April 16–July 12, 2009
Class Pictures: Photographs by Dawoud Bey
I can speak four languages, I am an actress, and when I was about thirty seconds old I reached up and took my dad’s glasses off of his face. When I was eight years old, I visited my cousin’s school in India. They didn’t have a roof, so during the monsoons they got rained on. When I went home, I raised enough money to build them a roof and buy some school supplies.
Dawoud Bey, Usha, 2006. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.
When I was seven years old my father went to jail, and that left me just with a mother, so she had to play both roles as a mother and father. That only made her stronger. That was kind of a challenge for me, because I had to decide whether or not I wanted to go further than my father. That drove me to become successful. That’s when I got into comedy, and I would watch Saturday Night Live. I started watching a lot of movies, and that made me want to get into theater. That’s what I want to do now.
Dawoud Bey, Antoine, 2006. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.
I’m glad my parents were always there to guide me and help me think of the choices I was making. I like to join a lot of activities, but once something goes wrong, my first thought is to quit. When I tell my parents what happened, they always push me to give it another try and not quit. Without that extra push I wouldn’t have been able to do many things, like play basketball, volleyball, swim, or even play the piano.
Dawoud Bey, Lauren, 2006. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.
I know that I shouldn’t but sometimes I wonder how other people look at me. What do they see first? My brown-ness, my beard, my cap, my clothes, the color of my eyes, the design of my T-shirt? I think that people see my skin color first. They probably see me as a brown guy. Then, they might see my black beard and my white kufi (prayer cap) and figure out I am Muslim. They see my most earthly qualities first. Brown, that’s the very color of the earth, the mud from which God created us. Sometimes I wonder what color my soul is. I hope that it’s the color of heaven.
Dawoud Bey, Omar, 2005. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.
People around me have to be positive, and like to be around me. All of my friends would describe me as crazy but intelligent. Most people are intimidated by my look, but later get to see that I am a loving, fun-going person. I love children, and would someday like some of my own. When I grow up, I want to be a pediatrician, and later own my own day care. To get there I have to keep a focused mind and stay on the path that I am on now. It won’t be hard, because success is where I am headed.
Dawoud Bey, Shalanta, 2003. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.
When I was about six or seven my father died. This was either the worst or best thing that ever happened to me. In fact, now that I think about it, it was both. That experience was both my blessing and my curse. I don’t remember much before the death of my father. For me it feels like that’s when life as I know it really began. It’s not like I was saddened by the event. I hardly knew my father. His memory only survives in my head because of three scenarios: the way his coarse mustache pricked my cheek when he kissed me, the short collect calls he made from the correctional facility, and the photos that my mother keeps under her bed. After his death my mother became incredibly detached. She became a mere exoskeleton of her former self. With a dead father and a deeply depressed mother who basically stopped living, I had no choice but to take care of myself. I became as self-reliant as possible. There was no more time for childhood. I was all about business. Thanks to the death of my father I learned to value independence, hard work, and maturity. This is my blessing. Thanks to the death of my father I grew up much too fast and never learned how to ask anyone for help. I carry my own burdens…alone. This is my curse.
Dawoud Bey, Kevin, 2005. From the book Class Pictures (Aperture, 2007). Image courtesy Aperture Foundation.