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Selected Works

Rashid Johnson Jonathan (Seeing in the Dark Series), 1999
Rashid Johnson Eugene (Seeing in the Dark Series), c. 1999
Rashid Johnson Untitled (Chicken Bones), 1999

Gray is pleased to participate in Frieze Masters, presenting Seeing in the Dark, a pivotal photography series by Rashid Johnson. In Seeing in the Dark, Johnson renders painterly portraits of the homeless people he came to know in downtown Chicago as a young artist working out of his South Michigan Avenue studio. In these intimate portraits, Johnson’s subjects are not merely photographed but rather seen, treated, and depicted with dignity, with their names serving as titles for each individual work. Working in 1998-99, just as digital photography was replacing the chemistry of analog, Johnson purposefully employed antiquated nineteenth-century photographic techniques, including gelatin silver and Van Dyke Brown printing processes, and conceptually layered photograms with symbolic elements such as black-eyed peas and chicken bones. This series of unique photographic works is perhaps the earliest example of Johnson’s use of material as conceptual framework. In the decades since, Johnson’s distinct materials and methods—as well as his powerful voice—have drawn acclaim, particularly for his contribution to placing the African-American experience squarely and permanently into the public discourse of the twenty-first century.


Seeing in the Dark launched Johnson’s career, bringing him widespread international attention from curators and collectors. The series was included in Freestyle, Thelma Golden’s seminal 2001 exhibition at The Studio Museum in Harlem, and in Johnson’s 2002 solo exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, among others. Photographs from the Seeing in the Dark series are held by numerous public institutions, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Detroit Institute of Arts, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Petrucci Family Foundation Collection of African-American Art. Works from Johnson’s photograms series also reside in the collection of the Art Institute, as well as in the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the Brooklyn Museum.

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