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Meet Carrie Mae Weems, the artist who first fought back against the male gaze.

"You have to make what you want to see in the world. That is basically your obligation if you're an artist."

Meet Carrie Mae Weems, the artist who first fought back against the male gaze.

When photographer Carrie Ann Weems didn't see herself represented in the art world, she took it upon herself to create that representation.

Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

The 63-year-old artist opened up about her important career in a recent Lenny interview, explaining that her black-and-white photos — especially her simple yet incredibly powerful "Kitchen Table Series," completed in 1990 — portrayed her as she wants to be seen, not how others wanted her to be seen.


In her photos, Weems is in charge, representing her life as she sees fit. It's a beautiful example of self-expression.

She explains in the interview:

"I realized at a certain moment that I could not count on white men to construct images of myself that I would find appealing or useful or meaningful or complex. I can't count on anybody else but me to deliver on my own promise to myself. I love Fellini. I love Woody Allen. I love the Coen brothers, but they're not interested in my black ass."

​Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

"I needed to speak to and across the ways in which women had been discussed in film, theater, and photography. I needed to speak of representation and systems."

Weems is most famous for challenging the dreaded male gaze with her photos.

She noticed that men took photos of themselves that were "deeply frontal," while women were often turned to the side in photographs, or had some of their face obscured. So she made the choice to represent herself in her work face-on, something that had rarely been done before by a woman. She tediously set up a camera, processed and printed the film, figured out what she had done wrong, and did it all over again the next day.

In her work, especially the "Kitchen Table" series, you can see her vulnerably revealing itself — in her kitchen and beyond. Weems makes a powerful statement about being present, fearless, and in control in her art.

Eventually, her work set a new standard for visual storytelling by exploring subjectivity in both domestic spaces and public spaces.

Weems isn't alone in her struggle to find herself represented as a woman in the world, especially in art and especially as a woman of color.

Other renowned female artists have joined Weems in this fight throughout the years, famously taking control of representation by making themselves the subjects of their work, too.

Cindy Sherman, for example, famously transforms herself into people from all walks of life — male or female. She relies solely on herself to create these images that challenge us to think about class, race, and gender. Marina Abramović, often referred to as the "grandmother of performance art," is also known for her gutsy risks in the art world, like her project "The Artist Is Present" where she sat across from strangers for hours at a time, sharing silence with them.

These women continually push the boundaries of what it means to be a female artist today. They are meticulous and deliberate, while constructing images of their reality as a woman in the world. There's no hiding behind their work because most of the time, they are their work.

​Image by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

Carrie Mae Weems boldly laid the groundwork for female artists today.

"I always thought about the pictures of myself as not necessarily of myself but as an entity, a form that could express something that needed to be expressed," she told Lenny.

She created a platform for unapologetic honesty and empowerment, and we can never have too much of that.

I often take for granted how easily I can take a selfie and send a depiction of myself out into the world. But that hasn't always been the case. When Weems started working, she was intentional and precise. She wanted women everywhere to be seen for who they really were. She was a bold risk-taker. And she changed things in a big way.

This is what happens when you stand up for yourself in a world that doesn't seem to have room for you. It's risky. It's terrifying. But it's worth it. Thank you for your boldness, Carrie!

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When Molly Reeser was a student at Michigan State University, she took a job mucking horse stalls to help pay for classes. While she was there, she met a 10-year-old girl named Casey, who was being treated for cancer, and — because both were animal lovers — they became fast friends.

Two years later, Casey died of cancer.

"Everyone at the barn wanted to do something to honor her memory," Molly remembers. A lot of suggestions were thrown out, but Molly knew that there was a bigger, more enduring way to do it.

"I saw firsthand how horses helped Casey and her family escape from the difficult and terrifying times they were enduring. I knew that there must be other families who could benefit from horses in the way she and her family had."

Molly approached the barn owners and asked if they would be open to letting her hold a one-day event. She wanted to bring pediatric cancer patients to the farm, where they could enjoy the horses and peaceful setting. They agreed, and with the help of her closest friends and the "emergency" credit card her parents had given her, Molly created her first Camp Casey. She worked with the local hospital where Casey had been a patient and invited 20 patients, their siblings and their parents.

The event was a huge success — and it was originally meant to be just that: a one-day thing. But, Molly says, "I believe Casey had other plans."

One week after the event, Molly received a letter from a five-year-old boy who had brain cancer. He had been at Camp Casey and said it was "the best day of his life."

"[After that], I knew that we had to pull it off again," Molly says. And they did. Every month for the next few years, they threw a Camp Casey. And when Molly graduated, she did the most terrifying thing she had ever done and told her parents that she would be waitressing for a year to see if it might be possible to turn Camp Casey into an actual nonprofit organization. That year of waitressing turned into six, but in the end she was able to pull it off: by 2010, Camp Casey became a non-profit with a paid staff.

"I am grateful for all the ways I've experienced good luck in my life and, therefore, I believe I have a responsibility to give back. It brings me tremendous joy to see people, animals, or things coming together to create goodness in a world that can often be filled with hardships."

Camp Casey serves 1500 children under the age of 18 each year in Michigan. "The organization looks different than when it started," Molly says. "We now operate four cost-free programs that bring accessible horseback riding and recreational services to children with cancer, sickle cell disease, and other life-threatening illnesses."

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