Who can read the news without seeing a headline and a visceral photograph recounting yet another shooting of a Black man in the United States? The stunning immediacy and magnitude of populist access to contemporary social media have switched the terms of documentary photography’s ethical power. The urgent documentary purposes of warning and witnessing now simultaneously call into action remembering and mourning.
Multimedia artist Carrie Mae Weems has redefined the terms of documentary photographic practice in her piercing text and image installations that metaphorically address the current legacy of atrocities suffered by African Americans, both men and women. Her articulate strategies uncover the derogatory intentions of name calling and turn these deadly abuses into the blessed connotations of naming. Weems’s exquisite portraits of children and young adults in the Colored People series, 1989–1990, bring into current focus resistant formations of facing, alterity and self-respect. These portraits echo the urgent call for intersubjective caring, critical awareness and thoughtful action called for by Black Lives Matter The Mothers of the Movement. The artist and the Mothers share productive affinities of maternal ethics that compel active imaginings of ethical racial and gender relations, pointing to new geographies of gender, justice and tenderness.