Myra Greene, E.W. and J.W. Chicago, IL, 2008. Courtesy of the artist. _x1200

Myra Greene: Selections from My White Friends

January 29, 2013 - April 14, 2013

“These photographs offer descriptions instead of resolutions.  Readers charged with dissecting coded information, are confronted with their own notions of race.”

—Myra Greene

Chicago-based artist Myra Greene creates works that engage photography as both an art form and a social-scientific instrument used to objectify and classify people into social types. In her most widely known series, Character Recognition (2006-2007), she produced close-ups of her eyes, lips, nose, and ears in black glass ambrotypes – a nineteenth-century photographic form. The self-portraits closely resembled taxonomic photographs of early anthropologists, criminologists, and psychologists who believed that detailed measurements of the body could reveal signs of individual character. Seeking to connect the imaging practices of racial science to media representations of displaced African Americans from New Orleans in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, Greene posed the question: “How do we look at black people and recognize their character?”

In My White Friends, she considers whether a photograph can capture and depict the nuances of whiteness. Greene’s portraits examine her white companions as archetypal figures, a collectivity, and a racial group. The subjects’ physical bodies and the spaces they inhabit signify whiteness as a complex cultural construct that raises questions about status, cultural and racial norms, and privilege.

However, Greene’s sitters are not just anonymous stand-ins for a political and cultural point. Her portraits are also intimate portrayals of people the artist knows well in the places they feel most comfortable. The artist and her subjects such as – D.N. of Chicago standing cross-legged with her shades, polo, and golf club – are at times playfully complicit in a performance of whiteness. More often, they simply exist in the worlds that they have constructed.

Maurita N. Poole, Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts

This installation was proposed by Harry Gilbert ’14 for Claiming Williams, a program dedicated to building an inclusive community at Williams College. It was organized by Maurita Poole, Mellon Curatorial Fellow for Diversity in the Arts, with the assistance of Harry Gilbert ‘14, Katherine Flanagan ‘14, and Leo Obata ‘14. Funding for the exhibition was provided by Africana Studies, American Studies Program, Claiming Williams Committee, College Art Council, Department of Art, Gaudino Initiative, History Department, and Lecture Fund Committee.

Images above courtesy of the artist. Clockwise from upper left: D.N. Chicago, IL 2009; J.G. Brooklyn, NY 2009; K.M. Rochester, NY 2009; N.M. New York, NY 2009.

Related Event
Gallery Conversation
Friday, March 1, 2013
5:15 pm

Myra Greene discusses her photographic exploration of the nuances of whiteness with Harry Gilbert, ’14.