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Class PicturesReview - Class Pictures
by Dawoud Bey
Aperture, 2007
Review by Christian Perring
Jun 17th 2008 (Volume 12, Issue 25)

Here we have about 70 photographs of teens looking into the camera, each accompanied a description of them in their own words.  Michelle says she likes reading, especially on a beach on a sunny day.  Gerard says he is a hardworking man and he is black.  Godwin says he is addicted to having fun.  Kendra talks dramatically about the death of her grandmother -- "When her body was cremated, somewhere between the depths of the furnace and reality, a piece of my soul was consumed, incinerated to ashes and buried, lost forever."  Geraldo says he always has a smile on his face, but the truth is that he is not very happy.  And so on.  Doubtless these young people do have complicated lives and rich experiences to relate.  However, most of them are not very articulate, and even if they were, they are not given enough space to give much detail.  It's not really about the words anyway.

Do Bey's photographs accomplish more then the young people's words?  Definitely.  The subjects seem interesting and thoughtful, with a history worth knowing.  They are full of character and emotion.  Mostly, they look sad and reflective.  Some look very vulnerable, while others are bold or antagonistic.  It is certainly interesting to browse through this book.  It seems reasonably clear that Bey is making a further statement: these adolescents are just as individual as adults, and should not just be categorized as nerd, Goth, cheerleader, geek, and so on.  All true enough.  But that message is already familiar.  These images don't leave a lasting impression although they are nice portraits.  So on the whole, Class Pictures is disappointing. 

Link: Dawoud Bey website

© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.


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