In 1979, African American photographer Dawoud Bey revealed Harlem, U.S.A at his first solo exhibition with the Studio Museum in New York. Bey, a Chicago-based artist, originally from Queens but who grew up in Harlem, was still relatively amateur when he decided to start photographing Harlem in 1975.

A portraiture of 1970s black American culture, the 25 black and white prints framed typical Harlem residents, as opposed to the cliched images of the 1920s. During that time, Harlem lost a third of its residents, who sought refuge from its increasing crime and poverty. Those who stayed — the barber, church-going women, children at play — Bey captured through his camera lens.


“I began to make photographs that had more to do with what I was hearing and experiencing in Harlem, and what the people I was photographing in Harlem were offering me rather than some preconceived notion about how I could put a positive visual spin on the black experience. It became more complex than that,” says Bey.

Recently acquired by The Art Institute of Chicago, Harlem, U.S.A. will be on exhibit, along with 5 unprinted photos from the same period, until September 9.

Professor Bey currently teaches art at Columbia College of Chicago. He studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York and holds an MFA in photography from Yale University.

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