Dawoud Bey, Untitled #1 (Picket Fence and Farmhouse), from the series Night Coming Tenderly, Black, 2017. Rennie Collection, Vancouver. © Dawoud Bey.
Dawoud Bey’s latest body of work is a series of black-and-white photographs that reimagine sites along the last stages of the Underground Railroad.
Photographer Dawoud Bey, the recent recipient of a MacArthur genius grant, decided to make a fundamental change in his work as he approached his 60th year. Already renowned as a portraitist, he turned his attention to history, beginning with a group of works that memorialized the six young black people tragically killed in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963. He continues this engagement with African American history in his latest project.
Accustomed to urban scenes and subjects, he focused on a very different landscape: thickets, a picket fence, an open field, and Lake Erie. Bey also returned to traditional black-and-white printing, and more particularly to gelatin silver prints, a process he had not used since the early 1990s. Through these choices Bey wanted to make a far greater shift: from pictures of the here and now to the vast, historical subject of the Underground Railroad, the network of secret routes and safe houses that aided enslaved African Americans on their path to freedom.