His passion is showing images of ordinary people

caines | 7/11/2013, 5:30 a.m.

[gallery link="file" columns="5" orderby="title"] Back in 1969, a 16-year-old, Black youth named David Smikle from Queens visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art for the very first time. He was there for a new exhibit, Harlem on My Mind, which featured larger-than-life photographs of ordinary Blacks from New York City. The experience was an epiphany for Smikle. He would change his name to Dawoud Bey and follow an inner voice that urged him to become a photographer. He learned his craft at the School of Visual Arts and at age of 22, debuted his own show Harlem U.S.A. which featured 25 black-and-white photos of people from his neighborhood. Bey wanted to capture the essence of ordinary people from military vets in a marching band to old women on their way to church dressed in their Sunday best. Beys photographs now command a price in the low six figures and he has become known across the world as a portrait photographer whose works convey a feeling of self-awareness and profound introspection. Since his groundbreaking exhibition opened in 1979, Bey has continued his commitment to portraiture as a means for understanding contemporary society. Now his work can be seen at the Museum of Contemporary Art [MOCA], 770 NE 125th Street] in North Miami. The exhibition, entitled Picturing People, represents the evolution of Beys work in the three decades since his debut at The Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979.

Bey describes his work

We are all different people depending on the circumstances and so Im looking to create an engagement to have a momentary experience with a stranger so that we know that stranger through their photograph, Bey said. Ultimately, my goal is to reveal something from the subjects interior self as seen in the photo of an ordinary Black person. In this world of celebrity chasing, I have chosen to give ordinary people a place and to show them that their images are important enough to be shown in museums. In 1992, Bey began to focus on young adults using a Polaroid camera. He says his work reflects some of the things that young people were saying to him as he traveled across the U.S. Youth often feel like they are stereotyped by the larger community, he said. They are viewed as individuals whose lives are less rich and less complicated that theres no real substance to their lives. The larger society tends to put young people in a box and thats simply unfair. Bey photographed high school students in cities that included: Atlanta, Detroit, Chicago, New York City, Orlando, San Francisco and even allowed some to write words about themselves and their photos. I wanted their voices to be part of the conversation and that just adds so much more to the photograph, he added. My interest in young people has to do with the fact that they are the arbiters of style in the community and their appearance speaks more strongly of how a community of people defines themselves at a particular historical moment. For more info go to www.mocanomi.org. By D. Kevin McNeirkmcneir@maimtimesonline.com