I do not count myself among Myra Greene’s friends. Check that—I do not count myself among the people who hang out with Myra Greene in real life. I believe we have shared physical space and time once or twice at conferences or reviews. We don’t have a close relationship, though she is a friend, as such, on Facebook. We have 72 mutual friends in that arena. People I know think highly of her.
The second or third time I looked through Myra’s book I realized that some of those mutual Facebook friends, and others I recognize from our overlapping real world circles, appear as subjects in her work. Which makes sense. What puzzled me, though, was why I didn’t recognize them at first glance. Kathleen, Jim, Kate, Keith, Dan—you are all people I know at least as well, and in most cases better, than I know Myra.
By the way, you are all white. As am I. All except for a handful of Myra’s and my shared FB friends are white.
Oh, yeah. Did I mention that Myra is black? You probably intuited that by now. Perhaps the title tipped you off. Everyone in the book has to be white. And if Facebook is a reliable demographer, I think Myra left some of her white friends out of the book. So, you might think of the title along the lines of (Some of) My White Friends.
That’s beside the point, a matter of syntax and easily resolved rhetoric. What intrigues me is the ingenious and subversive strategy behind this work. Everyone is primarily identified as close to the photographer: My Friends. Second, as race-identified friends. Third, as race-identified friends of the photographer who are otherwise identified only by initials and place. Fourth, as a group of people who do not share the photographer’s race. Simply diagrammed, yes, but the project is dense in its implications.
Some white people use the term “my black friends” without hesitation. Do they think of their other friends as non-black? Maybe they say “my vegan friends” or “my gay friends” or “my gun-owning friends” or “my Midwestern friends,” too. Do we all categorize our friends? Do we categorize ALL of our friends in some fashion? Does highlighting a personal aspect like this define or limit the relationship? What happens when we pigeon-hole like this?
I think my initial blindness in reading this book had to do with seeking something reflected in the eyes of these semi-anonymous individuals, something tangible in their surroundings or in the space between sitter and recorder, something charged in the portrait collaboration that might evoke a race-based friendliness. What was I thinking? I don’t know what I thought I would find, but I was blind to these people as people I might know. Myra Greene’s white friends are no different from my white friends. Are they?
My White Friends
Photographs by Myra Greene
Text: “Conversation Starter,” interview with the photographer by Tate Shaw
Design: Kristen Merola
Published by Kehrer, 2012
Acquired with reviewer credit at photo-eye
p.s. This note was to have been published January 14 as the second in the series.