BAHM: 2.4.17 Deana Lawson
Deana Lawson is a photographer currently based in Brooklyn, NY who works with found photos and large format portraits of black subjects in New York, Louisiana, Haiti, Jamaica, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. She received her MFA from RISD in 2004, completed a residency at Lightwork and was a part of the MOMA show, New Photography 2011. She will be featured in the 2017 Whitney Biennial.
Lawson’s work is heavily influenced by a vernacular photographic style, creating intimate portraits of strangers. She has said that much of her influence and ideas for shoots come directly from the family photo albums of her childhood and her models are often people that have a familiar look to her. But the formal quality of the images, the sometimes unnatural pose, the direct gaze and the exquisitely detailed compositions take a sharp departure from the vernacular style and leave these images suspended somewhere between European Renaissance painting and African studio portraiture. To know that so much of her portraits are carefully drafted and staged adds an interesting dimension to the inherent intimacy. They feel both sincere and surreal and the aspect of performance speaks to that tension. The gaze is another unifier of her portraits and present a sexual tension that translates the powerful presence of the subject. The sitters are often nude and provocatively posed suggesting that intimacy is carefully and deliberately negotiated. Lawson puts it quite eloquently when she says her portraits, “concern and affirm the sacred black body.”
BOMB Magazine article: Artists is Conversation