the artist, evoking the layers of prejudice imposed on the depicted men and women. Weems's work offers a contemporary reading of this historical group of images.
Gallery label from Out of Time: A Contemporary View, August 30, 2006–April 9, 2007.