Let’s return to infants and Stan Brakhage: “Imagine [...] an eye unruled by man-made laws of perspective, an eye unprejudiced by compositional logic, an eye which does not respond to the name of everything but which must know each object encountered in life through an adventure of perception.”42 In it’s most basic form, Brakhage is describing an eye which is able to participate in a black gaze, even while he asks us to imagine an untutored eye. I identify the same quality in an infant’s eye, who has not yet learned to see in either mechanical or social contexts. Both the untutored eye and the infant’s eye retain a capacity for the radical invention of meaning.

In all of our knowledge, to take on a black gaze means to direct one’s knowledge, and one’s experience, towards that zone of the not-yet-known. This liberation from the world as it is to mean particular things, or this departure from a tradition of visual encounter in which what is seen carries predetermined, inherent meaning, allows a practician of a black gaze to develop their own universes of meaning. In the foundation of our social world, in which collective meaning is the basis of all knowledge and communication, to take on a black gaze is a radical act, yet not one of opposition. It is a fully embodied practice of refusal.


(Clockwise from top diptych) Fig 6.1: “All the Boys (Profile 1),” 2016. Fig. 6.2: “Lena Horne,” 2009. Fig. 6.3: “Slow Fade to Black (Nina Simone),” 2010. All work by Carrie Mae Weems.

Carrie Mae Weems’ blurry images takes us to that point of the not-yet-known and ask us to interrogate our assumptions of what we see; how we know what we see. In blurry, black and blue-toned images, we encounter men standing in shadowed hoodies and already existing images of black female singers; each subject fading in and/or out of our view and understanding. In looking at her images, we re-inhabit our own once-untutored eyes, grasping for form and meaning in amorphous auras of light and dark. In these images, and in our return to our optic infancy, a black gaze is possessed and transmitted: we are allowed to encounter these images, which might usually carry with them all the implications of Manichean dualism, or epistemological value, once again, but through variable, individual, and markedly anti-social forms of meaning. We gaze as we might upon entering a darkroom; even the whites of our eyes feeling out for bits of understanding in the form of light. Even in the collective sensibility of these images, which each produce a different approach to the shadow of blackness and black experiences, we are able to become viewers alone: unmoved by the collective swirling of visual meaning.