Captured on Film

In Carrie Mae Weem’s Constructing History: A Requiem to Mark the Moment familiar historical moments are revisited, conflated and scrutinized in tableau. The Assassination of Medger, Malcom, and Martin, 2008 reminds us of how for a time event succeeding traumatic event seemed like some kind of horrific glitch in a roll of film, forcing the projector to replay the same scene again and again. Many of the images in the show were staged on a set, where a ring of track for a camera encircles the scene, ready to broadcast every detail to living rooms of incredulous viewers.
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The track is a powerful reminder of what is missing from the famous images that are burned into our collective consciousness. While the poses and expressions of the actors in The Assassination bring across so well the individual reactions, the blank look of shock on the face of the man in the rear, the woman’s hand gently cradling the head, the just visible camera dolly illuminated on the track by the spotlight is indicative that the moments that inspired the compositions in the show rapidly became the shared experiences of millions. There would be no more private grief that was not processed for public consumption. In Mourning, 2008, placing the women on the pedestal reclaims the space of grief experienced by those closest to tragedy, but we must replace in the mind’s eye the track, the camera jib, for the throngs of photographers on the periphery who would be snapping away; the crowds gathered for whom the event signified history in the making. Another subtle element visible in many of the prints is the clock on the far wall. Sometimes obscured by the spotlight or out of frame, it appears in enough to serve as a mute witness to events and to be felt ghostly when unseen (most people can answer the questions of what time of day it was and what you were doing when either Kennedy was shot or when you learned about one or both of the planes striking the Twin Towers).
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While many of the events are drawn from the Sixties and Seventies, the recreation of Benazir Bhutto waving from a car, when contrasted with that of JFK and Jackie Kennedy (most likely seated in the very same car), serves as a rebuke to our lack of progress. The title alone of another piece, The Endless Weeping of Women, 2008 can be seen as a coda to the show as a whole.

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