Posts Tagged ‘Langston Hughes

19
Dec
21

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978’ at the Phoenix Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 21st July, 2021 – 2nd January, 2022

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This is the last posting for 2021, the next being 9th January 2022. This year the website had 1,158,000 views and 769,000 visitors. Wow!

 

There is no more time

Time is something that photography has so little of – the snap of the shutter – and yet, paradoxically, so much of. Photographs transcend the time in which they were taken, bringing past time to present and future time. Photographs that were important at the time they were taken and have great “exposure” may loose their relevance over time, only to have their presence reignited in the present future, to have their power and insightfulness understood by a new generation.

This applies to the work of Marion Palfi. I had never heard of this woman artist before and I have been studying photography for over 30 years now. That’s the question that keeps buzzing around my head. Why is this courageous artist and human being not better known – this “social researcher photographer” (her term) that fought the good fight and pictured social injustices in America wherever she saw it.

Born in Germany, Palfi rejected Germany’s radical politics and began to use photography and art to effect social change. In 1934 she opened her own portrait studio in Berlin before fleeing the Nazis and opening a successful portrait studio in Amsterdam in 1936. She then fled Europe for the United States in 1940 after marrying an American soldier.

“Marion Palfi’s work centered around equity, opportunity, and justice for all people. In her photo book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy, Palfi documented racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported lynching of 1949.

Palfi’s 1952 book Suffer Little Children focused on the living condition of disadvantaged children across the U.S., including the young inmates of the New York Training School for Girls. Palfi was a contributing photographer to Edward Steichen’s landmark Family of Man exhibition in 1955. During her time traveling across the United States she was bothered by the amount of poverty and racial intolerance she was exposed. She also was confused by Americans lack of acknowledgement of these problems within their communities. Palfi decided to use her camera as a way to document these problems and bring attention to them within the public eye. Using her new perspective on the topic of injustice and racial discrimination she was able to draw attention to these issues by documenting them with her camera.

Palfi’s photography explored the concepts of social injustices in America. She created many photographic studies that focus on racial injustice against African Americans, poverty in cities, and racial discrimination against Native Americans. She originally had trouble getting her photographs displayed or show cased because many Americans refused to address these social justice issues within their own society.”1

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Equality, opportunity and justice for all people. What honourable concepts she was investigating using her camera to affect social change. But for Palfi, it was not enough to simply document. She wanted to know the “why” of a situation, how it affected the people involved – hence the classification of herself as a social researcher photographer.

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with the fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.”2

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Imagine if you can being a German arriving in America in 1940, being an alien in a foreign land during the Second World War and then, afterwards, confronting racism head on in her 1949 book There is No More Time: An American Tragedy documenting racism and segregation in Irwinton, GA, the site of the murder of Caleb Hill, the first reported “lynching” of 1949 (the victim was actually shot in the head and body). Don’t forget this is years before Robert Frank, another foreigner, travelled across the country to picture this insular and dysfunctional land in his seminal The Americans (1958). What guts it would have taken!

As noted by Maurice Berger, research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland in his 2015 article “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website:

“The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” [by Lillian Smith] one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.”3

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In the photographs from the book in this posting we can see how the banality of evil can fester in a community, for Palfi “was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination.” “Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.”4

We only have to look at the countenance of that racist Alexander S. Boone, a certified three-time card carrying member of the Klan with dirty shirt, big fat cigar, painted nails and wig who publishes the local rag, the “official county organ”. Can you imagine him at a lynching? He’d probably be at the front of the queue. Then there is “Baby” Boone, youngest son of “old man” (senior figure, elder statesman) Boone. Behind him on the glass window of his business offering seeds & feeds is a handbill:

Old-fashioned REVIVAL
Mt Pleasant Baptist Church
July 17-22
John L. Mcay

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Old fashioned (one of the meanings of this phrase is: favouring traditional or conservative ideas or customs), and a REVIVAL – Christian revivalism is increased spiritual interest or renewal in the life of a church congregation or society – a church which probably welcomed the Klan card carrying Representative of Wilkinson County in the Georgia Legislature with open arms. And then there is the sheriff of the small community where a young black man had been walked out of a jail cell and shot by two men… when he was innocent of any crime. Nervously fingering his shirt, looking away from the camera. None of this covert racism. A woman explained: “If a white man buys something from a colored man, the colored man may not hand it to the white man.”

Palfi had trouble finding a publisher in America because of the controversial nature of her photographs. No wonder. 1940s American society was not ready to confront the ugly truth staring back at them in the mirror until decades later, and even today, nothing much has changed.

The wife of the victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

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This is a artist and a human being that I would have very much liked to meet. Her photographs are strong, direct, informed, never flinching from the subject matter she was researching and picturing… yet they are also compassionate and caring. As Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock observes, “She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

She placed herself in dangerous situations time and time again – until that particular time (of photographing) has become universal time, until her force majeure, her force of nature and her will for reform, transcends the very time of the photographs creation, bringing us face to face with hidden realities roiling under the surface.

As the protest placard in her photograph Chicago School Boycott (1963-1964, below) says and the title of the exhibition opines, “Freedom Must Be Lived” – YES, but freedom must also be fought for! “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good humans to do nothing.”

The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. We are still fighting the same battles all these decades later. There is no more time… change must happen now.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

  1. “Marion Palfi,” on the Wikipedia website [Online] Cited 15/12/2021
  2. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.
  3. Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021
  4. Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock, Op cit.,

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Many thankx to the Phoenix Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago School Boycott' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago School Boycott
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“We talk about the poverty of the Indian, their port health, their substandard of living – we cry – ! Who is responsible for this? The murder of the American Indian has stopped as such. No more Indian wars, but all kinds of schemes are constantly working to take still their last piece of land (we found oil, uranium, and other valuable minerals and there is fish, timer, etc.) and above all to wipe the image away – erase – “to change the Indian” – Into what? Into a middle class personality with all the ambitions and drives of our society. Competition and exploitation are the most important assets, we think. Foreign to all Indian thinking! What do we actually do? We destroy the Indian completely, mentally, psychologically, and spiritually. You might ask – so what? What is so good not to assimilate with the predominant society? Let me tell you what. Our society destroys lives – with our “know how” destroy all living. We polite the air, the water, poison the plants and animal life. The Indian knew no money, but the Indian knew security, happiness – the Indian was a supreme conserver of nature – of life. The Indian worked with nature not against it.”

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Marion Palfi. “Some Thoughts,” preface to the unpublished manuscript, “My Children, First I liked the Whites, I Gave Them Fruits,” in the possession of Martin Magner, pp. 1-2 quoted in Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 9.

 

“She fearlessly placed herself in danger again and again, seeing her work as having the possibility of direct influence on a social revolution.”

.
Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 8.

 

 

Marion Palfi portraits

 

Unknown photographers
Portraits of Marion Palfi (at left in 1967)

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice.

To tell you about my work. I am developing a new approach to photography… I am photographing only after extensive research, never before. I do not photograph for purely emotional reasons, but only after I became an integral part of the situation, have gained full understanding and knowledge, then I try to ‘write down’ my findings with the camera. My photographs are never editorialized, nor ‘accidents,’ nor posed, but always the ultimate results of thorough research. They must tell the story, so that the words are only needed as commentary or explanation. It goes without saying, I wish my photographs to be artistic achievements, other wise they would be simply a dry documentation and not move the onlooker.

~ Marion Palfi

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With these words Marion Hermine Serita Palfi compressed her intentions as a photographer: to tell a story through photography with a minimum of words; to tell it well, that is, through aesthetically strong images; to tell it knowledgable and patiently – to earn the telling; and to tell it “truthfully” by focusing on the subject, not the technique, personality, or identity of the person holding the camera. With the discipline of a trained dancer, the eye of an artist, and the will of a solitary activist, Marion Palfi never wavered in her commitment to untold stories. She lived a life-in-praxis, connecting belief to action.

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 71.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

“Her arrival in New York at a time when America was called “the arsenal of democracy” [1940] unexpectedly confronted her with te fact that the United States was not the ideal society many envisioned. Almost immediately, Palfi became involved in the struggles of minorities for social justice, and soon she was launched upon a career that can only be described as a life-long quest to ameliorate the living conditions of abandoned children, the neglected elderly, black both northern and southern, the abused native American of the Southwest, and finally, the broken lives of prisoners in penitentiaries. To the end of her days, Palfi traveled the country lecturing to whatever groups invited her, whooping hundreds of slides documenting injustices. Her involvement was as impassioned as that of Jacob Riis in the slums of New York, and like the works of Riis, her pictures were used to educate the officials about the need for legislative change.

She was a person, in other words, whose life made a difference in the lives of perfect strangers. Appreciated by humanitarians like John Collier and Eleanor Roosevelt, Sr., recognised and encouraged by artists like Edward Steichen and Langston Hughes, applauded by Karl Menninger, she has nevertheless received less attention than she deserved. As James Enyeart observed, she has remained “invisible in America,” like so many of her pathetic and neglected subjects. It would seem that her extraordinary selflessness and devotion did not help to write her name large in the histories of photography, as the same activities ensured the fame of Jacob Riis, Lewis Hine, Dorothea Lange, or W. Eugene Smith. That inattention should be rectified, especially now, where there seems to be, once again, a general callousness toward the less fortunate members of our society and a devastating neglect of racial and ethnic minorities. The battles that Marion Palfi fought have not been won. They continue today, with the startling increase in the numbers of older women in poverty. the increasing withdrawal of government support to the American Indians, the hungry children, and the black youths without employment. Photography continues to be a potent medium that needs to be revitalized by spirits like Palfi.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, p. 5.

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at left, Girl Scouts Troop (30 Girls, 16 Nationalities) 1944; at top right, Sono Osato – Dancing on the Roof 1944; and at bottom right, Dean Dixon as Guest Conductor at the Juilliard School c. 1944
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Sono Osato (American, 1919-2018)

Sono Osato (大里 ソノ, Osato Sono, August 29, 1919 – December 26, 2018) was an American dancer and actress.

In 1927, when she was eight, Osato’s mother took her and her sister to Europe for two years; while in Monte Carlo, they attended a performance of Cléopâtre by Sergei Diaghilev’s famous Ballets Russes company, which inspired Osato to start ballet classes when she returned to Chicago in late 1929. She studied with prominent dancers Berenice Holmes and Adolph Bolm.

She performed with ballet companies Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo and the American Ballet Theatre. As an actress, she starred alongside Frank Sinatra in the film The Kissing Bandit.

Osato began her career at the age of fourteen with Wassily de Basil’s Ballets Russe de Monte-Carlo, which at the time was the world’s most well known ballet company; she was the youngest member of the troupe, their first American dancer and their first dancer of Japanese descent. De Basil tried to persuade Osato to change her name to a Russian name, but she refused to do so. She spent six years touring the United States, Europe, Australia and South America with the company, leaving in 1941 as she felt her career was stagnating. She went to study at the School of American Ballet in New York City for six months, then joined the American Ballet Theatre as a dancer. While at the ABT, she danced roles in such ballets as Kenneth MacMillan’s Sleeping Beauty, Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, and Bronislava Nijinska’s The Beloved.

As a musical theatre performer, her Broadway credits included principal dancer in One Touch of Venus (a performance for which she received a Donaldson Award in 1943), Ivy Smith in the original On the Town, and Cocaine Lil in Ballet Ballads.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Dean Dixon (American, 1915-1976)

Charles Dean Dixon (January 10, 1915 – November 3, 1976) was an American conductor.

Dixon was born in the upper-Manhattan neighbourhood of Harlem in New York City to parents who had earlier migrated from the Caribbean. He studied conducting with Albert Stoessel at the Juilliard School and Columbia University. When early pursuits of conducting engagements were stifled because of racial bias (he was African American), he formed his own orchestra and choral society in 1931. In 1941, he guest-conducted the NBC Symphony Orchestra, and the New York Philharmonic during its summer season. He later guest-conducted the Philadelphia Orchestra and Boston Symphony Orchestra. In 1948 he won the Ditson Conductor’s Award.

In 1949, he left the United States for the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, which he directed during its 1950 and 1951 seasons. He was principal conductor of the Gothenburg Symphony in Sweden 1953-1960, the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia 1964-1967, and the hr-Sinfonieorchester in Frankfurt 1961-1974. During his time in Europe, Dixon guest-conducted with the WDR Sinfonieorchester in Cologne and the Symphonieorchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks in Munich. He also made several recordings with the Prague Symphony Orchestra in 1968-1973 for Bärenreiter, including works of Beethoven, Brahms, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schumann, Wagner, and Weber. For Westminster Records in the 1950s, his recordings included symphonies and incidental music for Rosamunde by Schubert, symphonic poems of Liszt (in London with the Royal Philharmonic), and symphonies of Schumann (in Vienna with the Volksoper Orchester). Dixon also recorded several American works for the American Recording Society in Vienna. Some of his WDR broadcast recordings were issued on Bertelsmann and other labels. Dean Dixon introduced the works of many American composers, such as William Grant Still, to European audiences.

During the 1968 Olympic Games, Dixon conducted the Mexican National Symphony Orchestra.

Dixon returned to the United States for guest-conducting engagements with the New York Philharmonic, Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Detroit Symphony, Milwaukee Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony, St. Louis Symphony, and San Francisco Symphony in the 1970s. He also served as the conductor of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, where he gained fame for his children’s concerts. He also conducted most of the major symphony orchestras in Africa, Israel, and South America. Dixon’s last appearance in the US was conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra in April 1975.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing three Untitled 1930s photographs and at bottom right, Dutch Film Director 1937
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Nurse George, Louisville, Georgia
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'School Patrol, Detroit' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
School Patrol, Detroit
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

In 1945, Ebony was founded by Black businessman John H. Johnson as a sleek monthly illustrated magazine from the African-American market in a time when few major media outlets addressed Black readers and consumers. Intended to emulate the glossy look of Life and Look magazines, it featured photo essays and long-form articles chronicling all aspects of Black American life, including current events in race relations, and the successes of Black artists, athletes, scientists, and celebrities. Marion Palfi contributed photographs to the inaugural issue in November 1945, including the cover image of students at a racially integrated elementary school. Over the next five years she was regular contributor to the magazine, covering subjects ranging from National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and cases in the U.S. Supreme Court, to all aspects of the fight against racial segregation, to famous cultural figures like Langston Hughes and Dean Dixon.

Between 1950 and 1951, Marion Palfi embarked on a cross-country trip for a study on housing integrity. Her photographs charted the distressed living conditions of Black Americans, immigrants, and sharecroppers – the result of redlining [refuse (a loan or insurance) to someone because they live in an area deemed to be a poor financial risk], blockbusting [the practice of persuading owners to sell property cheaply because of the fear of people of another race or class moving into the neighbourhood, and then profiting by reselling at a higher price], urban renewal, white flight [the phenomenon of white people moving out of urban areas, particularly those with significant minority populations, and into suburban areas], and the long legacy of racialised federal, state, and local housing policies. In cities as far apart as Charlottesville, Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Waterbury, Connecticut; Chicago, Illinois; and Sledge, Mississippi, Palfi interviewed and photographed people living in unsanitary and crowded conditions in parcelled tenements, boarding houses, and other low-income housing settlements. She trained her camera on the crumbling edifices of buildings and the communities experiencing poverty who lived there. The resulting booklet, In These 10 Cities (1951), co-published by the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing and the Public Affairs Committee, featured her photographs and research alongside text by the political activist Alexander L. Crosby, as part of a series of “picture pamphlets” meant to edify New Yorkers on national issues of social concern.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled, Boston' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled, Boston
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Somewhere in the South' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Somewhere in the South
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Janet Zandy. 'Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi'. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Janet Zandy. Unfinished Stories: The Narrative Photography of Hansel Mieth and Marion Palfi. RIT Press, 2013, pp. 94-95

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Waterbury, Connecticut (from the In These Ten Cities series, 1951) bottom left, In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C. 1946-1948; and at bottom right, New York 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Waterbury, Connecticut' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Waterbury, Connecticut
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.2 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Phoenix' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Phoenix
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.6cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Chicago' 1951

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Chicago
1951
From the series In These Ten Cities
Gelatin silver print
31.8 x 26.5cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary' 1946-49

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Hudson School for Girls, the Only New York State Training School for Delinquent Girls, Solitary
1946-1949
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
24.0 x 20.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.' 1946-1948

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
In the Shadow of the Capitol, Washington, D.C.
1946-1948
From the Suffer Little Children series, 1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles
1946-1949
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights' 1946

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Three children playing behind houses in Boyle Heights
1946
Gelatin silver print
UCLA, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library

 

 

Marion Palfi (1907-1978), an immigrant photographer and member of the New York Photo League, a pivotal organisation in photography and U.S. history, took photographs of girls at the Training School in Hudson, NY. Though she was one of the most under-recognised of the Photo League photographers, Palfi’s images of girls at the New York State Training School for Girls may be the best-known photographs ever taken at the Hudson prison.

Palfi, who called herself a “social research photographer”, was born in Germany and came to America from Amsterdam in 1940 just ahead of Adolf Hitler’s invasion of Europe. Soon thereafter she launched a ‘study’ on minority artists and met Langston Hughes who became an ardent supporter of her work until his death in 1967. In 1946, Palfi received a Rosenwald Fellowship, the second ever granted by the foundation for photography and the only one ever given for photography on race relations. The grant made possible a nation-wide study of children and youth that resulted in an exhibition, “Children in America” and a book, Suffer Little Children, published in 1952. The exhibition opened in January of 1949 at the New York Public Library and subsequently traveled for three years throughout the United States. The photographs in the exhibition and book showed children and youth suffering from everything from poverty and prejudice to prisons and delinquency.

Though reputedly the first white photojournalist to focus specifically on the linkages between racism and poverty, in Suffer Little Children Palfi focused on the diversity of American society, not isolating one ethnic group and their difficulties. She portrayed poverty as a destructive force affecting African Americans, Asian Americans, whites and Latinos alike. She attacked the suffering of children with a particular fury: “Poverty is like the murdering of little angels”, she wrote.

Many of her images for the project comment on the physical limits of the national vision, exploring the very bars, walls, and gestures that separate outsiders from larger society. Palfi presents photographs of white girls at the Training School in Hudson including a 12-year-old white girl in “solitary confinement”.

Of these images she writes: “At the time (of her visit to the NYS Training School for Girls in 1946), 15 girls were in ‘solitary’ in the ‘discipline’ cottage. The first 10 days the girls received bread and milk for two of their three meals. One girl spent 81 days in solitary confinement, aside from periods when she was let out to scrub the floors in the corridor. One of the girls was talking to herself. The matron was very annoyed and said to her through the door: ‘You know you may not talk now – it is rest period.’ Girls were sent to the discipline cottage for running away, breaking other rules or for being too emotionally disturbed.”

Anonymous text. “Suffer Little Children,” on the Prison Public Memory website, October 28, 2014 [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

About the exhibition

This retrospective exhibition will survey the career of Marion Palfi (1907-1978), who produced an important visual document of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978 features more than 100 photographic prints and numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, research journals, and grant applications, drawn exclusively from the Center for Creative Photography’s vast Marion Palfi Archive. Many of these prints and materials have never before been exhibited or published and will offer an unprecedented opportunity to draw new insights into the work.

Palfi’s philosophy of using photography to influence social change shaped her vision and distinguished her career. A German immigrant to the United States during World War II, Palfi arrived in Los Angeles to find a reality far from the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, she spent more than three decades traveling throughout the United States documenting various communities to expose the links between racism and poverty. As a self-described “social research photographer,” Palfi aspired for her photographs to live in the world and effect social change. Her work was featured in numerous American periodicals, including Ebony and The New York Times. Sponsors for her work included the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing.

Each of the photographer’s four major projects are represented in the exhibition, including her piercing nationwide study of children living in poverty; her decades-long civil rights activism documenting the effects of systemic racism against African Americans; her research on the abject conditions of ageing in New York; and her revelatory pictures, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Indigenous off of reservations in the Southwest. Weaving together more than three decades of work, the exhibition elucidates Palfi’s sustained focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation. Taken as a whole, it elucidates the photographer’s crusade for human rights and presents a cumulative photographic record that resonates with many of the social concerns still plaguing the United States today.

Text from the Phoenix Art Museum website

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike' 1946-1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Los Angeles, Anti Klan Meeting Where Klan Did Strike
1946-1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top, Florida 1946-1949; and at bottom, Detroit, Paradise Valley 1946-1949
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

This summer, Phoenix Art Museum will present Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, the first major solo exhibition of the photographer’s incisive work since her death in 1978. A self-described “social-research photographer,” Marion Palfi observed and documented victims of discrimination over three decades, exposing the links between racism and poverty in the United States. Organised by Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography (CCP), University of Arizona, and drawing exclusively from CCP’s vast Marion Palfi Archive, Freedom Must Be Lived features more than 80 prints and extensive archival materials, many of which have never before been exhibited or published. Shedding light on Palfi’s career-long focus on themes of inequity, solitude, and racial victimisation, the exhibition provides unprecedented insight into the work of a photographer who created one of the most powerful visual documentations of 20th-century American injustice. Freedom Must Be Lived will be on view July 21, 2021 through January 2, 2022.

“We are delighted to present this timely exhibition of Marion Palfi’s socially conscious photography with Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America,” said Gilbert Vicario, Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and the Selig Family Chief Curator of Phoenix Art Museum. “This powerful and poignant retrospective highlights an extraordinary photographer whose work has been under-recognised for more than four decades, furthering the Museum’s commitment to showcasing works by diverse artists whose legacies have not yet been fully acknowledged in the canon of art history.”

A German immigrant to the United States who fled during World War II, Palfi arrived in New York to a reality that stood in stark contrast with the myth of the American Dream. Outraged at the economic, racial, and social inequalities she encountered, Palfi spent the next three and a half decades traveling the nation to document various subjects, including the elderly, families of hate-crime victims, abandoned children, residents of the Jim Crow South, Los Angeles-prison inmates, Puerto Rican immigrants in New York, white supremacist groups, and Navajo families who were the victims of government-enforced relocation and “acculturation.” Her work was featured in numerous U.S. periodicals throughout her career, including Ebony and The New York Times, and she received sponsorships from the Council Against Intolerance in America, the NAACP, and the New York State Committee on Discrimination in Housing. Palfi also passed on her political and aesthetic philosophies through her role as an educator, teaching classes on the “social uses of photography” at the Photo League School (1948), The New School for Social Research (1959-1962), UCLA (1965-1966), and other institutions.

“Palfi’s vision and commitment to social justice allowed her to build a visual archive of otherwise ‘invisible’ Americans, reminding us of photography’s ability to influence social change,” said Audrey Sands, PhD, the Norton Family Assistant Curator of Photography at Phoenix Art Museum, a joint appointment with the Center for Creative Photography. “Her trenchant, poetic, and piercing work reflects her compassion behind the lens. She actively confronted the political, racial, and economic injustices that overshadowed her lifetime, so many of which still plague our country today. Given the continued resonance of these topics, now is the perfect moment to rediscover Palfi’s important work.”

Organised to showcase the four major projects of her career, the exhibition presents photographs from Palfi’s piercing nationwide study of disadvantaged children living in poverty, her documentation of systemic racism against Black Americans, her research into the abject living conditions of New York’s ageing population, as well as her revelatory photographs, funded by a 1967 Guggenheim Fellowship, of the forced relocation of Hopi, Navajo, and Papago peoples in the Southwest. The exhibition’s numerous archival materials, including photobooks, magazine spreads, project proposals, and field research notes, provide audiences with additional context about the scope of Palfi’s photographic practice.

Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America is the most recent collaboration between Phoenix Art Museum and the Center for Creative Photography. Over the past 13 years, the two institutions have organised nearly 40 exhibitions that bring outstanding works spanning the history of photography to wider audiences in Arizona and beyond.

Press release from the Phoenix Art Museum

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in a patterned summer suit)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Black woman with a white child)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Black woman with a white child)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

“As a photographer, she was as interested in the discriminator as in the victims of discrimination. Long before what we tend to think of as the crux of the civil rights struggle in the 1960s, Palfi went to Georgia at a particularly dangerous time. In 1949, she was drawn to do an in-depth portrait of Irwinton, a small community where a young black man had been torn out of jail and shot by a lynch mob. The tremendous public outcry over this barbaric incident included front-page coverage and editorials by the New York Times. Obviously, the presence of a photographer in such a community would attract unwanted attention and might have endangered her life. But by a happy stroke of luck, the Vice-President of the Georgia Power Company was interested in her work. Warning her that she must “photograph the South as it really is, not as the North slanders it,” he wanted her to get to meet the “right” people. As it happened, the “right” people turned out to be the very discriminators she wanted to photograph. Left in the protection of the local postmistress, she proceeded to take terms, objective pictures of overseers and white-suited politicians.

Even if the press had not indicted Irwinton for its racism, the extreme conservatism and tension were evident in the faces of its citizens. She found a white supremacist group, “The Columbians,” whose insignia was a thunderbolt, the symbol of Hitler’s elite guard. “Mein Kampf was their bible,” she believed. Meanwhile, the wife of the lunch victim said, simply, “Caleb was a good man … he believed in his rights and therefore he died.”

Elizabeth Lindquist-Cock. “Marion Palfi: An Appreciation,” in The Archive Research Series Number 19, September 1983, Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona, pp. 7-8.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Alexander S. Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Mr. Ralph Culpepper)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)' 1949z

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Baby Boone, youngest son of Old Man Boone)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (I asked, "Are you one of the commissioners?")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (I asked, “Are you one of the commissioners?”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Portrait of Mrs. Caleb Hill, widow of a lynching victim)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie

Monday, June 13, 1949
Time Magazine

 

The crackers sat in the sun, their backs to the decaying summer house and watched the strangers. Irwinton seemed full of strangers, their cars raising clouds of red Georgia dust. Said one resentfully: “We had a white man lay over in a swamp near Big Sandy Creek till the buzzards ate him up, and they found his bones. We didn’t have a single newspaperman look at the bones. But seein’ as Picky Pie is a nigger he makes headlines.” Irwinton was reacting to 1949’s first lynching.

It all started Sunday night, when Sheriff George C. Hatcher was waked by a Negro. He was bleeding across the chest. “Picky Pie Hill done did me over at the New Harlem Club in Mclntyre,” he said. The sheriff jumped into his car and headed for the tin-roofed Negro juke joint four miles away.

Bare bulbs glared through the smoky, crowded room. Caleb (“Picky Pie”) Hill, a husky, 28-year-old Negro, was drunk, but the sheriff got handcuffs on him, and began to question witnesses. Suddenly, the sheriff felt his pistol pulled from the holster, turned to find Picky Pie aiming at his head. Hatcher ducked and the bullet went into the ceiling. In the scuffle, the sheriff’s pistol got lost. The sheriff took his prisoner back to town and put him in a cell with another Negro in the jail on the second floor of the sheriff’s house. Then he went back to get his pistol. It took him 2½ hours.

The Door Was Open. The sheriff explained later: “The trouble was a report had got around that the Negro had killed me. The men were pretty riled up and when they didn’t find me at home, they thought maybe I was dead.”

While he was gone, two men walked into the sheriff’s house. They had no trouble. The keys to the jail were on a cabinet in the living room, where the sheriff had left them, and the front door was open – “if I lock it the lock sticks,” explained the sheriff. The men calmly picked up the keys and went upstairs to the cell. “Come on, Picky Pie, let’s go,” one said. Without a protest, Picky Pie walked out with them. Mrs. Hatcher, asleep downstairs, heard no commotion.

Next morning two young farmers found Hill’s body, face downward in the sandy Georgia roadside, near Big Sandy Creek. He had been shot through the head and body. Roused, Sheriff Hatcher was amazed: “I thought, could it be they’d come and got my prisoner? I ran upstairs and sure enough, Hill was gone.”

No Memory. At the inquest, Tom Carswell, the Negro who had shared Hill’s cell, shook perceptibly as he was questioned. “They were white and there were two of them,” he said. Did he recognise them? “I know just about everybody around here, but I never saw those two before.” Wispy-haired Coroner C. C. Thompson, who is also Mclntyre’s town butcher, asked: “You probably couldn’t identify the men if you saw them again, could you?” “No, suh,” said Carswell eagerly.

Around the square, the loafers settled back and talked it over: “He was a bad nigger, all bad.” Picky Pie had worked in the chalk mines, but mostly he bootlegged liquor. He had been arrested several times before, once for shooting at a white boy just to make him jump. They snorted at the reports that he supported his crippled father and three sisters besides his wife and three children.

But the reporters and all made the coroner nervous. Leaning on his meat counter, he declared: “I am still making a desperate effort to apprehend the guilty party.” Sheriff Hatcher called in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation, and dug the bullets out of Picky Pie. At week’s end, the G.B.I, arrested two white men on suspicion. They figured there were more, and were still looking for them.

Anonymous text. “THE SOUTH: Death of Picky Pie,” in Time Magazine, Monday, June 13, 1949 on the Time website [Online] Cited 27/10/2021.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Josie Hill, Wife of a Lynch Victim, Irwinton, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: "Salvation...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (And the traveling preacher asked them to pray for: “Salvation…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (A woman explained: "If a white man buys something...")' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (A woman explained: “If a white man buys something…”)
1949
From the book There Is No More Time: An American Tragedy
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled (Woman in church holding a fan over her face)
1949
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

 

Ms. Palfi set out to document racism and segregation in Irwinton, Ga., the small town where Caleb Hill, in the first reported lynching of 1949, was murdered.

Later that year, Ms. Palfi spent two weeks in Irwinton documenting its residents, both black and white.

Juxtaposing portraits, Ms. Palfi’s written observations and interview excerpts, “There Is No More Time” chronicles the many faces and viewpoints of white supremacy in Irwinton: the obedience to God and family; the religious and pseudoscientific justifications for believing that black people were inherently inferior; the resentment of outside intervention in the South’s racial affairs; and the determination to protect the legal authority of white people.

The book also demonstrates that white racial attitudes were neither uniform nor without ambivalence. Some qualified their prejudices by also voicing disdain for poor whites. Others unconsciously revealed the insecurity and self-doubt that fuelled their bitterness and, by extension, bigotry. Some discreetly criticised the biases of their neighbours, while others attacked them as traitors for doing so.

The town’s African-American residents appear in the book less frequently but to great dramatic effect. Their images make clear the tragic consequences of racial prejudice, their lives compromised and shattered in innumerable ways. This was no more evident than in the haunting portrait of Mr. Hill’s widow (image below) or in the text of an anonymous letter from black prisoners, unceasingly abused and dehumanised by their white jailers. …

The back story of “There Is No More Time” reveals much about Ms. Palfi’s sophisticated and prescient understanding of American race relations. The manuscript met with considerable resistance from publishers. Contending that the subject matter “in these sticky times would not be very well received,” one rejection letter subtly accused her of overstating the problem of segregation.

In order to make her book more appealing, the photographer offered to collaborate with a well-known author. Although her choice, Lillian Smith, ultimately declined, and Ms. Palfi wrote the text herself, the selection was telling. Five years earlier, Ms. Smith rose to prominence with the publication of her best-selling novel “Strange Fruit,” on the then controversial subject of interracial romance. But it was “Killers of the Dream,” her more recently published analysis of the origins and persistence of racism in the Jim Crow South, that undoubtedly caught Ms. Palfi’s attention.

In contrast to other race books of the period, “Killers of the Dream” examined prejudice not just from the perspective of its victims, but also through the candid autobiographical observations of its Southern white author.

The most significant lesson of “Killers of the Dream,” one echoed in “There Is No More Time,” was that we must alter our expectations about who was responsible for talking about race. By focusing on the social and cultural mores of white Southerners – and by providing a platform for ordinary people to speak honestly about a difficult and controversial subject – both books exposed the attitudes, fears and rationalisations that underwrote racial prejudice.

They challenged the myth that racism was exceptional, perpetrated only by monstrous or evil people. As Ms. Smith argued, few were spared the “grave illness” of prejudice. “The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negroes in their ‘place,'” she observed about the banality and ubiquity of racism.

Similarly and with uncompromising honesty, “There Is No More Time” revealed an enduring secret of American race relations: that ostensibly good people – men and women much like our neighbours, our family and ourselves – could also harbour virulent prejudices. For Ms. Palfi, this revelation was necessary and urgent.

“There is no more time, we must act now – the whole world is looking on,” she wrote in the book’s foreword. Sixty-five years later, the problem remains dire and far from resolved as we cling to the belief that it is always, inevitably, the others who hate and discriminate.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

Maurice Berger is a research professor and the chief curator at the Center for Art Design and Visual Culture at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a consulting curator at the Jewish Museum in New York.

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Saturday, Louisville, Georgia' 1949

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Saturday, Louisville, Georgia
1949
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view and details of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1955-1957

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1955-1957
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Manhattan State Hospital' c. 1955 (detail)

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Manhattan State Hospital (detail)
c. 1955
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

 

Born into an aristocratic family in Berlin in 1907, Ms. Palfi began her career as an actress and model. Distressed by Germany’s increasingly reactionary politics, she turned to photography as a form of personal expression and activism. In 1935, she opened a photo studio in Amsterdam. Five years later, having married an American serviceman, she immigrated to New York.

A member of the activist Photo League, Ms. Palfi believed that photographs, beyond merely representing problems, could influence social change.

“A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore,” wrote the American poet Langston Hughes, a friend and admirer of her work.

Ms. Palfi produced photo essays on a range of pressing social issues, including child abuse and delinquency, the neglect of seniors, Native American displacement, prison inmate rights, and the ways poverty, segregation and racism imperilled democracy. She died in 1978.

Maurice Berger. “A Meditation on Race, in Shades of White,” on The New York Times website Sept. 27, 2015 [Online] Cited 27/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Men's Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Men’s Shelter, New York – Your Fortune Must Be Less Thank $2 To Be Acceptable
1956-58
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.3cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Case History' 1956-58

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Case History
1956-1958
from the series You Have Never Been Old
Gelatin silver print
26.3 x 34.3cm

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

 

Installation view of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963; at top right, Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964; at bottom left, Untitled c. 1963; and at bottom right, Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi. 'At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington' 1963

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At the Lincoln Memorial, March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
Marion Palfi/Center for Creative Photography
© All Rights Reserved

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Chicago School Boycott 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Untitled c. 1963 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view of Cleveland, Ohio 1963-1964 from the exhibition Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021 Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Cleveland, Ohio' 1963-1964

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Cleveland, Ohio
1963-1964
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Installation view of 'Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi's America, 1940-1978', 2021, Phoenix Art Museum (detail)

 

Installation view and detail of Freedom Must Be Lived: Marion Palfi’s America, 1940-1978, 2021, Phoenix Art Museum showing at top left, Untitled c. 1967; at top right, Untitled c. 1967; at bottom left, A Medicine Man and his Family Live in “Low Cost Housing” 1967-1969; and at bottom right, A Meeting in the Traditional Village of Hotelvilla 1964
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. "To Change the Indian Is Our Job!" New Arrival' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
At Madera, California, the Bureau of Indian Affairs Has a School. “To Change the Indian Is Our Job!” New Arrival
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home' 1967-1969

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo, Relocation; Leaving Home
1967-1969
Gelatin silver print
Center for Creative Photography, University of Arizona: Marion Palfi Archive / Gift of the Menninger Foundation and Martin Magner
© Center for Creative Photography, Arizona Board of Regents

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa' 1967-69

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Navajo Family Life, the Blue Lake Family on the Black Mesa
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
23.9 x 34.2cm

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1967-69 From the series 'First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1967-1969
From the series First I Liked the Whites, l Gave Them Fruits
Gelatin silver print
29.7 x 41.9cm

 

 

Biography

Social documentary photographer Marion Palfi (1907-1978) sought equity, opportunity, and justice for all people, using her camera as a tool for that end. Farm Security Administration projects and the Photo League inspired her initial efforts toward reform, but for Palfi, the desire for social change was a lifelong pursuit.

Marion Palfi was born in Berlin in 1907 to a Hungarian father and a Polish mother. Her father, Victor Palfi, came from an aristocratic family and became an important producer-director in the German theatre. Her parents provided her with an upper middle class life that included private schooling in both Berlin and Hamburg, where she learned English. She began studying dance at thirteen and eventually followed her father into a career on the stage. A lucrative modelling career and debut performances in film ensued.

After a short time in the limelight, however, she renounced her status as a privileged member of German society, and left the theater. She acquired a small folding camera and began a two-year apprenticeship at a Berlin portrait studio. By 1932, she opened a commercial portraiture and photojournalism studio. Palfi married a journalist and they traveled across Europe, but by the end of 1935 Palfi had opened a studio in Amsterdam alone. In 1940, just before Hitler’s army entered the Low Countries, she married an American serviceman and emigrated to New York.

Palfi gained employment in 1944, developing and retouching governmental war photographs at Pavelle Laboratories, and devoted evenings and weekends to her own photography. A crucial first project, “Great American Artists of Minority Groups and Democracy at Work,” was sponsored by the Council Against Intolerance in America. Through this assignment, she met Langston Hughes, the American poet, who became an ardent supporter. He would say of her work, “A Palfi photograph brings us face to face with hidden realities that its surface only causes us to begin to explore.” Her close ties with Hughes allowed her to establish a circle of friends that included John Collier, Sr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Edward Steichen, and Lisette Model.

Between 1945 and 1955 Palfi was included in group exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, New York’s Photo League, and in a solo exhibition at the New York Public Library. She received four major awards in her lifetime: a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship (1946), a Taconic Foundation grant (1963), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1967), and a National Endowment for the Arts grant ( 1974). In addition to such sources, she supported her photographic investigations at her own expense; the liberal press and African-American picture magazines also championed her views and images.

Throughout her mature career Palfi produced photographic essays on subjects of social concern, always with the intent of building public awareness that would ultimately lead to better living and working conditions. Unfortunately, the social documentary approach came to be associated with liberal political ideas and the New Deal, and therefore in direct opposition to the conservative policies of Harry Truman’s government of the late 1940s. Some of the issues she addressed include racism, Native American living conditions and relocation, juvenile delinquency, elder housing, the infringement of prison inmate rights, the effects of child neglect and abuse, the rise of gangs, and the persistence of poverty and slums. Throughout her years in America, Palfi eschewed a more lucrative career, producing photojournalistic work that conformed to popular expectations, and chose instead to pursue imagery that challenged notions of the American Dream.

Additional biographical information on Marion Palfi can be found in two Center publications – The Archive number 19 (1983) and Guide Series number 10 (1985). The Center is the largest repository of Palfi material, with over 1,100 fine prints. The archive contains materials from major photographic projects from 1945 to 1978, correspondence between Palfi and friends, photographers, scholars, writers, publishers, and governmental and private institutions on subjects including her philosophy of using photography to influence social change, her sales of photographs, and her mostly unsuccessful efforts to publish her work. Of particular research value are her scrapbooks, research notes, draft manuscripts, and book maquettes.

Text from the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona website [Online] Cited 26/10/2021

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978) 'Untitled' 1975 From the series 'Ask Me lf l Got Justice'

 

Marion Palfi (American born Germany, 1907-1978)
Untitled
1975
From the series Ask Me lf l Got Justice
Gelatin silver print
18.7 x 24.2cm

 

 

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22
Jul
15

Exhibition: ‘Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection’ at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Exhibition dates: 26th June – 13th September 2015

 

Hugo Gellert (1892-1985) 'Daily Worker' c. 1935

 

Hugo Gellert (Hungarian-American, 1892-1985)
Daily Worker
c. 1935
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
Courtesy Mary Ryan Gallery, New York

 

 

It has been a pleasure researching the artists and the issues for this posting. Strong graphics for just social causes. Words and images are powerful tools against bigotry, racism and extremism of any form.

I realised the other day that the older I get the more liberal and socially conscious I become.

Marcus

.
Many thankx to the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II. The posters and broadsides from the era focus on the American labor movement, Communism, racism in the South, housing in the North, and the legacy of the Harlem Renaissance.

 

 

 

The Scottsboro Boys

The Scottsboro Boys were a group of nine black teenagers accused of rape in the 1930s South. The blatant injustice given to them during their trial lead to several legal reforms. Watch as Emory’s Associate Professor of African American Studies, Carol Anderson, discusses what happened to these boys both during and after their trial.

 

J. Louis Engdahl (1884-1932) 'Labor Defender' June 1931

 

J. Louis Engdahl (American, 1884-1932)
Labor Defender
June 1931
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The Scottsboro Boys were nine African-American teenagers accused in Alabama of raping two White American women on a train in 1931. The landmark set of legal cases from this incident dealt with racism and the right to a fair trial. The cases included a lynch mob before the suspects had been indicted, a frameup, all-white juries, rushed trials, and disruptive mobs. It is frequently cited as an example of an overall miscarriage of justice in the United States legal system.

On March 25, 1931, several people were hoboing on a freight train traveling between Chattanooga and Memphis, Tennessee. Several white teenagers jumped off the train and reported to the sheriff that they had been attacked by a group of African-American teenagers. The sheriff deputised a posse comitatus, stopped and searched the train at Paint Rock, Alabama and arrested the African Americans. Two young white women also got off the train and accused the African-American teenagers of rape. The case was first heard in Scottsboro, Alabama, in three rushed trials, in which the defendants received poor legal representation. All but 12-year-old Roy Wright were convicted of rape and sentenced to death, the common sentence in Alabama at the time for black men convicted of raping white women, even though there was medical evidence to suggest that they had not committed the crime.

With help from the Communist Party USA (CPUSA), the case was appealed. The Alabama Supreme Court affirmed seven of the eight convictions, and granted 13-year-old Eugene Williams a new trial because he was a minor. Chief Justice John C. Anderson dissented, ruling that the defendants had been denied an impartial jury, fair trial, fair sentencing, and effective counsel. While waiting for their trials, eight of the nine defendants were held in Kilby Prison. The cases were twice appealed to the United States Supreme Court, which led to landmark decisions on the conduct of trials. In Powell v. Alabama (1932), it ordered new trials.

The case was returned to the lower court and the judge allowed a change of venue, moving the retrials to Decatur, Alabama. Judge Horton was appointed. During the retrials, one of the alleged victims admitted fabricating the rape story and asserted that none of the Scottsboro Boys touched either of the white women. The jury found the defendants guilty, but the judge set aside the verdict and granted a new trial.

The judge was replaced and the case tried under a more biased judge, whose rulings went against the defence. For the third time a jury – now with one African-American member – returned a third guilty verdict. The case returned to the US Supreme Court on appeal. It ruled that African Americans had to be included on juries, and ordered retrials. Charges were finally dropped for four of the nine defendants. Sentences for the rest ranged from 75 years to death. All but two served prison sentences. One was shot in prison by a guard and permanently disabled. Two escaped, were later charged with other crimes, convicted, and sent back to prison. Clarence Norris, the oldest defendant and the only one sentenced to death, “jumped parole” in 1946 and went into hiding. He was found in 1976 and pardoned by Governor George Wallace, by which time the case had been thoroughly analysed and shown to be an injustice. Norris later wrote a book about his experiences. The last surviving defendant died in 1989.

“The Scottsboro Boys,” as they became known, were defended by many in the North and attacked by many in the South. The case is now widely considered a miscarriage of justice, particularly highlighted by use of all-white juries. African Americans in Alabama had been disenfranchised since the turn of the century and thus were generally disqualified from jury duty. The case has been explored in many works of literature, music, theatre, film and television. On November 21, 2013, Alabama’s parole board voted to grant posthumous pardons to the three Scottsboro Boys who had not been pardoned or had their convictions overturned.

Text from Wikipedia website

 

 

 

nina simone – strange fruit

Not the usual version of this song by Billie Holiday, but a different rendition by the great Nina Simone (no date to the recording). White southerners lynched nearly 4,000 black men, women and children between the years 1877 and 1950.

This song, written by white teacher ‪Abel Meeropol‬ as a poem and published in 1937, was performed by many artists (but most notably, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone,) is a dark and profound song about the lynching of African Americans in the Southern United States during the Jim Crow Era. In the lyrics, black victims are portrayed as “strange fruit,” as they hang from trees, rotting in the sun, blowing in the wind, and becoming food for crows upon being burned.

 

Southern trees
Bearing strange fruit
Blood on the leaves
And blood at the roots
Black bodies
Swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hangin’
From the poplar trees
Pastoral scene
Of the gallant south
Them big bulging eyes
And the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolia
Clean and fresh
Then the sudden smell
Of burnin’ flesh
Here is a fruit
For the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather
For the wind to suck
For the sun to rot
For the leaves to drop
Here is
 strange and bitter crop

 

Vera Bock (1905-73) 'Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre' 1938

 

Vera Bock (American born Russia, 1905-1973)
Haiti; A Drama of the Black Napoleon by William Du Bois at Lafayette Theatre
1938
Screenprint on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (Haitian, 1743-1803)

François-Dominique Toussaint Louverture (20 May 1743 – 7 April 1803), also known as Toussaint L’Ouverture, Toussaint-Louverture, Toussaint Bréda, and nicknamed the “Napoléon Noir” (Black Napoleon), was the leader of the Haitian Revolution. His military genius and political acumen transformed an entire society of slaves into the independent state of Haiti. The success of the Haitian Revolution shook the institution of slavery throughout the New World.

Toussaint Louverture began his military career as a leader of the 1791 slave rebellion in the French colony of Saint-Domingue; he was by then a free black man. Initially allied with the Spaniards of neighbouring Santo Domingo, Toussaint switched allegiance to the French when they abolished slavery. He gradually established control over the whole island and used political and military tactics to gain dominance over his rivals. Throughout his years in power, he worked to improve the economy and security of Saint-Domingue. He restored the plantation system using paid labour, negotiated trade treaties with Britain and the United States, and maintained a large and well-disciplined army.

In 1801 he promulgated an autonomist constitution for the colony, with himself as governor for life. In 1802 he was forced to resign by forces sent by Napoleon Bonaparte to restore French authority in the former colony. He was deported to France, where he died in 1803. The Haitian Revolution continued under his lieutenant, Jean-Jacques Dessalines, who declared independence in early 1804. The French had lost two-thirds of forces sent to the island in an attempt to suppress the revolution; most died of yellow fever.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unidentified artist. 'Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes' Great Play, "Don’t You Want to be Free?" Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre' 1938

 

Unidentified artist
Negro Peoples Theatre Presents: Langston Hughes’ Great Play, “Don’t You Want to be Free?” Directed by Fanny McConnell, Lincoln Centre
1938
Screenprint on paper mounted on board
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

James Mercer Langston Hughes (American, 1902-1967)

James Mercer Langston Hughes (February 1, 1902 – May 22, 1967) was an American poet, social activist, novelist, playwright, and columnist from Joplin, Missouri. He was one of the earliest innovators of the then-new literary art form called jazz poetry. Hughes is best known as a leader of the Harlem Renaissance. He famously wrote about the period that “the negro was in vogue”, which was later paraphrased as “when Harlem was in vogue”.

When Langston Hughes returned from his assignment in Spain as a war correspondent, he told Louise Patterson of his idea for establishing a people’s theatre. She suggested the hall of the International Workers Order (a leftist labor-cultural group) above Frank’s Restaurant on 125th Street. This was the first home of the Harlem Suitcase Theatre, in 1937.

Named for its arena staging and lack of scenic properties, Suitcase Theatre was a peoples’ theatre composed of amateur actors. The audiences were seventy-five per cent black; admission was thirty-five cents. The program was usually two or three short pieces; The Slave, or The Man Who Died at Twelve O’Clock, or several skits written by Mr. Hughes lampooning white caricatures of blacks: Em-Fueher Jones, Limitations of Life, and Little Eva’s End. The piece de resistance was always Don’t You Want To Be Free? We had no play so the suggestion came up one evening as we were sitting there plotting the theatre, that Langston should do a play and why not a play of music-drama of many of his folk poems? So that he went home that night after we had had that discussion and sat up all night writing it and came back the next night with Don’t You Want To Be Free? (from an interview with Louise Patterson by Norma Markman, 1969)

Although Suitcase Theater lasted only two years (it did not survive its transplant to the library basement on 135th Street) the idea of a Negro People’s Theater spread to other cities. In March 1939, Mr. Hughes founded the New Negro Theater in Los Angeles.

The success of Don’t You Want To Be Free?, which opened in February 1937 and ran for 135 performances, may be found in three factors: (1) the direct appeal to the problems of the audience (most businesses in Harlem were owned by whites and only one of every six employees of the businesses were black), (2) the simplicity and beauty of the poetry and songs, (3) the appeal to unite poor whites and blacks in a fight against exploitation by the rich.

Text from The University Theatre website Cited [Online] Cited 20/07/2015. No longer available online

 

Lester Beall (1903-69) 'Cross Out Slums' 1941

 

Lester Beall (American, 1903-1969)
Cross Out Slums
1941
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© Dumbarton Arts, LLC
Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY

 

 

Lester Beall (American, 1903-1969)

Lester Beall (1903-1969) was an American graphic designer notable as a leading proponent of modernist graphic design in the United States.

His clear and concise use of typography was highly praised both in the United States and abroad. Throughout his career he used bold primary colours and illustrative arrows and lines in a graphic style that became easily recognisable as his own. He eventually moved to rural New York and set up an office, and home, at a premises that he and his family called “Dumbarton Farm”. He remained at the farm until his death in 1969.

Lester Thomas Beall was born in Kansas City, Missouri. His family soon moved to St. Louis, Missouri, and later to Chicago, Illinois. Beall studied at the University of Chicago and was active on the varsity track team coached by Amos Alonzo Stagg. Beall also took classes at the Art Institute of Chicago. After a short period of experimentation and professional work in Chicago, Beall moved to New York in 1935. The following year he established his home / office in Wilton, Connecticut.

According to his online AIGA biography by R. Roger Remington: “Through the 1930s and 1940s Beall produced innovative and highly regarded work for clients including the Chicago Tribune, Sterling Engraving, The Art Directors Club of New York, Hiram Walker, Abbott Laboratories and Time magazine. Of particular interest was his work for the Crowell Publishing Company which produced Colliers magazine. The promotional covers “Will There Be War?” and “Hitler’s Nightmare” are powerful designs which distill messages of the time. In these works he utilises angled elements, iconic arrows, silhouetted photographs and dynamic shapes, all of which captures the essence of his personal style of the late 1930s. Also of interest in this period are the remarkable poster series for the United States Government’s Rural Electrification Administration.”

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Unidentified artist. 'Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman' 1936

 

Unidentified artist
Vote American Labor Party; Roosevelt and Lehman
1936
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Long before digital technology made worldwide communication possible, political protests and calls for action reached the public through posters. Posted on walls and bulletin boards, slapped up on store windows and church doors, these works often featured bright colours and modernist art-inspired graphics, and were quickly mass-produced to inform communities, stir audiences, and call attention to injustice. This summer, the New-York Historical Society will present 72 posters dating from the early 1930s through the 1970s, drawn from one of the world’s finest collections of American protest art in Art as Activism: Graphic Art from the Merrill C. Berman Collection, on view June 26 through September 13, 2015.

“These seemingly ephemeral activist artefacts are of tremendous historical and artistic importance, with deep roots in the past and a lasting influence,” said Dr. Louise Mirrer, President and CEO of the New-York Historical Society. “Merrill Berman’s collection rivals the graphic design holdings of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and we are thrilled to be able to share some highlights with the public this summer.”

Art as Activism presents a wide selection of posters addressing movements that arose in reaction to the Great Depression, World War II, racial inequality, the Vietnam War, and environmental concerns. Featured posters include works by artists such as Emory Douglas, Hugo Gellert, James Rosenquist and Tomi Ungerer, as well as numerous unidentified designers.

Art as Activism will showcase imagery that served as the wallpaper of public discontent,” said New-York Historical’s Chief Curator Stephen Edidin. “Posters shaped the visual language of protest for generations, “going viral” decades before the term was born, until they were replaced by other forms of social media, including street art and ultimately the Internet.”

 

Exhibition highlights

Featuring three main sections, Art as Activism opens with works dating from the Great Depression to World War II, with themes that include electoral politics, workers’ marches and the political, social, and economic inequalities endured by African Americans. Featured works include a poster for Langston Hughes’ political play Don’t You Want to be Free?: From Slavery Through the Blues to Now – and then some! (1938), with bright red and yellow graphics of a whip in a raised fist. A colourful 1941 poster Cross Out Slums promoted the U.S. Housing Authority, which cleared slums and built new low-income housing. Using photomontage and European modernist design, graphic artist Lester Beall shows a bucolic neighbourhood in the form of a hand, crossing out substandard accommodations with a large “X.”

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther organisation, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and tracing its rise to national prominence. The Panthers used posters and the press to spread their message, leveraging advertising techniques and celebrity culture to compose and disseminate powerful imagery. One of the most defining photographs of this era is the iconic image Huey Newton seated in a wicker chair (1967), featuring the Panthers’ Minister of Defense enthroned in a wicker chair, holding a rife and a spear. Another highlight is the poster An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All, The Slaughter of Black People Must be Stopped by Any Means Necessary! (circa 1970), featuring the image of a black panther with massive claws and a sinuous body, poised to attack.

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the era, such as the American Indian movement and the nascent Environmentalist effort. To cut costs and distribute the message by any means available, activists printed posters on computer paper. In 1970, U.C. Berkeley students protested President Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia with the poster Amerika is Devouring Its Children, making a powerful anti-war statement by appropriating Francisco Goya’s terrifying image of the god Saturn fiendishly eating his own son. Another highlight on view is a poster from the 1975 Central Park rally celebrating the end of the Vietnam War, featuring a photograph of a Hanoi circus performer with doves balanced on her outstretched arms, offering an uplifting image and global message.

Press release from the New-York Historical Society Museum and Library

 

The second section of the exhibition explores the Black Panther Party, beginning with its founding in California in 1966 and traces its rise to international prominence. Their policies of self-defense and anti-imperialism prompted FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover to notoriously condemn them as “the greatest threat to internal security.” Their legacy of lesser-known initiatives to aid impoverished black communities, including a breakfast program that at its height served 10,000 kids in need every day was overshadowed as a result.

 

Unidentified artist. 'Free Angela Davis' c. 1970-72

 

Unidentified artist 
Free Angela Davis
c. 1970-72
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Angela Yvonne Davis (American, b. 1944)

Angela Yvonne Davis (born January 26, 1944) is an American political activist, scholar, and author. She emerged as a prominent counterculture activist and radical in the 1960s as a leader of the Communist Party USA, and had close relations with the Black Panther Party through her involvement in the Civil Rights Movement, although she was never a party member. Her interests included prisoner rights; she founded Critical Resistance, an organisation working to abolish the prison-industrial complex. She is a retired professor with the History of Consciousness Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and a former director of the university’s Feminist Studies department.

Davis was arrested, charged, tried, and acquitted of conspiracy in the 1970 armed take-over of a Marin County courtroom, in which four persons died.

On August 7, 1970, Jonathan Jackson, a heavily armed 17-year-old African-American high-school student, gained control over a courtroom in Marin County, California. Once in the courtroom, Jackson armed the black defendants and took Judge Harold Haley, the prosecutor, and three female jurors as hostages.

As Jackson transported the hostages and two black convicts away from the courtroom, the police began shooting at the vehicle. The judge and the three black men were killed in the melee; one of the jurors and the prosecutor were injured. The firearms used in the attack, including the shotgun used to kill Haley, had been purchased by Davis two days prior and the barrel of the shotgun had been sawed off. Davis was also corresponding with one of the inmates involved. Since California considers “all persons concerned in the commission of a crime, whether they directly commit the act constituting the offence… principals in any crime so committed”, Marin County Superior Judge Peter Allen Smith charged Davis with “aggravated kidnapping and first degree murder in the death of Judge Harold Haley” and issued a warrant for her arrest. Hours after the judge issued the warrant on August 14, 1970, a massive attempt to arrest Angela Davis began. On August 18, 1970, four days after the initial warrant was issued, the FBI director J. Edgar Hoover made Angela Davis the third woman and the 309th person to appear on the FBI’s Ten Most Wanted Fugitive List.

Soon after, Davis became a fugitive and fled California. According to her autobiography, during this time she hid in friends’ homes and moved from place to place at night. On October 13, 1970, FBI agents found her at the Howard Johnson Motor Lodge in New York City. President Richard M. Nixon congratulated the FBI on its “capture of the dangerous terrorist, Angela Davis”.

On January 5, 1971, after several months in jail, Davis appeared at the Marin County Superior Court and declared her innocence before the court and nation: “I now declare publicly before the court, before the people of this country that I am innocent of all charges which have been levelled against me by the state of California.” John Abt, general counsel of the Communist Party USA, was one of the first attorneys to represent Davis for her alleged involvement in the shootings. While being held in the Women’s Detention Center there, she was initially segregated from the general population, but with the help of her legal team soon obtained a federal court order to get out of the segregated area.

Across the nation, thousands of people who agreed with her declaration began organising a liberation movement. In New York City, black writers formed a committee called the Black People in Defense of Angela Davis. By February 1971 more than 200 local committees in the United States, and 67 in foreign countries worked to liberate Angela Davis from prison. Thanks, in part, to this support, in 1972 the state released her from county jail. On February 23, 1972, Rodger McAfee, a dairy farmer from Fresno, California, paid her $100,000 bail with the help of Steve Sparacino, a wealthy business owner. Portions of her legal defence expenses were paid for by the United Presbyterian Church.

Davis was tried, and the all-white jury returned a verdict of not guilty. The fact that she owned the guns used in the crime was judged not sufficient to establish her responsibility for the plot. She was represented by Leo Branton Jr., who hired psychologists to help the defence determine who in the jury pool might favour their arguments, a technique that was uncommon at the time, and also hired experts to undermine the reliability of eyewitness accounts.

Her research interests are feminism, African-American studies, critical theory, Marxism, popular music, social consciousness, and the philosophy and history of punishment and prisons. Her membership in the Communist Party led to Ronald Reagan’s request in 1969 to have her barred from teaching at any university in the State of California. She was twice a candidate for Vice President on the Communist Party USA ticket during the 1980s.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp Composition by Eldridge Cleaver. 'Huey Newton seated in wicker chair' 1967

 

Photography attributed to Blair Stapp
Composition by Eldridge Cleaver
Huey Newton seated in wicker chair
1967
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

Huey Percy Newton (American, 1942-1989)

Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political and urban activist who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966. Newton had a long series of confrontations with law enforcement, including several convictions, while he participated in political activism. He continued to pursue an education, eventually earning a Ph.D. in Social Science. Newton spent time in prison for manslaughter and was involved in a shooting that killed a police officer, for which he was later acquitted. In 1989 he was shot and killed in Oakland, California by Tyrone “Double R” Robinson, a member of the Black Guerrilla Family.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Emory Douglas (b. 1943) 'All Power To The People' 1969

 

Emory Douglas (American, b. 1943)
All Power To The People
1969
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman
© 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

 

Emory Douglas (American, b. 1943)

Emory Douglas (born May 24, 1943) was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan and grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. As a teenager, Douglas was incarcerated at the Youth Training School in Ontario, California; during his time there he worked in the prison’s printing shop. He later studied commercial art, taking graphic design classes, at San Francisco City College. As Erika Doss wrote, “He also joined the college’s Black Students Union and was drawn to political activism.”

In 1967 Douglas became Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party. In 2007, The San Francisco Chronicle reporter Jessica Werner Zack reported that he “branded the militant-chic Panther image decades before the concept became commonplace. He used the newspaper’s popularity to incite the disenfranchised to action, portraying the poor with genuine empathy, not as victims but as outraged, unapologetic and ready for a fight.”

Douglas worked at the black community-oriented San Francisco Sun Reporter newspaper for over 30 years after The Black Panther newspaper was no longer published. He continued to create activist artwork. According to Greg Morozumi, of the Bay Area EastSide Arts Alliance, his artwork stayed relevant. “Rather than reinforcing the cultural dead end of “post-modern” nostalgia, the inspiration of his art raises the possibility of rebellion and the creation of new revolutionary culture.”

In 2006, artist and curator Sam Durant edited a comprehensive monograph of Black Panther artist Emory Douglas’ work, Black Panther: The Revolutionary Art of Emory Douglas, with contributors including Danny Glover, Kathleen Cleaver, St. Clair Bourne, Colette Gaiter (associate professor at the University of Delaware), Greg Morozumi (artistic director of the EastSide Arts Alliance in Oakland, California), and Sonia Sanchez.

“Douglas was the most prolific and persistent graphic agitator in the American Black Power movements. Douglas profoundly understood the power of images in communicating ideas…. Inexpensive printing technologies – including photostats and presstype, textures and patterns – made publishing a two-colour heavily illustrated, weekly tabloid newspaper possible. Graphic production values associated with seductive advertising and waste in a decadent society became weapons of the revolution. Technically, Douglas collaged and re-collaged drawings and photographs, performing graphic tricks with little budget and even less time. His distinctive illustration style featured thick black outlines (easier to trap) and resourceful tint and texture combinations. Conceptually, Douglas’s images served two purposes: first, illustrating conditions that made revolution seem necessary; and second, constructing a visual mythology of power for people who felt powerless and victimised. Most popular media represents middle to upper class people as “normal.” Douglas was the Norman Rockwell of the ghetto, concentrating on the poor and oppressed. Departing from the WPA / social realist style of portraying poor people, which can be perceived as voyeuristic and patronising, Douglas’s energetic drawings showed respect and affection. He maintained poor people’s dignity while graphically illustrating harsh situations.”

Colette Gaiter quoted in the Wikipedia entry for Emory Douglas.

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League. 'An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All' c. 1970

 

Distributed by the Robert Brown Elliott League
An Attack Against One is An Attack Against All
c. 1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

The final section of Art as Activism focuses on the anti-Vietnam War movement and other protest movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The mass protest movements varied greatly in their demands and their activist style. Some were violent, others peaceful. Some pushed for reform, others revolution. Regardless of their messages, these movements brought millions to the streets and forever changed American society; they helped end the Vietnam War and gave rise to watershed legislation and fundamental social change.

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California. 'Amerika is Devouring Its Children' 1970

 

Jay Belloli, Berkeley, California
Amerika is Devouring Its Children
1970
Screenprint on computer paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

 

Decade of Dissent – Jay Belloli

Jay Belloli is an independent contemporary art curator and writer who created an iconic political poster while a student at UC Berkeley during the strike to oppose Nixon’s bombing of Cambodia in 1970. In this video, Jay discusses his developing politicisation during the Vietnam War era and describes the urgent activity of students across the country to use political posters to define the pressing issues of the day.

This interview is part of a video series in which poster artists share stories about art and activism. The interviews accompany Decade of Dissent: Democracy in Action 1965-1975, a traveling political poster art exhibition that premiered at the West Hollywood Library, February-April 2012. Both the exhibition and interviews were produced by the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.

1965-1975 – years that span the U.S. war in Viet Nam – was a watershed decade for California and the country as a whole. Through legislation and demonstrations, democracy was both advanced and challenged at the ballot box, in the classroom and in the streets. U.S. democracy embraces free speech, yet California’s students fought for the right to engage in free speech in high schools and college campuses. Our democracy ensures freedom of assembly, yet the police often attacked peaceful demonstrators. The Constitution protects civil liberties and civil rights regardless of race, gender, class or ethnicity, yet African Americans, Asians, Latinos, women, lesbians, gays and others fought – and continue to fight – for their equality.

Whenever people organise and protest, artists are in the forefront of the struggles for greater democracy and justice. This exhibition documents the importance of poster art for developing and promoting the ideas and ideals of democracy in California during a very turbulent decade – not unlike the present. The posters forcefully and graphically demonstrate that democracy includes the obligation to speak-out and struggle for justice. Dissent is patriotic. The exhibition also shows the power of art to recall historical events and views of the world that can create a deeper context for understanding contemporary society.

Text from the YouTube website

 

Unidentified artist. 'Red Power' 1970

 

Unidentified artist
Red Power
1970
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

Phil Ochs (1940-76), Cora Weiss (b. 1934) and Dan Luce. 'The War is Over!' 1975

 

Phil Ochs (American, 1940-1976), Cora Weiss (American, b. 1934) and Dan Luce
The War is Over!
1975
Lithograph on paper
Collection of Merrill C. Berman

 

 

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, an art and cultural memory archive, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Doctor of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Orphans and small groups’ 1994-96 Part 2

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