Oxford AASC: Photo Essay

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PHOTO ESSAY

African American Women and Photography

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SUNE WOODS

Suné Woods. "crossing," 2012; pigment print, 20x30 in. Courtesy of the artist.

Suné Woods (b. 1975) was born in Montréal, Québec, Canada, but grew up between South Florida and Ohio. She earned a B.F.A. in photography from the University of Miami, Coral Gables and earned an M.F.A. in photography from the California College of the Arts. Like many of her foremothers, Woods started her career as a photojournalist, shooting for The Washington Times, Newsday, and the now web-based Honey magazine. Like Renee Cox, Woods decided to pursue contemporary art after having her son. And much like Carrie Mae Weems, she is primarily interested in familial, cultural, and traumatic histories, and their impacts on individuals, communities, and the landscape. In her black-and-white series, "Bountiful Darkness," Woods explores the history of racially-motivated sexual violence in the Deep South and the landscape, using African American and European American male and female models that wear the same 1940s-era eyelet dress. In each image, the models are placed in the landscape in such a way that they seem to disappear into the surrounding foliage. For example, in one photograph a slightly blurred female figure stands in a wood hollow just on the edge of a swamp, but she remains partially in the shadows. Only the light color of the dress alerts the viewer to her presence. Even with the rich tonal values, daylight fails to seep into this location, heightening the sense that something traumatic, even horrifying, happened in that location and to that woman, who either peers across or into the impassable water, seemingly asking for help. By selecting an ethnically and gender diverse cast, and by placing them in the same costume, Woods flattens racial and gender hierarchies. She also reminds viewers that sexual violence committed against any group has a reverberating effect in the communities of both the victims and the perpetrators. Further, she reminds the audience that African American history is American history.

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