I Am Real
The revolutionary photography
of Barkley L. Hendricks
By Kate Mothes
Known for his vibrant portrayals of Black Americans, pioneering portraitist Barkley L. Hendricks (1945-2017) brought his subjects to life in realist and post-modern oil paintings and photographs. His paintings focused on his subjects’ attitude and stance, often in full-body compositions on saturated, monochrome backgrounds that highlighted individual characteristics and personal style, inspired by moments captured on film. Hendricks was a prolific photographer who rarely left the house without a camera, following in the footsteps of one of his mentors at Yale, Walker Evans, considered the progenitor of documentary photography.
At Jack Shainman Gallery, Myself When I Am Real highlights a selection of images ranging from vintage prints to photographs from the artist’s estate on view publicly for the first time. Spanning five decades, the works depict Black figures in a changing America, pairing everyday scenes with nods to political and historical movements, cultural and sartorial trends, and an interest in screens and media. Early black-and-white photographs take more direct cues from the documentary tradition, while in later years his work became more conceptual, focusing on iconic personalities and moments on television that build a unique narrative of late-20th-century pop culture. In addition to his prescient interest in screens, the exhibition highlights how Hendricks employed reflections, cropping, and oblique perspectives to challenge the viewer’s impressions and examine ideas around visibility and representation.
Header: Untitled, c. 1975. Delatin silver print, 16 x 24 inches
Side-by-side: Untitled (Self-Portrait), c. 1975. Gelatin silver print, 24 x 16 inches (left). Untitled, c. 1975. Gelatin silver print, 24 x 16 inches (right)
All images © Barkley L. Hendricks, courtesy of the Estate of Barkley L. Hendricks and Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.