Having achieved acclaim for his sensitive formal color portraits of African Americans, Dawoud Bey began his photographic career in the 1970s taking black-and-white street portraits of the same kinds of subjects. Although Bey’s early work, which is featured in this extensive show, displays the same attention to the nuances of personality for which his later studies are distinguished, it is far more spontaneous, lively and raw. At the beginning, Bey was not fully in command and his subjects had a great deal of leeway to express themselves. A perfectionist, Bey’s trajectory took him on a path to ever-greater control, which always involves gains and losses. The virtues of a bit of laissez-faire are nowhere better shown than in a shot of two matrons leaning against a police barricade sporting the most skeptical expressions that are cut with a trace of patronizing humor. It’s unfortunate that none of Bey’s later studies are in the exhibit—we’d see that he’s come a long way for better and worse. (Michael Weinstein)
Through April 30 at Stephen Daiter Gallery, 230 West Superior.