Williams, Carla 1965-

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WILLIAMS, Carla 1965-


Born 1965, in Los Angeles, CA; daughter of Wendell and Evelyn Williams. Ethnicity: "African American." Education: Princeton University, B.A., 1986; University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, M.A., 1988; M.F.A., 1996. Politics: Green Party. Hobbies and other interests: Committed to political activism.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Temple University Press, 1601 N. Broad St., 306 USB, Philadelphia, PA 19122. E-mail—[email protected]


J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Department of Photographs, intern, 1991-92; Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, New York Public Library, New York, NY, Prints and Photographs Division, curator, 1992-93; Topanga, CA, private collection, curator, 1993-97; Pomona College, Claremont, CA, instructor in photography, 1994; freelance writer and editor, 1995—; J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, CA, Collections Information Planning Department, writer, art access, 1997-99; Thaw Art History Center, College of Santa Fe, Visual Resource curator, 1999-2002; College of Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM, Marion Center for Photographic Arts, adjunct professor of history of photography and photography, spring, 2001 and spring, 2002; Stanford University, Drama Department, lecturer, 2003. Lecturer and panelist at universities. Exhibitions: Group exhibitions include Reflections in Black: A History Deconstructed, various venues and dates; Disclosures, Calvin College, Grand Rapids, MI, 2001; Precedence: Emmet Gowin and His Students, Fosdick-Nelson Gallery, New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, 2000; Past, Present, Future, College of Santa Fe Fine Arts Gallery, 2000; Treatment: Women's Bodies in Medical Science and Art, Dinnerware Gallery, Tucson, AZ, 1999; The Human Figure in Photography, Graff Fine Arts Center Gallery, Dixie College, St. George, UT, 1998; National Juried and Invitational Exhibition, National Black Arts Festival, Georgia State University Art Gallery, Atlanta, GA, 1998; Alternatives '98, Ohio University, Athens, OH, 1998; 25 and Under, traveling exhibition, Center for Documentary Studies and Doubletake magazine, 1996-98; Searching for Memories: Black Women and the 1895 Atlanta Exposition, collaboration in Messages from the Everyday World: The Bathhouse Exhibition, Arts Festival of Atlanta, Atlanta, GA, 1995; African American Women Photographers, Salena Gallery, Long Island University, Brooklyn, NY, 1993; Of Pride and Pain: Photographs by Christian Walker, Deborah Willis, and Carla Williams, The Light Factory, Charlotte, NC, 1992-93; LACPS Annual Exhibition, University of Southern California Lindhurst Gallery, Los Angeles, CA, 1992; Contemporary Women Photographers, University Art Museum, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, 1991; How to Read Character, The Teaching Gallery, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM, 1991; National Exposures 90, Sawtooth Building Galleries, Winston-Salem, NC, 1990; National Aperture 3, Sawtooth Building Galleries, Winston-Salem, NC, 1988. Collections on exhibit at University Art Museum, University of New Mexico—Albuquerque; The Art Museum, Princeton University; Light Work, Syracuse, NY.


Society for Photographic Education National Conference (proposal review panel member), Arts Advisory Committee, Museum of the African Diaspora (San Francisco, CA), Publications Committee for Society for Photographic Education, Center for the Arts of the African Diaspora (advisory board member, 1998—), Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (member, board of directors, 1993-95); Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (peer review panelist, 1993, 1996, 1997).


Canon Excellence Award, April 1988, for National Aperture 3 exhibition (contributor of photographs); Infinity Award, International Center for Photography, New York, 1994, for Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography (contributor of essay); Golden Light Award Book of Merit, Maine Photographic Workshops, 1996, for 25 and Under (contributor of photographs); Bronze Award from the National Gold Ink Awards, 2002, for The Black Female Body: A Photographic History; Rockefeller Fellow in the Black Performing Arts, Humanities Center, Stanford University, 2002-03.


Thurgood Marshall: 1908-1993, Child's World (Chanhassen, MN), 2002.

The Underground Railroad, Child's World (Chanhassen, MN), 2002.

(With Deborah Willis) The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, Temple University Press (Philadelphia, PA), 2002.

Contributor to journals, including Fotophile: The Journal for Creative Photographers, Black & White Magazine, and Image; contributor to encyclopedias, including Black Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), and Encyclopedia of African American Art and Architecture, Grolier Academic Reference; contributor to anthologies, including Skin Deep, Spirit Strong: The Black Female Body in American Culture, University of Michigan Press (Ann Arbor, MI), 2002, Our Grandmothers, Stewart, Tabori & Chang (New York, NY), 1998, and Picturing Us: African American Identity in Photography, New Press (New York, NY), 1994; contributor to online magazines and Web sites, including PhotoPoint Magazine. Contributor to exhibition catalogs, including Picturing the Modern Amazon, New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York, NY), 2000, and Portraits at Imperial Courts, Los Angeles Center for Photographic Studies (Los Angeles, CA), May 15-June 15, 1999; writer and editor for newsletter Subtext: The Group at Strasberg, 2002—.


Biography of Maudelle Bass; anthology on the Hottentot Venus.


Photographer and writer Carla Williams is a contributor to numerous publications, through both her writing and her photographs. In 2002 she published two historical-interest books for children, The Underground Railroad and Thurgood Marshall: 1908-1993. The Underground Railroad covers a significant period in African-American history, the clandestine freeing of slaves through the help of a network of both black and white supporters paving their safe passage from the South to northern U.S. cities. A reviewer for the Horn Book Guide found the prose simple enough to appeal to all readers and thought the anecdotal material was "intriguing." Thurgood Marshall, about the great African-American jurist, is also written for young readers. Marlene Gawron, in a review for the School Library Journal, said the books in this series "humanize these super-achievers." Both books feature plenty of photographs, which add to their interest, according to a Horn Book Guide critic.

Also in 2002, Williams' lengthy collaboration with photographer and writer Deborah Willis resulted in publication of The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, a collection of approximately 185 photographs of black women from the nineteenth through the twenty-first centuries, with accompanying text. The authors found photographs in old books, art museums, private collections, and archives in Europe and the United States. Combining their education and experience as photographers, they put together a book that Meredith Broussard, of Citypaper.net, called "a gorgeous, remarkable work, full of empowering perspectives about the artistic representation of African-American women."

In an interview with Annette John-Hall of the Philadelphia Inquirer, Williams and Willis said they met when a professor told Willis that a graduate student at the University of New Mexico (Williams) had been photographing her own behind. Williams said she made the photos for her photographic series How to Read Character because she had not seen any photos in her studies that looked like her. One of these photos is reproduced in The Black Female Body as a tribute to the African-American woman Saartjie Baartman, known as the Hottentot Venus. The nude Baartman was presented as an attraction at freak shows in the early nineteenth century because of her large and protuberant buttocks.

The Black Female Body is divided into four parts: "Colonial Conquest," "The Cultural Body," "The Body Beautiful," and "Reclaiming Bodies and Images." The photographs represent work by such well-known photographers as Gordon Parks, James Van Der Zee, Carrie Mae Weems, Adrian Piper, Chester Higgins, Renee Cox, Catherine Opie, Walker Evans, and Dorothea Lange, as well as anonymous photographs taken in the 1800s and 1900s to document the black female body for anthropological and less-noble purposes, such as pornographic interest. These include photos of the Hottentot Venus, the "Jezebels," and the "noble savages."

As described by Regina Woods, in the Black Issues Book Review, the book "moves back and forth between images of female bodies as specimens, metaphors for colonized territories, signifiers of hypersexuality, neutered mammies, and self-defined subjects." A reviewer for Temple University Press acknowledged that the authors "offer counterpoints to these exploitative images, as well as testaments to a vibrant culture." Many of the subjects are nude, but others are dressed in finery. Still others are photos of black women athletes and bodybuilders. Others are famous personalities, or simply mothers, daughters, grandmothers. Esther Iverem, writing for SeeingBlack.com, stated, "Williams and Willis … have compiled a tour de force of images and text that will make you think differently not only about African and African American history but also about the unique struggles that Black women have within that larger history."

In a review for Library Journal, Shauna Frischkorn commented that the book "provides a fascinating view into a long-neglected and even taboo subject." Williams' accompanying text, according to Stephanie Dinkins, of Afterimage, "seeks to deconstruct and (re)contextualize the images presented to reveal the ways in which perceptions of black women have been informed and constructed by Western photographic practice." Themes of negation, sexualization, and objectification recur throughout the book, and the authors succeed in allowing readers to confront these images as the professional photographers have done in hopes of forging, as Dinkins said, "a broader, self-determined vision of the black female physique."

Another function of the book is to show how representation, as in photographs, influences self-image and creates culture. A contributor to Ebony wrote that the book not only provides a photographic history but also chronicles "the long struggle for civil rights and the socio-political impact of artistic expression." A contributor to Publishers Weekly observed that the "point here is more the unmasking of stereotypes, which the book does very well." A contributor to Choice called the book "an important contribution" to the history of women, photography, and popular culture. John-Hall commended Williams and Willis on their "evenhanded, meticulously researched text."

Williams spoke about her self-portraits in a 2001 essay for FemmeNoir.net. She said they were "initially informed by the history of portraits made by male photographers of their wives, lovers, and muses" and that she wanted to make the photos of herself rather than "wait for someone else to want to make them of me." Nor did she want to photograph others in the same way. "With the self-portrait I could photograph exactly what I was feeling and decide later whether or not to display them," she said. When in graduate school a professor described her photographs as those of "a young black woman," she realized that "most viewers would always see a black body regardless of my intent." She then began to research historical photos of black women for her "Character" exhibit. Her later photographic work has centered around the changing body, with age, weight gain, and other factors. Although Williams has, over the years, periodically stopped making images and focused more on her writing, photography is still an important part of her life. She said in the 2001 essay that she sees her self-portraits as "highly personal, almost diaristic visual note-taking that functions in an ongoing continuum."

Williams told CA: "In 1999 I developed and launched http://www.carlagirl.net. The site functions as an archive of my photographic images, as well as past and current writings. The site also includes an extensive research library related to black artists and images of black women with more than 300 annotated entries, plus hundreds of regularly updated links to other sites related to black artists, especially women artists, gay and lesbian artists, and related photography and art sites. It includes a comprehensive calendar of arts events worldwide.

"The biggest influence on my work is black women. Black women inspire me, and I want to honor them with my work. Looking around at contemporary culture, I am determined that we not be overlooked and we not be misunderstood. Popular culture is really important to me, too. I hope that my work engages with popular culture in a way that makes it accessible to a larger audience.

"I hope that my books will make people look more carefully at images and make them think about what they see, and trust what they think they see rather than believe what they've been told. These images are now compiled in a single volume for people to reference for years to come. If that happens, we've more than achieved success."



Afterimage, May, 2002, Stephanie Dinkins, The Black Female Body: A Photographic History, p. 19.

Black Issues Book Review, March-April, 2002, Regina Woods, review of The Black Female Body.

Choice, October, 2002, review of The Black Female Body, p. 272.

Ebony, April, 2002, "Book Shelf: Picture Perfect: The Black Female Body, "p.22.

Horn Book Guide, spring, 2002, review of Thurgood Marshall: 1908-1993, p. 180; spring, 2002, review of The Underground Railroad, p. 204.

Library Journal, October 1, 2002, Shauna Frischkorn, review of The Black Female Body, p. 93.

Philadelphia Inquirer, February 21, 2002, Annette John-Hall, "For Love of the Body,"

Publishers Weekly, February 4, 2002, review of The Black Female Body, p. 71.

School Library Journal, January, 2002, Marlene Gawron, review of Thurgood Marshall, p. 152; January, 2002, Margaret C. Howell, review of The Underground Railroad, p. 162.


Carla Williams Home Page,http://www.carlagirl.net (September 15, 2003).

CityPaper.net,http://www.citypaper.net/articles/ (February 21-28, 2002), Meredith Broussard, review of The Black Female Body.

FemmeNoir.net,http://www.femmenoir.net/ (May 8, 2003), Carla Williams, "Carlagirl Photo."

SeeingBlack.com,http://www.seeingblack.com/ (May 24, 2002), Esther Iverem, "Body Images, Then and Now."

Temple University Press Web site,http://www.temple.edu/tempress/ (May 8, 2003), review of The Black Female Body.

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