Skip to Content

Dawoud Bey

Black-and-white photo of the artist holding a camera on a tripod.
Dawoud Bey at Lake Erie, 2018. Photo by Mike Majewski.
Date of birth

Across a four-decade career, Dawoud Bey has created captivating, radical, and reflective photographs that represent African American life with dignity and nuance. 

Bey garnered the attention of critics with his 1979 debut exhibition at the Studio Museum in Harlem, which featured a suite of 25 photographs titled Harlem, U.S.A. Bey had been taking the images since 1975. (The complete series is now in the collection of the Art Institute.) Though raised in Queens, Bey and his family had roots in Harlem, and it was a youthful visit to the exhibition Harlem on My Mind at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1969, an exhibition which included no black artists despite its focus on a historically African American neighborhood, that had inspired Bey’s determination to become an artist. 

In 2012, the Art Institute exhibited Harlem, U.S.A. in its entirety for the first time since the original exhibition. Bey returned to Harlem for his series Harlem Redux (2014–2017), which examines the effects of gentrification on the African American community. 

Bey has resided in Chicago since 1998 and serves as a professor of photography at Columbia College, an art and design school. In 2017, he received the MacArthur Fellowship in recognition of his “expansive approach to photography that creates new spaces of engagement within cultural institutions, making them more meaningful to and representative of the communities in which they are situated.” A 2019 exhibition at the Art Institute presented works from Dawoud Bey’s recent series Night Coming Tenderly, Black that explores the experience of the Underground Railroad.

Sign up for our enewsletter to receive updates.

Learn more

Image actions