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Chicago photographer, community leader win MacArthur ‘genius grants’

It is the usual eclectic mix of people from across the widest spectrum of disciplines, and it includes artists (a painter, a photographer, a playwright, directors and novelists), as well as a historian, a geographer, a psychologist, an immunologist, a human rights strategist, community leaders, computer scientists and more.

The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has announced its latest class of MacArthur Fellows, with each of the so-called “genius grant” recipients receiving a total of $625,000 dispersed quarterly over five years “with no strings attached.”

Two of the 24 awardees — photographer Dawoud Bey and community leader Rami Nashasibi — currently live and work in Chicago. Two others — artist-geographer Trevon Paglen and opera director Yuval Sharon — have past Chicago connections.

Community leader Rami Nashashibi is among the 2017 class of MacArthur Fellowship Award winners. | PROVIDED PHOTO

Bey, who grew up in Queens, New York, was awakened to photography as a 16-year-old during a visit to “Harlem on My Mind,” the fabled 1969 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (where his own work would later be exhibited). With a bachelor’s degree from Empire State College of the State University of New York and a master’s from Yale, he went on to create his own portraits of people, many from marginalized communities, in which he made it a practice to engage his subjects in the shaping of their images for his large-scale, multiple-view works. His goal was also to draw those who viewed these images to consider the larger social presence and histories of his subjects.

Bey expanded on this project in “Class Pictures” (2002–2006), produced in collaboration with young people and institutions throughout the United States. More recently he has focused on the construction of collective history and memory with “The Birmingham Project” (2013), in which he commemorated the lives of six children killed in the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama, and “Harlem Redux” (2014–2017), in which he focuses on the urban landscape he first chronicled in the 1970s, and its transformation by gentrification.

Bey is a photography professor at Columbia College Chicago, and his work has been seen at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the Walker Art Center, the National Portrait Gallery (London) and the Whitney Museum of American Art.

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