Exploring Race With Photos of White Friends

The Photo Blog
May 1 2014 11:00 AM

Exploring Race With Photos of White Friends

10
The Ws, Chicago, 2008

Myra Greene

When Myra Greene asked her white friends to be a part of her photographic exploration of whiteness, their first question was usually, “Why?” Their second: “What should I wear?”

As Greene traveled the country making collaborative portraits for her book My White Friends, the answers were often ambiguous. But the conversations they spawned were fruitful, if slightly foreign, to her subjects. “Being asked to be in a photograph because of race has happened many times in my life,” Greene said, who is African-American. “I don't think a lot of white people have been asked to do something because of their racial identity. It changes the way they think of that experience of being photographed.”

Greene, an associate professor of photography at Columbia College Chicago, has frequently used photography as a means to explore questions of race and its representation. In her series “Character Recognition,” she made photographs of her own body in an effort to explore the ways in which she’s perceived by others for the color of her skin. When it came to photographing her white friends, the questions were similar, but the process was less clear-cut. “In the beginning we really didn't know what was going on,” she said. “I'd go with them to work or to their home and talk about what I wanted to do and why I wanted to photograph them,” she said. “As the project continued, we had a conversation about types and stereotypes. In the later photographs, I’d say, ‘Here's the person I think you'll be in the photograph, even if that's not the majority of who I think you are as a person.’ ”

8
J.S., New York, 2008

Myra Greene

9
D.W., Rochester, New York, 2007

Myra Greene

6
D.N., Chicago, 2009

Myra Greene

Advertisement

Though the photographs were collaborative, her subjects often found the results surprising. Greene said that’s mostly because her intent was to present stereotypes, not create faithful representations. “I’m really cautious of the word portraiture with these because it implies to the viewer that there's a one-for-one truth, that I’m representing these people as this thing or this personality. The idea for the project was never to make portraits of my friends. The idea was to portray whiteness,” she said.

Reactions from viewers have also reflected surprise and even a bit of hostility. “Some people dismiss the project. That's fine. I tend to find people who come from otherness understand this project because they have reconciled themselves against whiteness and white people,” she said.

The other people who understand Greene’s project are the friends she photographed, which is why she wanted to work with them instead of strangers. “I think it makes me honest about what I’m doing,” Greene said. “I have to live with that picture for the rest of my life too because I'm going to know my friend Erica, for example, for the rest of my life.”

My White Friends is published by Kehrer Verlag.

1
J.K.B., Rochester, New York, 2008

Myra Greene

4
R.L., Livermore, California, 2008

Myra Greene

5
M.M., New York, 2011

Myra Greene

2
S.D., Lake George, New York, 2009

Myra Greene

3
E.G., Brooklyn, 2010

Myra Greene

7
R.E., Brockport, New York, 2008

Myra Greene

TODAY IN SLATE

Politics

The Democrats’ War at Home

How can the president’s party defend itself from the president’s foreign policy blunders?

Secret Service Director Julia Pierson Resigns

Piper Kerman on Why She Dressed Like a Hitchcock Heroine for Her Prison Sentencing

Windows 8 Was So Bad That Microsoft Will Skip Straight to Windows 10

Homeland Is Good Again! For Now.

Politics

Cringing. Ducking. Mumbling.

How GOP candidates react whenever someone brings up reproductive rights or gay marriage.

Music

How Even an Old Hipster Can Age Gracefully

On their new albums, Leonard Cohen, Robert Plant, and Loudon Wainwright III show three ways.

The U.S. Has a New Problem in Syria: The Moderate Rebels Feel Like We’ve Betrayed Them

We Need to Talk: A Terrible Name for a Good Sports Show by and About Women

Trending News Channel
Oct. 1 2014 1:25 PM Japanese Cheerleader Robots Balance and Roll Around on Balls
  News & Politics
Crime
Oct. 1 2014 4:15 PM The Trials of White Boy Rick A Detroit crime legend, the FBI, and the ugliness of the war on drugs.
  Business
Moneybox
Oct. 1 2014 2:16 PM Wall Street Tackles Chat Services, Shies Away From Diversity Issues 
  Life
The Eye
Oct. 1 2014 1:04 PM An Architectural Crusade Against the Tyranny of Straight Lines
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 1 2014 4:05 PM Today in GOP Outreach to Women: You Broads Like Wedding Dresses, Right?
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 1 2014 3:24 PM Revelry (and Business) at Mohonk Photos and highlights from Slate’s annual retreat.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 1 2014 3:02 PM The Best Show of the Summer Is Getting a Second Season
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 1 2014 3:01 PM Netizen Report: Hong Kong Protests Trigger Surveillance and Social Media Censorship
  Health & Science
Science
Oct. 1 2014 4:03 PM Does the Earth Really Have a “Hum”? Yes, but probably not the one you’re thinking.
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 30 2014 5:54 PM Goodbye, Tough Guy It’s time for Michigan to fire its toughness-obsessed coach, Brady Hoke.