Visual artist Carrie Mae Weems, who appeared on the main stage of the Look3 Festival of the Photograph last night for a conversation about her work with photo historian and curator Deborah Willis, is finally getting the recognition that she deserves. Weems recently received the Gordon Parks Foundation Award, and her rich, wide-ranging oeuvre from the past three decades is the subject of a touring retrospective exhibition.
As an artist, Weems is not easy to pin down. She uses primarily photography, but also written text, audio recording, video and fabric banners to explore a wide range of topics, including race, gender, sexuality, and power. A common thread to it all, she says, is “an overarching commitment to understanding the present by closely examining history and identity.”
But the work is far more playful and accessible than all of that makes it sound. Her work is grounded solidly in reality. (Take a quick tour here: http://carriemaeweems.net/work.html.) And like so many other photographers, she goes to work every morning, follows her interests, and figures things out as she goes along.
“I’m interested in photography and I’m interested in literature and I’m interested in film,” she explained near the beginning of her wide-ranging conversation with Willis. “I’m trying to figure out how to use those modes as a vehicle for expressing certain kinds of ideas…I’m just interested in whatever works.”
Her conversation with Willis, accompanied by a projection of her images, shed light on her artistic process with a grand tour of her various projects over the years . One of the best known is her “Kitchen Table” series, for which Weems used a kitchen table–that iconic object of American domesticity–to explore the experience of women in their role as mothers, wives, friends, and objects of sexual desire.