Finding Your Voice with Carrie Mae Weems

Roy DeCarava

I attended the Carrie Mae Weems workshop at Filter Photo Festival yesterday.  Now my brain is swimming with questions.  The workshop was great except that we just couldn't fit everything in and we ran out of time.  It felt like we were just beginning to get to the central theme "Finding Your Voice" and then the workshop was over.  Nevertheless, I took away many positive things as far as work ethic, and asking tough questions about your work.  Here's a few key points that resonated with me:

 Finding your voice:

  • You only really change your work when there is a drastic change in yourself.
  • How do we know distinctly the voice of Nina Simone, the sound of John Coltrane? Discover what is your pattern, your rhythm, your notes... that are distinctly you.
  • Your voice is grounded in consistency, in a set of patterns
  • How do you develop a relationship from one image to the next one?

Work Ethic:

  • Taking your work seriously will help you find your voice.
  • The only way to deal with fear is to challenge it, to confront it. 
  • It is really important to exhibit your work - for it to be SEEN.  Whether it is in a gallery or in something you set up yourself.
  • We put things off because we are fearful.  Make the decision to commit. Make the commitment to WORK.
  • No excuses.  Get up earlier, stay up later.  Get it done. Do the work.

Lee Friedlander

Consider your audience:

  • How does the work create and foster dialog and discourse?
  • What kind of physical experience should the viewer have with your work?

Artist Statements

  • What is your approach and why?
  • What are the patterns that allow you to get close to the work, what allows you to get into a zone?
  • What is the CORE of your work?
  • For each proposal, exhibition, etc, the artist statement sets up a framework for your work.  How does it fit into the concept of the exhibition, etc?


  • Voice is developed by consistency over time.  The only way to get consistent is to write, to play, to journal
  • Things burning in your head have been there a long time.  Write them down

And other things Weems mentioned to me that stuck in my mind:

Too Sweet?

  • Woo - look at that LIGHT and COLOR!  Beautiful.
  • Your images are too sweet
  • You love light, color, pattern. But what is your point? You have to find the core idea
  • Look at Roy DeCarava's images of family.  Lee Friedlander's shadow images.

I really wish we had had more time!  This was a good kick in the rear though for me to get moving, to get thinking about where I want to go next.  Do I accept the challenge of trying to make pictures that are not saturated in sticky sweetness?  Carrie Mae Weems basically confirmed some of my suspicions.  Is it possible for a mother to make pictures of an adorable toddler that are not so sweet? Or is it okay to revel in sweetness occasionally?  To me, the picture to the right has quite a bit of seriousness to it.  The weight of responsibility the parent feels, the overwhelming task of caring for a tiny human being.  But perhaps that is my own subjective interpretation.  What do you see?