A Very Incomplete Self-Portrait presents never-before-exhibited works by renowned photographer Thomas Dorsey. Widely known for his intimate portraits of African American families in their homes in Chicago and Atlanta, Dorsey also photographed the streets, houses, and buildings of his childhood neighborhood on Chicago’s West Side. This portfolio of black and white photographs, taken while Dorsey was enrolled at the Art Institute of Chicago, reveals the barren infrastructure of an underserved community and the resilience and stark beauty that can be discovered amidst bleak circumstances.
Undertaking this project marked an effort to document the pervading physical and spiritual coldness that he felt during childhood. He remarks, “I did not grow up understanding my young life or feel like I was understood by those around me, which left me confused. The photographs were my attempt, at that point, to save, in a visual form, my feelings for interpretation later in life.” The photographs in A Very Incomplete Self-Portrait are deeply personal; for Dorsey, they are preserved memories and emotions that he revisited, re-interpreted, and made useful over time. They are also extraordinary historical documents of 1971 Chicago. In 2022, the artist gifted the portfolio to the Carlos Museum with the hope that others might find the images useful.
Exhibition Audio Guide and Video Project
During the summer of 2022, Andrew W. Mellon intern Anna Clark and Curator Andi McKenzie interviewed Tom Dorsey about A Very Incomplete Self-Portrait. We invite you to visit the button below to access the audio guide and video project, which were generated from these interviews to enrich the visitor gallery experience. Please note that not all works from the portfolio are represented. We are actively working to continue digitizing and expanding resources related to this collection.
To read the press release announcing the opening of the exhibition, click HERE.
For high res images of selected exhibition objects, please contact Emily Knight at email@example.com.
Tom Dorsey's childhood home in West Side Chicago paired with the artist and his motorcycle from the portfolio, A Very Incomplete Self Portrait, ©Tom Dorsey.