Carla Williams is an artist and writer based in San Francisco. Her work as a photographer and historian addresses subjects such as identity, family relationships and memory, race and acts of naming, and ideals of beauty. Self-portraits have played a role in Williams’ body of work since the late 1980s, when she was still a student. Initially, as Williams herself observes, her work provided “an exploration of physicality, beauty, sexuality, power, and pleasure through humor, seduction, and performance” in a way that was not overly deliberate or political. In her self-portraits from the 1990s, however, such as the one included here, Williams began to respond in more knowing and explicit ways to the value granted by society to certain appearances and to the implications, in terms of race and gender, of both historical and contemporary representations of the body.
In 2004 Williams revisted her collection of self-portraits from 15 years earlier and used them as elements in a new photographic project. Titled 1990-2004, this series introduces an additional facet to her investigations of the aesthetics and politics of the body, namely the artist’s personal transformations through the process of aging. Matching the background and lighting of her earlier self-portraits, Williams rephotographed herself and then merged the new and older photographs into a new seamless image. The juxtapositions of her younger and older bodies are consciously understated in that they entice the viewer to determine if the images were photographed at the same time and to look for physical differences.
Williams was born and raised in Los Angeles. She completed a BA at Princeton University, and MA and MFA degrees in photography at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque. She is the editor of the Society for Photographic Education’s journal Exposure and has co-authored a number of historical studies, including Black Female Body: A Photographic History, with Deborah Willis (2002). Williams participated in Light Work’s Artist-in-Residence Program in 1997.