Posts Tagged ‘Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee

14
Jan
23

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Exhibition dates: 16th October 2022 – 16th January 2023

 

'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

 

Visible Man / Invisible photographer

Only five of Black American Gordon Parks’ photographs of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael were published in Life magazine in May 1967 in a photo essay with text by Parks titled “Whip of Black Power” out of the 700 photographs that he had actually taken for the assignment. This exhibition dives into these unseen photographs.

“”Whip of Black Power” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.”1

“…Parks’s text and photo essay for Life conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”2

As chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, the charismatic Carmichael had “issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash.” “For once, black people are going to use the word they want to use – not just the words whites want to hear. And they will do this no matter how often the press tries to stop the use of the slogan by equating it with racism or separatism.” (Stokely Carmichael) The call for Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. “What Carmichael was advocating in his call for Black Power was not revolution but the goal of self-determination: “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.”3

What Parks’ photographs accomplish is to put a human face to Stokely Carmichael the revolutionary firebrand and the culture of black protest, process and progress in which he is embedded, “presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.”4 Parks’ photographs confront “the inequalities and brutalities of our society” whilst “thrusting forth its images of hope, human fraternity, and individual self-realization.”5 Here, living, a valuable and fruitful life whilst discovering an authentic personal identity, and fighting for personal and collective freedom was the objective.

Black people have their own history, traditions and rituals that form a cohesive and complex culture which is the source of a full sense of identity. “As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow.”6

The quest for a viable identity is a universal human challenge which is not dependent on colour, race or religion. As the Black American writer Ralph Ellison observes when quoted in an article by Anne Seidlitz, “black and white culture were inextricably linked, with almost every facet of American life influenced and impacted by the African-American presence – including music, language, dance, folk mythology, clothing styles and sports. Moreover, he [Ellision] felt that the task of the writer is to “tell us about the unity of American experience beyond all considerations of class, of race, of religion.”7

This is what I am hammering on about here: whilst the civil rights movement and the call for Black Power promoted a new politics of black autonomy and militancy which embodied a new politics of black self-assertion and meaningful self-determination, everything is linked together… nothing can be seen other than within a nexus of networked links which inform and affect each other. In this sense Parks’ text and images, together, present a multi-dimensional profile of this charismatic leader, this complex character – as a portrait of his perseverance, gentleness, frustration, despair, joy, anger, laughter, enthusiasm, energy, and passion – sketching the musical and rhythmic character of Stokely Carmichael embedded within the history of interconnected moments, in the contexts of the times, seen through multiple openings in the space / time continuum as the camera lens opens and closes. Parks photographs “put the viewer exactly at the moment of capture letting us be there at the scene.” And they make Stokely Carmichael visible, then and now. At the time the photographer was nearly invisible.

“Now, it’s interesting to note that when I [Lisa Volpe] would share the photos with those men and women captured in them [Parks’ photographs], they all had a very similar reaction. Each one of them remembered the scene. They remembered that meeting, or that lecture, they remembered what was being discussed and how they felt. They really had perfect recall for pretty much everything within the frame … but what was interesting was that they were all shocked to see the photographs. Not a single person I talked to remembered Gordon Parks ever being in the room. Now… when he was on assignment he truly became a fly on the wall in order to get the most truthful images possible. And yes, even speaking to these ladies [in the photograph Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles (1966,below)], they did not even notice Gordon Parks probably three feet in front of them taking their photo.”8

As the recognition of Parks as a photographer has risen over the last 10 years (see the many exhibition postings on Art Blart below), with specialist exhibitions like this that analyse and promote previously hidden aspects and bodies of his work, now at last the invisible photographer stands before us, his portrait of Stokely Carmichael finally revealed in all its subtlety and complexity, intuition and com/passion. In this exhibition for example, all Parks’ negatives on the Life contact sheets were in the wrong order, and / or where from different roll of negatives on the same contact sheet (see video below).9 Through research and the reordering of the negatives we can finally see and feel what images Parks thought were important to the story that he wanted to tell about this man and his crusade (A crusader is a person who works hard or campaigns forcefully for a cause). And through this enunciation of his vision, we the viewer may come to better know what an insightful and compassionate photographer Gordon Parks was… as he now stands before us in the evident presence and generosity of his photographs.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

 

Footnotes

1/ Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston website

2/ Text from the press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

3/ Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Lisa Volpe. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

4/ Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

5/ Anne Seidlitz. “Ralph Ellison: An American Journey,” on the PBS American Masters website 19/02/2002 [Online] Cited 30/12/2022

6/ Cedric Johnson, Op cit.,

7/ Anne Seidlitz, Op cit.,

8/ Text from the video of Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discussing acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offering an overview of the exhibition. Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power on the YouTube website 8th January 2023 [Online] Cited 14/01/2022

9/ Ibid.,

 

Postings about Gordon Parks on Art Blart

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Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

In 1967, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’ groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In his finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, then the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

 

 

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston exhibition walk through

 

 

Lecture | Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power

Lisa Volpe, curator of photography, discusses acclaimed photographer Gordon Parks and offers an overview of the exhibition, which captures the civil-rights movement and activist Stokely Carmichael in the 1960s.

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power book cover

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

Installation view of the exhibition 'Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power' at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Installation views of the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

"'What Their Cry Means to Me' – A Negro's Own Evaluation" 'Life', May 31, 1963

 

“‘What Their Cry Means to Me’ – A Negro’s Own Evaluation”
Life, May 31, 1963
Text and photographs by Gordon Parks

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1963

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1963
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"'I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'" 'Life', March 5, 1965

 

“‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized'”
Life, March 5, 1965
Text by Gordon Parks
Photographs by Ted Russell, Bob Gomel, Henri Dauman, and Greg Harris

 

Gordon Parks 'Born Black' 1971

 

Gordon Parks, Born Black, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1971.

 

Gordon Parks. 'Muhammad Ali' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Muhammad Ali
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The MFAH exhibition centres on Gordon Parks’s five iconic images of controversial young activist Stokely Carmichael, published in Life magazine in May 1967. Organised with the Gordon Parks Foundation, the show presents dozens more photographs from Parks’s series that have never before been published or exhibited

Fifty-five years ago today, Life magazine published photographer Gordon Parks’s groundbreaking images and profile of Stokely Carmichael, the young and controversial civil-rights leader who, as chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, issued the call for Black Power in a speech in Mississippi in June 1966, eliciting national headlines, and media backlash. On the road with Carmichael and the SNCC that fall and into the spring of 1967, Parks took more than 700 photographs as Carmichael addressed Vietnam War protesters outside the U.N. building in New York, with Martin Luther King, Jr.; spoke with supporters in a Los Angeles living room; went door to door in Alabama registering Black citizens to vote; and officiated at his sister’s wedding in the Bronx. In Parks’s finely drawn sketch of a charismatic leader and his movement, Parks, the first Black staff member at Life, reveals his own advocacy of Black Power and its message of self-determination.

On view only at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (October 16, 2022, to January 16, 2023), the exhibition Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power will present the five images from Parks’s 1967 Life article, in the context of nearly 50 additional photographs and contact sheets that have never before been published or exhibited, as well as footage of Carmichael’s speeches and interviews.

“Extending the Museum’s commitment to photography from the civil-rights era, and following our presentation of the exhibition Soul of a Nation in 2020, which included Gordon Parks’s famous 1942 American Gothic, I am very pleased that we are able to present Parks’s landmark project for Life magazine, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation,” commented Gary Tinterow, Director and Margaret Alkek Williams Chair of the MFAH. “Parks is well known as one of America’s most important 20th-century photographers; this exhibition will further illuminate his accomplishments as a writer and journalist, as well.”

Commented Lisa Volpe, exhibition curator and MFAH curator of photography, “Gordon Parks’s portrayal of Stokely Carmichael illustrates Parks’s unmatched talent in producing illuminating and sensitive profiles. Through dynamic photographs and a personal text, he sketches both his subject and the complexities and tensions inherent in the ongoing struggle for civil rights. It is as relevant to our current moment as it was to Life‘s readers in 1967. I am grateful to the Gordon Parks Foundation for the opportunity to present these never-before-seen works and to celebrate Parks’s legacy.”

 

Exhibition Background

Parks met Stokely Carmichael (later, Kwame Ture) in September 1966, as Carmichael’s rallying cry for “Black Power” was grabbing national attention. Parks was a prominent contributor to Life magazine, photographing and writing essays that chronicled, with his characteristic humanity, Benedictine monks and Black Muslims; a Harlem family and a teenage gang member. Carmichael, then 25 and a recent graduate with a philosophy degree from Howard University, was consistently in the news, whether publishing his own writing in the New York Review of Books or being profiled in Esquire and Look magazines.

As chair of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Carmichael was the figure most identified with the call for Black Power, and was routinely depicted as a representative of anger and separatism. But Parks’s text and photo essay for Life, “Whip of Black Power,” conveyed the nuanced range of Carmichael as a person – not only his anger at America’s deeply rooted racism, but his self-effacing humour, his private moments with family, and his own feelings of dismay that the justice he and the movement sought would not be attained in his lifetime – all part of a “truth,” as Parks described, “the kind that comes through looking and listening.”

 

Exhibition Organisation and Catalogue

This exhibition is organised by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, in collaboration with the Gordon Parks Foundation.

The accompanying catalogue, Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power, published by Steidl, explores Parks’s groundbreaking presentation of Carmichael, and provides detailed analysis of Parks’s images and accompanying text. The book is the latest instalment in a series that highlights Parks’s bodies of work throughout his career, published by the Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl. Essays by Lisa Volpe, MFAH associate curator of photography, and Cedric Johnson, professor of African American studies and political science at the University of Illinois at Chicago, shed critical new light on the subject: Volpe explores Parks’s nuanced understanding of the movement and its image, and Johnson frames Black Power within the heightened social and political moment of the late 1960s. Carmichael’s September 1966 essay in the New York Review of Books, “What We Want,” is reproduced in the book.

 

Gordon Parks

Parks (1912-2006) was one of the 20th century’s preeminent American photographers. Beginning in the 1940s and through the early 2000s, he created work that focused on social justice, race relations, the civil-rights movement, and the African American experience. Born into poverty and segregation in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks won a Julius Rosenwald Fund fellowship in 1942, and went on to create groundbreaking work for the Farm Security Administration and magazines such as Ebony, Vogue, and Life, where he was staff photographer for more than two decades. Beyond his work in photography, Parks was a respected film director, composer, memoirist, novelist, and poet.

 

Stokely Carmichael

Carmichael (1941-1998) was born in Trinidad; he moved to New York City’s Harlem neighbourhood when he was 11 and became a naturalised U.S. citizen two years later. An effortless orator, a brilliant student, and a captivating leader, Carmichael found his calling as an activist. While an undergraduate at Howard University, he joined the Freedom Riders on several trips. After graduation, he was a field organiser for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and became national chairman in 1966. Carmichael heralded a new chapter in the civil-rights movement when he called for Black Power. In 1969 he moved to Conakry, Guinea, where, having adopted the name Kwame Ture, he dedicated his work to Pan-Africanism and liberation movements worldwide.

 

The Gordon Parks Foundation

The Foundation permanently preserves the work of Gordon Parks; makes it available to the public through exhibitions, books, and digital media; and supports artistic and educational activities that advance what Parks described as “the common search for a better life and a better world.”

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

 

Gordon Parks Interprets Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man” | UNIQLO ARTSPEAKS

A prelude to the Civil Rights movement. Naeem Douglas, a content producer on the Creative Team (at MoMA), finds contemporary resonance in a selection of photographs – including 1952’s “Emerging Man, Harlem, New York” – that Gordon Parks created to celebrate Ralph Ellison’s “Invisible Man.”

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Stokely Carmichael, Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael on the road in Lowndes County, Alabama, 1966

In defiance of the governing party’s symbol – a white rooster with the phrase “White supremacy for the right” above it – Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO) chose a black panther as its symbol, an animal that becomes ferocious when cornered.

Carmichael proudly wore his Black Panther sweatshirt when he was working in Lowndes County. Taken from a low angle, Parks’s portrait presents Carmichael as a heroic figure, fighting for the rights emblazoned on his shirt: freedom and justice.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC's Atlanta headquarters' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol flyer at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters
1966
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet' 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Atlanta, Georgia
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael at his desk at SNCC’s Atlanta headquarters, 1966

In his profile of Carmichael, Parks aimed to combat the mass media’s one-sided depictions of the civil rights leader by capturing his complex character and emotions. At SNCC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, Parks documented Carmichael in a moment of weary frustration. A portrait of Malcolm X, photographs of Lowndes County residents, and SNCC pamphlets hang above the modest desk. Carefully composed, Parks’s photo guides viewers to a more holistic understanding of Carmichael. The view of the slumped leader with images above him also recalls scenes of religious pilgrims at an altar, deep in thought and prayer.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Introduction wall text

In fall 1966 the American photographer and writer Gordon Parks (1912-2006) was contracted by Life magazine to profile 25-year-old Stokely Carmichael, one of the most maligned and misunderstood men in America.

Carmichael, the newly elected chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), issued the first public call for Black Power on June 16, 1966, in Greenwood, Mississippi. This robust vision for a Black, self-determined future combined Black unity for social and political advancement, the breaking of psychological barriers to self-love, and self-defence when necessary. Yet, media organisations dissected and defined Black Power for white audiences with various levels of prejudice and fear, and Carmichael was cast as a figure of racial violence – a distortion of his character and his message.

“Whip of Black Power,” recounts Parks’s travels with Carmichael from fall 1966 to spring 1967. While the Life essay contained only five photographs, this exhibition presents 53 of Parks’s images from those critical months, a time that coincided with larger social shifts within the civil rights movement and a rising resistance to the Vietnam War. Parks challenged the disparaging view of Carmichael in the mass media, presenting him as a multifaceted and honourable character.

Produced more than 40 years ago, Gordon Parks’s revealing profile on Stokely Carmichael is as relevant to our current moment as it was in 1967, presenting the complexities and tensions in the ongoing struggle for civil rights and highlighting photography’s capacity to present a powerful statement against hate and fear.

Unless otherwise noted, all works are by Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) and are courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael (bottom) speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, including Terry Cannon (top right, wearing glasses) and Bobbi Ricca (top right), San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of The Movement, San Francisco' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking to SNCC members and staff of ‘The Movement’, San Francisco
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster, 1966

 

Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee poster
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael with Charles V. Hamilton reading a profile of Stokely in the January 1, 1967, issue of Esquire, Oxford, Pennsylvania
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

“We were in the home of [Carmichael’s] friend and adviser Charles V. Hamilton, chairman of the political science department, located near Oxford, PA,” Parks noted in his Life essay. Parks captured Carmichael and Hamilton writing and editing portions of the book, Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, published in October 1967. The text was one of many attempts to clarify the meaning of Black Power for a larger audience. Parks’s images from one writing session show the authors alternating between moments of intense concentration and overwhelming joy.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Watts Community Alert Patrol providing transportation for the Watts rally, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

The Community Alert Patrol (CAP) was formed in the aftermath of the 1965 Watts Uprising. Ron Wilkins, whose car is pictured in the background, noted, “CAP volunteers constituted the first community organisation in the U.S. whose members put their lives on the line to police the police in an effort to end law enforcement’s campaign of terror against Black people.” Fearing police interference, CAP members drove Stokely Carmichael and Gordon Parks to the Watts rally in 1966.

Label text from the exhibition

 

 

Gordon Parks Section Panels

Lowndes County, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia

Although 80 percent of Lowndes County was Black, by 1965, not one Black resident was registered to vote. That year, Carmichael created the Lowndes County Freedom Organization (LCFO), a political party formed of Black residents with candidates and an agenda drawn from the community. Carmichael was certain, “If we can break Lowndes County, the rest of Alabama will fall into line.” The young leader set a dizzying schedule throughout the end of 1966 and start of 1967, travelling between Lowndes and SNCC events across the nation. Gordon Parks documented his efforts along the way, revealing Carmichael’s adaptability and charisma.

 

Watts, California

The Watts Uprising took place in August 1965 in a Black neighbourhood of South Central Los Angeles. It began with the arrest of a local man, Marquette Frye, by a highway patrol officer and ended with 4,000 arrests, 1,000 injuries, and 34 deaths. Carmichael spoke to thousands of residents one year later at the Watts rally. In a speech that resonates today, Carmichael declared, “We have to have community alert patrols, not to patrol our neighbourhoods, but to patrol the policeman.” Gordon Parks recorded the jubilant reactions of the community in words and pictures and opened his Life photo-essay by describing the energetic scene.

 

Across the Country

At a press conference following his election as chairman in May 1966, Carmichael found the white press members vehemently opposed to SNCC’s call for Black Power. He recalled, “[It was] as though they were stuck in 1960 with the student sit-ins and we were speaking in unknown tongues… [They] missed that the new direction was simply a necessary response to current political realities.” To clarify the position, Carmichael wrote persuasive articles, oversaw hundreds of press releases, agreed to dozens of interviews, and spoke across the country. Despite these efforts, Black Power was consistently misunderstood and misrepresented in the press. Carmichael noted the only fair assessment was Gordon Parks’s Life photo-essay.

 

New York, New York

On April 15, 1967, outside the United Nations headquarters, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Harry Belafonte, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Stokely Carmichael, and others addressed a massive crowd at the Spring Mobilization against the War in Vietnam. Carmichael’s rousing speech at the anti–Vietnam War demonstration inspired Parks to write, “[Carmichael] was on fire, spitting his heat into the crowd.” Parks’s photographs from the event similarly depict Carmichael as a fiery figure, leaning toward his audience, his gaze direct and burning, his open coat thrashing the air like licking flames.

 

Houston, Texas

Just days after Gordon Parks’s photo-essay “Whip of Black Power” was printed in Life magazine, Stokely Carmichael visited Houston. He delivered speeches at the University of Houston (UH) and at Texas Southern University (TSU). “We will define ourselves as we see fit. We will use the term that will gather momentum for our movement,” Carmichael said, addressing public critiques of Black Power. The speeches were part of a SNCC nationwide campus tour. Yet, Carmichael’s appearance in Houston was auspiciously timed. Spring 1967 was a time of heightened social unrest in the city, and local universities were hubs of civil rights activism.

Text from the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet 1966

 

Black Panther Party pamphlet
1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Watts, California' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Watts, California
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of the US Organization, including James Doss-Tayari (left), Tommy Jaquette-Mfikiri (behind Carmichael), and Ken Seaton-Msemaji (right), walking with Carmichael to the Watts rally, Los Angeles, 1966.

Parks had little control over the final pictures and captions chosen by Life‘s editors. However, his role as both a writer and photographer allowed him more influence than most. With knowledge gained through experience, Parks carefully crafted a statement in words and pictures that was less vulnerable to the editing process. The largest of only five images published in Life, this photo was like many others in the press at the time, presenting Carmichael as cocky and determined. Yet, the vast majority of Parks’s other images captured him in tender and humanising moments, bringing out the full character of this public figure.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Crowd at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Los Angeles, California' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Los Angeles, California
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Carmichael addresses the Watts crowd from a truck bed, Los Angeles 1966

In the essay, Parks quotes Carmichael, “Black Power means black people coming together to form a political force either electing representatives or forcing their representatives to speak their needs. It’s an economic and physical bloc that can exercise its strength in the black community instead of letting the job go to the Democratic or Republican parties or a white-controlled black man set up as a puppet to represent black people. Black Power doesn’t mean anti-white, violence, separatism, or any other racist things the press says it means. It’s saying. ‘Look, buddy, we’re not laying a vote on you unless you lay so many schools, hospitals, playground and jobs on us.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles' 1966

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Sanamu Nyeusi (left) and Hasani Soto (right) of the US Organization at the Watts rally, Will Rogers Park, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Members of civil rights organisations across Southern California came together to present a panel of speakers at the Watts rally in November 1966, culminating in a keynote speech from Stokely Carmichael. Parks was struck by the intensity of those gathered and chose to focus on the energy of the crowd both in his Life essay and in his numerous photographs from the day. In this photograph, members of the cultural nationalist organisation “Us” react to Carmichael’s fiery speech. Their yellow sweatshirts bearing the image of Malcolm X were a reminder to unite in brotherhood.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael leaving the Watts rally in a Community Alert Patrol car, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks wrote in his essay, “On the way out [of the Watts rally], groups of boys and girls rushed the car. Stokely waved at them. … ‘People think I’m militant. Wait until those kids grow up! There are young cats around here that make me look like a dove of peace.'”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael continuing the campaign for voter registration in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Parks shadowed Carmichael as he went door to door to register voters in Lowndes County, marveling at the young activist’s ability to “adjust to any environment,” and noting how Carmichael changed his manner of dress and speech to put his audience at ease. While Carmichael’s tireless efforts recommended him for the role of chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), he always felt more suited for community organising. He revealed to Parks that he was “anxious to return” to field work and resigned from leadership in May 1967, just days before Parks’s photo-essay was published in Life.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Contact sheet of Carmichael in Lowndes County, Alabama
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

This contact sheet shows nine of Gordon Parks’s photographs of Stokely Carmichael walking at daybreak through Lowndes County. Each image bears a striking resemblance to the opening photograph of the 1948 Life photo-essay “Country Doctor,” by W. Eugene Smith. In that famous image, Dr. Ernest Ceriani walks through a field at dawn to reach a sick patient. Here, Parks harnessed the temperamental skies, rural setting, and lone figure to intentionally echo Smith’s image. By doing so, Parks cast Carmichael, like the Country Doctor, as a selfless local hero, working for the benefit of others.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Untitled, Bronx, New York' 1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Untitled, Bronx, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Mary Charles Carmichael serving her children Lynette and Stokely at Lynette’s wedding dinner in the Bronx, 1966

Weddings were a frequent subject in Life‘s photographs. Parks knowingly exposed several rolls of film at Carmichael’s sister’s wedding in December 1966. The variety, amount, and quality of the images would have encouraged the editors to add one of the photos to the final printed essay. Parks knew that showing Carmichael as part of this conservative tradition would contradict the popular impression of him as an anarchist and outsider.

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at a private home, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks wrote, “In the four months that I traveled with him I marvelled at his ability to adjust to any environment. Dressed in overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause… A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionised, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”

Label text from the exhibition

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael at a SNCC gathering, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

 

Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics

Cedric Johnson

Gordon Parks’s 1967 Life magazine article on Stokely Carmichael, “Whip of Black Power,” still radiates more than a half century since its publication. It is an invaluable artifact of black political life during the sixties, but so much more. In images and words, Parks depicted the warmth and generous spirit of Carmichael, the youthful civil rights activist morphing into celebrity. In hindsight, the essay also effectively captures Carmichael in political twilight, at the height of his political relevance. Parks’s essay portends the triumphs and new social contradictions set in motion by Black Power militancy. Within a few years of Parks’s Life article, Carmichael would go into exile, taking up residence in the Guinean capital of Conakry, and rather than stoking revolution on American soil, the Black Power slogan he popularized would produce broad, unprecedented black political and economic integration into American society.

Stokely Standiford Churchill Carmichael was born on June 29, 1941, in Port of Spain, Trinidad. His early years were spent among a large extended family on the island, and at age eleven he joined his parents in New York City. Carmichael’s father, Adolphus, was a master carpenter who also worked as a taxi driver and at various odd jobs. Carmichael often said his father died of hard work, suffering a heart attack in his forties. Carmichael’s mother, Mabel, a native of Montserrat, supported the family through domestic work and as a passenger ship stewardess. She remained a dominant influence for Carmichael. “This little dynamo of a woman,” he wrote, “was the stable moral presence, the fixed center around which the domestic life of this migrant African family revolved. … We children quickly learned to see her as tireless, omnipresent, and all-seeing, the ever vigilant enforcer of order and family standards, whose displeasure was to be avoided at all costs.”1 Carmichael was, for a time, the sole black member of the Morris Park Dukes, a youth gang in the mostly Jewish and Italian Tremont section of the Bronx, and he was also among the most promising students admitted to the prestigious Bronx High School of Science. Acclaimed science fiction writer and fellow Bronx Science alumnus Samuel R. Delany, who met Carmichael in freshman gym class, recalled him as someone who “had always been quick with banter and repartee with the gym teacher, who’d alternated between enjoying it and being frustrated by it.”2 When the two students once spent detention together, Carmichael held court with the teacher assigned to supervise them and managed to soften him up to the point of laughter. Carmichael’s capacity to win people over with humor and charisma would serve him well when he dove deeper into political life in his twenties.

As a boy in Trinidad, Carmichael had expressed a precocious interest in politics, and his friendship with Gene Dennis, Jr., a classmate at Bronx Science and a red-diaper baby [a child of parents who were members of the United States Communist Party (CPUSA) or were close to the party or sympathetic to its aims], further politicized the young Carmichael, introducing him to the world of the New York left and acquaintances such as socialist and civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin [American, 1912-1987, an African American leader in social movements for civil rights, socialism, nonviolence, and gay rights]. Although he was initially skeptical and at times dismissive of desegregation protests, Carmichael was eventually drawn to the gathering southern movement, and after he witnessed the heroism of lunch counter protesters in 1960, as he described it, “something happened to me. Suddenly I was burning.”3 The next year, while a freshman at Howard University, he traveled as a Freedom Rider to Mississippi, where he was arrested and detained at the notorious Parchman Farm prison for forty-nine days [Mississippi State Penitentiary (MSP), also known as Parchman Farm, is a maximum-security prison farm located in unincorporated Sunflower County, Mississippi, in the Mississippi Delta region]. During his time at Howard, Carmichael spent three summers working for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC, pronounced “snick”), organizing voter registration drives, and in 1966, after graduating, he became chairman of the organization. Concurrent with his new leadership position, Carmichael’s political development tracked the transition from the southern campaigns against Jim Crow to the increasingly militant protests of late-sixties urban rebellions and anti-Vietnam mobilizations.

In “Whip of Black Power,” Parks summed up Carmichael’s charismatic manner and the new politics of black autonomy and militancy: “Cool, outwardly imperturbable, Stokely gives the impression he would stroll through Dixie in broad daylight using the Confederate flag for a handkerchief.”4 Parks’s images present Carmichael in all his glory. Youthful, confident, hip, and exuberant, Carmichael embodied a new politics of black self-assertion. His words were sharp, witty, and playful, yet deadly serious in their indictment of American racism and imperialism. But Parks also sensed naivete and disingenuous motives in the new black militancy, later writing that many younger activists seemed “obsessed with a hunger for danger.”5

 

The Origins of Black Power

By the time Parks’s photo essay was published in Life, Carmichael was widely seen as the progenitor of Black Power. The slogan had emerged from the ranks of SNCC activists, propelled in part by longer-standing, simmering tensions over strategy and tactics, interracialism, and the promise of liberal democracy, which sharpened as the movement produced historic victories in the form of national civil rights legislation. Even in the aftermath of historic reform, white vigilante retaliation against the southern movement tested the resolve of SNCC cadre, with some increasingly embracing black political autonomy and armed self-defense, in stark contrast to the interracialist and nonviolent commitments of the organization’s founding.

After the March 1965 murder of Viola Liuzzo, a white NAACP member who had traveled from Michigan to join the Selma-to-Montgomery marches, SNCC activists began organizing in Lowndes County, Alabama. At the time, the county was 86 percent black but had no black registered voters, reflecting the pervasive disfranchisement through the cotton counties of the Black Belt on the eve of the Voting Rights Act. Carmichael and other SNCC activists formed the Lowndes County Freedom Organization to register voters and elect the area’s first black political candidates. Members adopted the image of a pouncing black panther as the organization’s logo.6 One of the more striking pictures in Parks’s 1967 article is of Carmichael staring plaintively on a gravel road in Lowndes, smartly dressed, his hands in his back pockets, his sweatshirt emblazoned with the panther symbol.

Carmichael came to head SNCC through a contentious process. In early 1966, John Lewis, a soft-spoken Alabama native, was reelected as chairman, but at the end of a late-night meeting and after many staff members had gone home, Lewis’s election was overturned by the remaining attendees, and Carmichael was installed. As historian Clayborne Carson and others have noted, Carmichael made a choice in the ensuing months between, on one hand, continuing the grounded political work SNCC had conducted in places like Lowndes, and on the other, “becoming preoccupied with rhetorical appeals for the unification of black people on the basis of separatist ideals.”7 This development would be tragic for SNCC, which, along with the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), proceeded to expel white members. Carmichael and some SNCC members embraced more militant posturing and drifted further away from the local organizing campaigns that had won real victories for black southerners, and what resulted was the precipitous decline and political irrelevance of the organization.

Some SNCC members used the slogan “Black Power for Black People” during the Alabama voting rights campaigns of 1965. In Harlem, leaders including Congressman Adam Clayton Powell, Jr., and tenant organizer Jesse Gray had also used the phrase “Black Power,” as had Richard Wright, who published a travelogue of his time in newly independent Ghana with that title.8 It was SNCC activist Willie Ricks, however, who began using the phrase in speeches throughout the South, often asking from the podium, “What do you want?” to audiences, who shouted back, “Black Power!”

The slogan reached national consciousness amid the 1966 Meredith March Against Fear. In June 1966, James Meredith, who had integrated the University of Mississippi, set out on a lone march from Memphis, Tennessee, to Jackson, Mississippi, through the staunchly segregationist Delta counties. He was shot in ambush on the second day of his journey and had to be hospitalized. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, as well as the younger, more militant CORE and SNCC, decided to continue the march on Meredith’s behalf. During an overnight stop in Greenwood, Mississippi, Carmichael used the chant Ricks had developed, sparking excitement from the crowd, consternation from the civil rights establishment, and hysteria from the white press. In the wake of the Meredith March, Black Power militancy reoriented black political life, igniting public debate, new mobilizations and local campaigns, and heightened scrutiny of the established leadership, strategies, and goals that had defined the postwar civil rights movement.

The demand for Black Power, intended to build real power for the most dispossessed working-class denizens of black southern towns and northern ghettos, had many unintended consequences. Black poverty would be cut in half in the years after major civil rights reforms, and the ranks of the black middle class would expand greatly through antipoverty measures, access to higher education, and public employment, but real, meaningful self-determination for those trapped at the bottom of the nation’s socioeconomic ladder would remain elusive.

 

Seeing Black Political Life with Gordon Parks

Representation of the growing Black Power movement in the popular press was key to both its successes and its failures. Although Parks was among several photographers whose images of the movement throughout its evolution influenced its perception, his position as a black photographer working for a publication targeted at a predominantly white audience placed him in a unique position. He was among America’s greatest twentieth-century intellectuals, a designation denied to him by the yoke of Jim Crow that dominated that century. As a photographer – through his studies of crime and gang violence to his profiles of black nationalism – Parks illuminated the diversity and richness of black life while also exposing the absurd, systemic injustice that defined the United States. Alongside his photographs, Parks’s writing encourages us to see the complexity of black life, which though demeaned by white racist institutions and behaviors is not reducible to some uniform Black experience. Rather, his own political perspective, which is decidedly more liberal than the black political figures he chose as subjects, is a testament to the diverse strivings, political positions, and discrete prerogatives that have defined black political life during and after Jim Crow. His voice, especially in the context of his work on black nationalism, adds a critical-sympathetic view of this political alternative to the postwar civil rights movement.

In his writings on black nationalism – ranging from his 1963 Life article on the Nation of Islam, “‘What Their Cry Means to Me,'” to his 1967 essay on Carmichael – we find Parks, like many black people at the time, cautious, curious, and not always in full agreement, but certainly inspired by the example of these black nationalist figures and movements. As Parks said of Malcolm X in the wake of his murder, “He was brilliant, ambitious and honest. And he was fearless. He said what most of us black folk were afraid to say publicly.”9 In many ways, Parks’s politics were undoubtedly closer to those of the vast majority of black people living through the end of Jim Crow. His commitment to work for a mainstream magazine was criticized by his black peers, at a time when many were touting black cultural autonomy and the formation of separate institutions. His choice to use the Life magazine platform reflected the liberal democratic spirit of the civil rights movement and prefigured the unprecedented integration of black actors, writers, musicians, and producers into the culture industry in the closing decades of the twentieth century.

Parks’s work remains sympathetic to black nationalism, however, in as much as he provides an antidote to the slander, fear mongering, and “black domination” narratives that defined mainstream press coverage, such as The Hate That Hate Produced, the 1959 CBS documentary co-produced by Mike Wallace and black journalist Louis Lomax. Parks’s photographs and essays during the sixties reflect the optimism and surging sense of political efficacy coursing through black life at the time, as well as lurking social and political contradictions.

In his exchanges with Carmichael, we find Parks reflective and at times skeptical. In an especially poignant, self-effacing conclusion to his 1967 “Whip of Black Power” article, Parks momentarily compares Carmichael’s position on the Vietnam War to that of his own son, David, who was serving as an Army tank gunner. Carmichael had expressed the increasingly popular view in black communities that Vietnam was not their war. “Our stake will come from the struggle against white supremacy here at home,” Carmichael said. “I’d rather die fighting here tomorrow than live 20 years fighting over there. Why should I go help the white man kill other dark people while he’s still killing us here at home?”10 Parks’s son David had been awarded the Purple Heart medal for bravery in combat, but in the face of Carmichael’s sharp criticism, Parks now “wondered which boy was giving himself to a better cause.”11 “There was no immediate answer,” he concluded. “But in the face of death, which was so possible for both of them, I think Stokely would surely be more certain of why he was about to die.”12

 

The Meaning of Black Power

The same year “Whip of Black Power” was published, Carmichael and political scientist Charles V. Hamilton published Black Power: The Politics of Liberation in America, an attempt to operationalize the political slogan. They rejected reactionary claims that Black Power meant “racism in reverse” and “black supremacy.” Although Carmichael’s public rhetoric constantly evoked a coming revolution, the actual definition of Black Power he and Hamilton provided was something tamer, the pursuit of black empowerment in the mold of urban ethnic politics. “The goal of black self-determination and black self-identity – Black Power,” Carmichael and Hamilton wrote, “is full participation in the decision-making processes affecting the lives of black people, and recognition of the virtues in themselves as black people.” Black Power, they continue, meant that “in Lowndes County, Alabama, a black sheriff can end police brutality. A black tax assessor and tax collector and county board of revenue can lay, collect, and channel tax monies for the building of better roads and schools serving black people.”13

National legislation and demographic changes made the pursuit of this black ethnic politics touted by Carmichael and Hamilton possible in various locales from northern urban centers to the majority-black rural counties of the southern Black Belt. The Black Power slogan emerged from the internal debates over strategy and organizing approaches within SNCC as members sought to empower black southerners who had endured a long winter of disfranchisement and dispossession. The national popularity of Black Power, however, was propelled by the political possibilities created by the victories of the Second Reconstruction, the restoration of black suffrage rights and passage of anti-discrimination and antipoverty legislation under the Johnson administration. In terms of urban investments, the 1964 Economic Opportunity Act and, later, the Model Cities program channeled federal grants to local jurisdictions, and these policy initiatives had the longer-term effect of cultivating and empowering a post-segregation generation of black urban political leadership.14 In addition, the demography of many American cities was changing rapidly due to suburbanization, and as whites vacated old-ethnic enclaves in the urban core, many cities became majority or near-majority black.

Black Power as employed by Carmichael and Hamilton advanced two political myths that remain prevalent and dangerous into our own times – that interracial coalitions are ineffective and doomed to failure, and that black unity is a necessary part of black political life. Both notions are predicated on the false assumption that political interests are synonymous with racial affinity. Surely, practical black solidarity was central to the local boycotts, lunch counter sit-ins, and other demonstrations that would defeat Jim Crow, but the political triumphs of the postwar civil rights movement were always interracial in composition, with Americans of diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds and classes contributing to the movement as donors, volunteers, legal counsel, activists, trainers, participants, lobbyists, legislators, and supporters. And both of those anti-interracialist notions run counter to the basic majoritarian premise of liberal democratic society, where broad coalitions and mass pressure have been fundamental to whatever real social justice has ever been accomplished in the United States.

While Carmichael would leave the United States for West Africa and become the leading spokesperson for the All-African People’s Revolutionary Party after the death of its founder, deposed Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah, many of his SNCC comrades would enter institutional politics in the United States. John Lewis would go on to become a long-serving congressman from Georgia, Eleanor Holmes Norton was the District of Columbia’s nonvoting delegate in Congress, and Marion Barry would win multiple terms as a city councilman and as Washington, D.C.’s first elected black mayor. Other SNCC veterans would play important roles as campaign organizers and politicos, with many former SNCC members migrating to the nation’s capital in the seventies. In contrast, Carmichael for the rest of his life would remain a political outsider and an evangelist for anticapitalist revolution and Pan-African unity, even after many of the Third World left regimes that inspired such politics had long collapsed into dictatorship, civil war, and underdevelopment.

 

Waiting for Revolution

Parks’s 1967 photographs and text convey the impressive stamina of Carmichael and his movement comrades, and equally, the tremendous physical and psychological toll of their work. “In the four months that I traveled with him,” Parks recalled of Carmichael, “I marveled at his ability to adjust to any environment.”15 Carmichael was chameleon-like, shifting in ways to effectively connect and communicate with his audience: “Dressed in bib overalls, he tramped the backlands of Lowndes County, Alabama, urging Negroes, in a Southern-honey drawl, to register and vote. The next week, wearing a tight dark suit and Italian boots, he was in Harlem lining up ‘cats’ for the cause, using the language they dig most – hip and very cool. A fortnight later, jumping from campuses to intellectual salons, where he was equally damned and lionized, he spoke with eloquence and ease about his cause, quoting Sartre, Camus and Thoreau.”16

The Life magazine article depicts Carmichael in a moment when he is moving quickly from grounded political organizing within a powerful social movement to becoming an enduring symbol of black radicalism, though sadly lacking any real constituency. Mass media played a powerful role in amplifying, influencing, and, in part, undoing the black movements of the fifties and sixties. In the wake of Emmett Till’s murder in Money, Mississippi, in 1955, black journalists were crucial in building opposition to Jim Crow after the teen’s mother, Mamie Till, decided to hold an open-casket funeral so everyone could see what racist vigilantes had done to her son. Throughout the southern campaigns, television broadcasts and the images of well-dressed black marchers being bludgeoned by white police and attacked with dogs and firehoses helped shift public sentiment against the perpetuation of Jim Crow. And yet the same media coverage bore negative consequences, contributing to processes of leadership certification that proved divisive, antidemocratic, and careerist, by too often elevating more telegenic personalities, breeding internal tensions, and shifting priorities away from the grounded politics that had been so central to the movement’s successes.17 Parks clearly sought to cast a different light on Carmichael against the popular white anxieties conjured by the Black Power slogan.

The broader machinery of publicity, however, took its toll on Carmichael and the internal lives of movement organizations, heightening rivalries and fueling overinflated rhetoric and posturing that ran counter to building effective political power – the goal of any movement worthy of the name. Parks’s article captures some of these sharpening tensions within the nascent Black Power movement, when he discusses the friction between the US Organization and other black political formations in Los Angeles over providing security for Carmichael during his visit. The FBI and local police would aggravate existing cleavages within and between black groups like US and the Black Panther Party, instigating and inflaming conflicts that would ultimately destroy lives, optimism, and political momentum.

Carmichael spent the decades after the sixties touring the world and lecturing at universities and in community centers, unwavering in his commitment to revolutionary Pan-Africanism [a worldwide movement that aims to encourage and strengthen bonds of solidarity between all Indigenous and diaspora peoples of African ancestry]. I had a chance to meet him briefly during one of those stateside tours, in the fall of 1989, when I was a first-year student at Southern University-Baton Rouge, at the time the largest historically black college in the United States. Carmichael delivered an afternoon talk in Stewart Hall, which then housed the Junior Division, essentially a community college within the university that repaired the damage wrought by poorly funded public schools whence many of our students hailed. His Afro and goatee were graying, but his wide grin, quick wit, and gregarious manner recalled the youthful activist, his slim mod suit now replaced with a brocade dashiki. Since his exile, he had taken the name Kwame Ture, an homage to the anti-colonial revolutionaries Kwame Nkrumah and Sékou Touré. The room was only about half full, but that didn’t dissipate Carmichael’s energy. We matched his enthusiasm, laughing and shouting at various turns. Carmichael was in vogue again for our cohort, the sons and daughters of the civil rights generation now suffering the waning years of the Reagan-Bush administration. We were living through a prolonged period of urban implosion, the social chaos of the crack cocaine crisis, rising gun violence, and the ramped-up policing and imprisonment of black men – what we would later come to know as mass incarceration. We were drawn to the rhetorical style of Carmichael, Malcolm X, and the Panthers and the criticisms they leveled against white supremacy and the goal of racial integration still promoted by the old civil rights vanguard. Carmichael’s criticisms of capitalism resonated with us in a town where the smokestacks of petrochemical refineries dominated the skyline, their stench filling the North Baton Rouge air day and night. After the talk, I stood around with a handful of other students engaging Carmichael. He seemed to take all our questions, however errant they might have been, with seriousness. He didn’t appear bored or impatient, and he tarried with us for some time.

In his memoir Dreams from My Father, Barack Obama characterized Carmichael in disparaging terms after a similar collegiate encounter with him – “his eyes glowed inward as he spoke, the eyes of a madman or a saint.”18 As he ascended to national leadership, Obama often disassociated from black radicalism and socialist politics. Recall how he publicly rejected his one time pastor, the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the man who officiated at his wedding, once that association became a political liability on the campaign trail. It is not surprising that Carmichael’s damning criticism of American hypocrisy and empire rattled the young Obama. For those of us confined to underfunded and failing urban school districts and equally maligned black colleges, and angered by the bipartisan decimation of the welfare state, Carmichael’s words were like manna, affirming our sense that we were not failures, but that the society itself had failed to live up to its most basic promises.

Carmichael was neither madman nor saint. Since 1969 he was something more tragic – a revolutionary without a revolution. His decades-long exile estranged him from the very political constituencies responsible for his fame, and the world itself had changed dramatically in the same period. The defeat and collapse of socialist and progressive- left postcolonial regimes across Africa, Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia, the end of the Cold War, and limited but very real cultural and political changes hewn by the Second Reconstruction in the United States rendered his calls for revolutionary Pan-Africanism simultaneously alluring, overly nostalgic, and tragically out of step with the world we lived in. His criticisms still echoed loudly in the lecture hall but did not offer black laboring classes grappling with day-to-day existence under austerity and resurgent capitalist class power any legitimate, workable political alternative. What was needed then and now wasn’t so much the correct ideological line, a favorite diversion of the American left for decades, but rather a politics that returned to the beginning, to places like Lowndes County, where Carmichael once went house to house, patiently conversing with black sharecroppers about their needs and hopes, gaining their trust, and, in careful and protracted collaboration, building effective popular power.

Carmichael’s longtime friend Michael Thelwell, a SNCC veteran and novelist, provides a touching elegy, reminding us how even as his body was ravaged by cancer, Carmichael’s spirit burned ever brighter. In the waning days of his illness, after he had returned to Guinea for the last time, Carmichael was met with a steady stream of visitors, “humble folk and dignitaries alike,” Thelwell recalled.19 One such group included Mozambican amputees who had traveled to Conakry, prompting Thelwell to ask: What motive “could have brought simple farmers and old soldiers so great a distance?” They were, he came to understand, propelled by a deep sense of gratitude. When Carmichael learned of the horrible consequences of war and land mines wrought on these men and their communities, he appealed to the Cuban embassy, which responded with a supply of prosthetics.

Carmichael stands alongside King, Rustin, Liuzzo, Ella Baker, James Forman, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rosa Parks, E. D. Nixon, and a broad pantheon of activists, martyrs, and forgotten figures who defeated Jim Crow and ushered unprecedented black political progress. Parks’s images and impressions of Carmichael should remind us of his historical significance, his limitations, virtues, and sacrifices, and the decisive role that mass political pressure has played in making concrete progressive advances in American society. And what role popular social movements must play again if we want to build on this progress and effectively abolish the myriad injustices in our midst.

Cedric Johnson. “Luminous Exposures: Gordon Parks, Stokely Carmichael, and the Birth of Black Politics,” in Volpe, Lisa. Gordon Parks: Stokely Carmichael and Black Power. Steidl / The Gordon Parks Foundation / The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2022, p. 28-34

 

Footnotes

  1. Stokely Carmichael with Ekwueme Michael Thelwell, Ready for Revolution: The Life and Struggles of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture) (New York: Scribner, 2005), 49.
  2. Samuel R. Delany, The Motion of Light in Water: Sex and Science Fiction Writing in the East Village (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2004), 85.
  3. Gordon Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” Life, May 19, 1967, 80.
  4. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  5. Gordon Parks, Voices in the Mirror: An Autobiography (New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 1990), 238.
  6. Hasan Kwame Jeffries, Bloody Lowndes: Civil Rights and Black Power in Alabama’s Black Belt (New York: New York University, 2009).
  7. Clayborne Carson, In Struggle: SNCC and the Black Awakening of the 1960s (Cambridge, MA, and London: Harvard University Press, 1981), 206.
  8. Richard Wright, Black Power: A Record of Reactions in a Land of Pathos (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1954).
  9. Gordon Parks, “‘I Was a Zombie Then – Like All Muslims, I Was Hypnotized,'” Life, March 5, 1965, 30.
  10. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  11. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  12. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 82.
  13. Stokely Carmichael and Charles V. Hamilton, Black Power: The Politics of Black Liberation in America (New York: Vintage Books, 1992 [1967]), 47.
  14. Kent B. Germany, New Orleans After the Promises: Poverty, Citizenship and the Search for the Great Society (Atlanta: University of Georgia, 2007); Adolph Reed, Jr., Stirrings in the Jug: Black Politics in the Post-segregation Era (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1999).
  15. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  16. Parks, “Whip of Black Power,” 78.
  17. Todd Gitlin, The Whole World Is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1980).
  18. Barack Obama, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance (New York: Crown, 2004), 140.
  19. Carmichael with Thelwell, Ready for Revolution, 783.

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles' 1966, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael before an appearance on KTTV, Los Angeles
1966, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander 1967

 

National Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam poster with photograph by Maury Englander
1967

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Martin Luther King, Jr., at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006) 'Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City' 1967, printed 2022

 

Gordon Parks (American, 1912-2006)
Carmichael speaking at Spring Mobilization to End the War in Vietnam, New York City
1967, printed 2022
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy of and © The Gordon Parks Foundation

 

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

"Whip of Black Power," Life Magazine Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks

 

“Whip of Black Power,” Life Magazine
Photographs and Text by Gordon Parks
Introduction by Life Editors, May 19, 1967

 

 

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10
Sep
22

Exhibition: ‘Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop’ at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

Exhibition dates: 19th July – 9th October 2022

Curators: Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Pensacola, Florida' 1966

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Pensacola, Florida
1966
Gelatin silver print
22.5 × 34cm (8 7/8 × 13 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

 

LIBERTY!

Even though I know the history of photography reasonably well(!) I had never heard of the Kamoinge Workshop (a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963) before I started to assemble this posting. This “group of people acting together… produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century.” Their work “reminds us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

What is notable about the work of Kamoinge artists as evidenced by the vibrant, graphic photographs of high contrast and chiaroscuro presented here is the mainly abstract nature of their representation of Black life.

Through images such as Anthony Barboza’s broken liberty in Pensacola, Florida (1966) and fragmented Street Self-portrait (1970s), Adger Cowans’ distorted Three Shadows (1966), C. Daniel Dawson’s Backscape #1 (1967), Louis Draper’s Untitled (Swing and Shadow) (1967) and Boy and H, Harlem (1961), James Mannas’ desperate No Way Out, Harlem, NYC (1964) and Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana (1972), Herbert Randall’s melancholy Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer) (1964), Herb Robinson’s Brother and Sister (1973) and Central Park, Kids (1961), Beuford Smith’s, hanging, Boy on Swing, Lower East Side (1970), Ming Smith’s decaying Untitled (Harlem, NY) (c. 1973) and Shawn Walker’s barricaded Harlem, 117th Street (c. 1960) … the viewer can begin to picture, begin to feel and empathise with – the life of displacement and deprivation, poverty and protest, strength and joy – that was at the centre of Black experiences. The work of the Kamoinge artists offered “an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.”

“Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.” (Exhibition text)

For me what is so important about this group of artists (or any individual or group of people that represent through art: difference, diversity and the fight for equality and liberty) is that they represent themselves and historically archive their continuing struggle against oppression – so that, as the definition of the word “liberty” states – we can all attain “the state of being free within society from oppressive restrictions imposed by authority on one’s way of life, behaviour, or political views.”

Usually the fight comes not from the top down, but from the grass roots up… from community, from culture and how these begin to influence wider social attitudes and prejudices. Fighting against any injustice, whether it be racism, sexism, ism ism ism, is a fight against ignorance and bigotry. It is a fight against people being unaware of what is going on, what affect their actions have on others, it is a fight against misinformation and misrepresentation, and it is a fight against power residing in the hands of the few. As such, the photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop artists are a vital reflection on the process of change and acceptance, of progress (or the lack of it) and the constant need to be vigilant, to keep fighting against any force that seeks to subjugate us. Their photographs heighten our aesthetic awareness, one of the defining qualities of being human, connecting us to our ability to reflect on and appreciate the world around us in all its mysterious spirit and joyful difference.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

This is the first major exhibition about the Kamoinge Workshop, a collective of Black photographers formed in New York in 1963. Members of the group produced powerful images, sensitively registering Black life in the mid-20th century. The exhibition explores Kamoinge’s photographic artistry in the 1960s and 1970s, celebrating the group’s collaborative ethos, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

 

 

Installation view of the exhibition 'Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop' at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Installation view of the exhibition Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop at the J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles showing at centre, the work of Louis Draper.

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Kamoinge Members' 1973, printed 2019

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Kamoinge Members
1973, printed 2019
Inkjet print
45.7 × 50.8cm (18 × 20 in)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Eric and Jeanette Lipman Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual' 1973

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Editors Working on the First Volume of The Black Photographers Annual
1973
Pictured: Beuford Smith, Joe Crawford, Ray Francis
Gelatin silver print
12.1 × 17.9cm (4 3/4 × 7 1/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) '1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC' 1979

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
1st Annual International Black Photographers Dinner Honoring Roy DeCarava and James Van Der Zee, NYC
1979
Gelatin silver print
18.9 × 24.9cm (7 7/16 × 9 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Anthony Barboza

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Easter Sunday in Harlem' 1974

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Easter Sunday in Harlem
1974
Gelatin silver print
15.4 x 22.6cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944) 'Street Self-portrait' 1970s

 

Anthony Barboza (American, b. 1944)
Street Self-portrait
1970s
Gelatin silver print
19.9 x 15.1cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

In 1963 a group of Black photographers based in New York formed the Kamoinge Workshop.

Committed to photography’s power as an art form, Kamoinge members depicted Black life as they saw and experienced it. They hoped to offer an alternative to the mainstream media of the time, which often overlooked Black culture or portrayed it negatively.

Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop, on view at the Getty Museum at the Getty Center July 19 – October 9, is the first major retrospective presenting photographs from the collective during the 1960s and 1970s. Highlighting each photographer’s individual artistry as well as the Workshop’s shared concerns, this exhibition celebrates the group’s self-organising, commitment to community, and centering of Black experiences.

“The work in this exhibition highlights Black Americans behind and in front of the camera. The Museum regularly features individual artists in monographic exhibitions, but it is important also to document and celebrate the importance of collaborative groups such as the Kamoinge Workshop,” says Timothy Potts, Maria Hummer-Tuttle and Robert Tuttle Director of the J. Paul Getty Museum. “Working Together reflects Getty’s continuing efforts to diversify our collection, and thereby represent a more expansive history of photography. To that end, several of the works shown in the exhibition were recently acquired for the Museum’s collection.”

Within their first year as a group, the members of the Kamoinge Workshop (pronounced “kuh-moyn-gay” by the members of the group) made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They chose the name – which means “a group of people acting together” in the Kikuyu language of Kenya – to reflect the collective model they wished to follow as well as their interest in Black communities not just at home but also outside the United States.

The exhibition will focus on the first two decades of the collective, from the founding of the group in 1963 through the various activities of the International Black Photographers association in the early 1980s, and includes photographs by 15 of the organisation’s early members. The artists included in the exhibition are Anthony Barboza, Adger Cowans, Daniel Dawson, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, Ray Francis, Herman Howard, Jimmie Mannas, Herb Randall, Herb Robinson, Beuford Smith, Ming Smith, Shawn Walker, and Calvin Wilson. Also included are several photographs by Roy DeCarava, the first director of the Workshop.

Images in the exhibition capture the experience of urban life at mid-century, the civil rights movement, intimate portraiture, experimental abstraction, jazz musicians, and the Black experience abroad. Though the photographers included in the exhibition produced diverse bodies of work, many of their photographs are printed with dark tones that compellingly evoke the unsettling era in which they were made.

“The Kamoinge vision remains resonant today,” notes Mazie Harris, curator of the installation of Working Together in the Getty Museum’s Center for Photographs. “The photographs in this exhibition offer a glimpse into the artistry and ambition of the workshop members, reminding us of the power of both individual creativity and collective action.”

Working Together: The Photographs of the Kamoinge Workshop is organised by the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts and curated by Mazie Harris, assistant curator, J. Paul Getty Museum, in consultation with Sarah L. Eckhardt, associate curator, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Press release from the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Three Shadows' 1966, printed 1968

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Three Shadows
1966, printed 1968
Gelatin silver print
26.6 × 15.7cm (10 1/2 × 6 3/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Adger Cowans, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936) 'Footsteps' 1960

 

Adger Cowans (American, b. 1936)
Footsteps
1960
Gelatin silver print
21 × 33.8cm (8 1/4 × 13 5/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond.
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Adger Cowans

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Backscape #1' 1967

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Backscape #1
1967
Gelatin silver print
15.2 × 22.9cm (6 × 9 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943) 'Olaifa and Egypt' 1978

 

C. Daniel Dawson (American, b. 1943)
Olaifa and Egypt
1978
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 24.1cm (6 1/2 × 9 1/2 in.)
Collection of C. Daniel Dawson
© C. Daniel Dawson

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Fannie Lou Hamer' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Fannie Lou Hamer
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 × 13.3cm (7 1/8 × 5 1/4 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

 

Fannie Lou Hamer (née Townsend; October 6, 1917 – March 14, 1977) was an American voting and women’s rights activist, community organiser, and a leader in the civil rights movement. She was the co-founder and vice-chair of the Freedom Democratic Party, which she represented at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Hamer also organised Mississippi’s Freedom Summer along with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She was also a co-founder of the National Women’s Political Caucus, an organisation created to recruit, train, and support women of all races who wish to seek election to government office.

Hamer began civil rights activism in 1962, continuing until her health declined nine years later. She was known for her use of spiritual hymnals and quotes and her resilience in leading the civil rights movement for black women in Mississippi. She was extorted, threatened, harassed, shot at, and assaulted by racists, including members of the police, while trying to register for and exercise her right to vote. She later helped and encouraged thousands of African-Americans in Mississippi to become registered voters and helped hundreds of disenfranchised people in her area through her work in programs like the Freedom Farm Cooperative. She unsuccessfully ran for the U.S. Senate in 1964 and the Mississippi State Senate in 1971. In 1970, she led legal action against the government of Sunflower County, Mississippi for continued illegal segregation.

Hamer died on March 14, 1977, aged 59, in Mound Bayou, Mississippi. Her memorial service was widely attended and her eulogy was delivered by U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Young. She was posthumously inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Text from the Wikipedia website

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Congressional Gathering' 1959, printed later

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Congressional Gathering
1959, printed later
Gelatin silver print
23.4 × 16.9 cm (9 3/16 × 6 5/8 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Swing and Shadow)' 1967

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Swing and Shadow)
1967
Gelatin silver print
22.9 × 15.2cm (9 × 6 in.)
Getty Museum
© Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled (Billy)' About 1966-1972

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled (Billy)
About 1966-1972
Gelatin silver print
24.1 × 33.3cm (9 1/2 × 13 1/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Boy and H, Harlem' 1961

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Boy and H, Harlem
1961
Gelatin silver print
21.3 × 32.2 cm (8 3/8 × 12 11/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Untitled' 1960s

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Untitled
1960s
Gelatin silver print
23.3 × 17.3cm (9 3/16 × 6 13/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Courtesy of the Louis H. Draper Preservation Trust, Nell D. Winston, Trustee

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002) 'Reward MLK Poster, New York' 1971

 

Louis Draper (American, 1935-2002)
Reward MLK Poster, New York
1971
Gelatin silver print
18.1 x 13.3cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles

 

 

Community

The Kamoinge Workshop began as a community of photographers who supported and encouraged one another. Within their first year, they also made a commitment to portray the communities around them. They introduced one of their early projects by explaining, “The Kamoinge Workshop represents black photographers whose creative objectives reflect a concern for truth about the world, about the Society, and about themselves.” Years later, member Louis Draper expanded: “Cognizant of the forces for change revolving around Kamoinge, we dedicated ourselves to speak of our lives as only we can. This was our story to tell and we set out to create the kind of images of our communities that spoke of the truth we’d witnessed, and that countered the untruths we’d all seen in mainline publications.”

 

Mentorship

Kamoinge members taught photography in programs across New York City, from Brooklyn and Harlem to the Bronx, equipping a younger generation with the technical and philosophical knowledge they needed to portray their communities. Louis Draper noted that they were eager for “a sense of purpose other than individual acclaim; we wanted to serve.” In the late 1960s, Draper and Daniel Dawson taught a photography course for teens every summer, and Draper led a youth mentorship program in the Bronx. The photographs in this section of the exhibition document some of their students.

 

Civil Rights

Although most Kamoinge members resisted being labeled civil rights photographers – a term they felt conjured images of firehoses and attack dogs – oral and written histories of the group emphasise that the collective formed in the midst of the civil rights movement. As Louis Draper described: “Many of the group had been a part of the March on Washington with Reverend King. Others had witnessed southern law brutality brought on by voting rights activity and sit-in demonstrations. Within a year’s time, these same volatile forces would propel many of us into engaged and enraged resistance.” Part of their resistance was to make images of Black Americans that were absent from the national conversation. Some members photographed leading figures and pivotal events of the civil rights movement but not necessarily to provide a journalistic record. Many created images reflected the theme of civil rights on a symbolic level instead.

 

“Like Jazz”

Music played an enormous role in the art of the Kamoinge Workshop. Jazz was a near-constant soundtrack for the group’s meetings, and musicians and live performances were the subjects of many of their photographs. Jazz also served as a metaphor for photography itself. Rhythm, timing, and improvisation are key elements in street photography as well as experimental abstraction. Innovative musicians such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane inspired Kamoinge artists, as did attending rehearsals and performances by figures as diverse as Mahalia Jackson and Sun Ra. These musicians moved the photographers to experiment and above all to hone their craft. Ming Smith characterised photography as “making something out of nothing,” adding, “I think that’s like jazz.”

 

A Global Perspective

A significant factor leading to the formation of the Kamoinge Workshop was, as Louis Draper put it, “the emerging African consciousness exploding within us.” Even before most of the members began traveling internationally, their choice of a name from the Kikuyu people of Kenya emphasised their interest in Black experiences outside the United States. Kenya, which gained independence from colonial rule in 1963, the same year Kamoinge was founded, was frequently in the press during the group’s earliest meetings. The decolonisation movement swept across the African continent from the mid-1950s through the 1960s, the same years that the US civil rights movement intensified. Many Kamoinge members traveled to African countries that had recently gained independence, and also to regions with significant diasporic communities. Some worked outside the United States on film projects or on assignments for magazines and in their off-hours made time for their own art. These travels expanded their sense of belonging to a global Black fellowship, however widely dispersed.

 

Shadows, Reflections, and Abstractions

Kamoinge has often been associated with street photography, but abstraction was also a crucial part of their work. By the time they joined the group, Louis Draper, Al Fennar, and Adger Cowans were already making abstract images in addition to more recognisably documentary pictures. In the late 1960s and into the early 1970s, many of the other members began to follow suit. Workshop photographers pushed themselves and the medium by experimenting with new forms and ideas. Through careful cropping, framing, and printing techniques, Kamoinge artists defamiliarised everyday sights such as puddles and clouds, asphalt, and weathered walls. Their images encourage greater attention to commonplace subjects – the reflective glass of shop windows, worn advertisements on city streets, a dirtied pile of salt – that might otherwise be overlooked. Much of their work with shadows and reflections centers Black bodies seeking a place for themselves amid the ebb and flow of daily life.

 

Kamoinge’s Legacy

Kamoinge Workshop members supported not just one another but also the broader community of Black photographers. In 1973 Beuford Smith founded the Black Photographers Annual, a publication that helped bring attention to artists outside the Kamoinge circle. In 1978, other members started a group called International Black Photographers, which honoured the work of photography elders and encouraged younger generations. Neither endeavour was part of the workshop’s official activities, but each grew out of the members’ ambition to serve and promote Black artists. Following their exhibitions in the mid-1970s, the Kamoinge Workshop neither organised exhibitions nor produced publications again until the mid-1990s. The group never disbanded, however, and the members remained close. They resumed formal meetings in 1992, applied for nonprofit status, and renamed themselves Kamoinge, Inc. A subsequent influx of new members energised the group as they continued the work that began in 1963.

Exhibition texts adapted from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts publication Working Together: Louis Draper and the Kamoinge Workshop published as “Working Together: The Photographers of the Kamoinge Workshop” on the J. Paul Getty Museum website [Online] Cited 31/08/2022

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Salt Pile' 1971

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Salt Pile
1971
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and the Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018) 'Sphere' 1974

 

Albert Fennar (American, 1938-2018)
Sphere
1974
Gelatin silver print
Framed [outer dim]: 52.1 × 41.9cm (20 1/2 × 16 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Gift of Mrs. Alfred duPont, by exchange
© Miya Fennar and The Albert R. Fennar Archive

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'March on Washington' 1963

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
March on Washington
1963
Gelatin silver print
14.8 × 23.8cm (5 13/16 × 9 3/8 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980) 'New York' 1960s

 

Herman Howard (American, 1942-1980)
New York
1960s
Gelatin silver print 16 × 23.3cm (6 5/16 × 9 3/16 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
Digital image courtesy Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'No Way Out, Harlem, NYC' 1964

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
No Way Out, Harlem, NYC
1964
Gelatin silver print
22.7 × 16.2cm (8 15/16 × 6 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941) 'Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana' 1972

 

James Mannas (American, b. 1941)
Peeping Sea Wall Beach Boy, Georgetown, Guyana
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 15.9cm (9 3/8 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© James Mannas

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)' 1964

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Freedom Summer)
1964
Gelatin silver print
34.3 × 22.9cm (13 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936) 'Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)' 1960s

 

Herbert Randall (American, born 1936)
Untitled (Bed-Stuy, New York)
1960s
Gelatin silver print
33.7 × 23.3cm (13 1/4 × 9 3/16 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herbert Randall

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Miles Davis at the Vanguard' 1961, printed later

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Miles Davis at the Vanguard
1961, printed later
Gelatin silver print
35.3 × 25cm (13 7/8 × 9 13/16 in.)
Getty Museum
© Herb Robinson, courtesy Bruce Silverstein Gallery

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Brother and Sister' 1973

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Brother and Sister
1973
Gelatin silver print
16.5 × 22.9cm (6 1/2 × 9 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'Central Park, Kids' 1961

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
Central Park, Kids
1961
Gelatin silver print
33.8 × 23.5cm (13 5/16 × 9 1/4 in.)
Collection of Herb Robinson
© Herb Robinson

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s) 'The Girls' 1969

 

Herb Robinson (American, active since 1960s)
The Girls
1969
Gelatin silver print
8.6 × 21.3cm (3 3/8 × 8 3/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Herb Robinson

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side' 1972

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Two Bass Hit, Lower East Side
1972
Gelatin silver print
23.8 × 34.3cm (9 3/8 × 13 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith/Césaire

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941) 'Boy on Swing, Lower East Side' 1970

 

Beuford Smith (American, b. 1941)
Boy on Swing, Lower East Side
1970
Gelatin silver print
17.3 × 25.1cm (6 13/16 × 9 7/8 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Beuford Smith

 

 

Interviews with Kamoinge Artists

Interviewed by video during the pandemic, Kamoinge artists reflect on their experience with the group and the ongoing significance of their work together.

Video includes subtitles/closed captions in English and Spanish. Footage courtesy of the artists and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Adapted by the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York' About 1976

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
America Seen through Stars and Stripes, New York City, New York
About 1976
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 47cm (12 1/2 × 18 1/2 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Untitled (Harlem, NY)' About 1973

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Untitled (Harlem, NY)
About 1973
Gelatin silver print
31.8 × 22.2cm (12 1/2 × 8 3/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Adolph D. and Wilkins C. Williams Fund
© Ming Smith

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s) 'Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA' 1992

 

Ming Smith (American, active since 1970s)
Love Barber Shop Jazz, Pittsburgh, PA
1992
Gelatin silver print
46.2 x 31.8cm
The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council
© Ming Smith

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Harlem, 117th Street' About 1960

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Harlem, 117th Street
About 1960
Gelatin silver print
18.4 × 12.7cm (7 1/4 × 5 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Aldine S. Hartman Endowment Fund
© Shawn Walker PhotoArts Studio

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Family on Easter, Harlem, NY' 1975

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Family on Easter, Harlem, NY
1975
Gelatin silver print
11 × 15.9cm (4 5/16 × 6 1/4 in.)
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Kathleen Boone Samuels Memorial Fund
© Shawn Walker

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940) 'Women in the Field, Cuba' 1968

 

Shawn Walker (American, b. 1940)
Women in the Field, Cuba
1968
Gelatin silver print
Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
Arthur and Margaret Glasgow Endowment
© Shawn Walker

 

 

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09
Jul
21

Exhibition: ‘Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection’ at the High Museum of Art, Atlanta

Exhibition dates: 17th April – 1st August 2021

Curator: Sarah Kennel with Maria Kelly, curatorial assistant for photography

 

 

Paula Chamlee (American, born 1944) 'Nude Collage #1' 1998

 

Paula Chamlee (American, b. 1944)
Nude Collage #1
1998
Gelatin silver print
7 3/4 x 9 1/2
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection
© Paula Chamlee

 

 

Paula Chamlee’s work stretches beyond the realm of straight photography and into assemblage, painting, and drawing. This collage was inspired by photocopies of prints that her husband, the late photographer Michael A. Smith, intended to share with a prospective collector. Because the photographs’ dimensions did not match with that of the copy machine, the images required cropping and taping. Intrigued by the nature of these cast-off bits piled together and the relationship of the parts to the whole, Chamlee created this collage by piecing together images of her body that Smith had taken.

 

 

Out of energy this weekend with all that is going on with being made redundant at the University. Physically and emotionally drained. Apologies.

So just two words… more please!

Marcus

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

 

 

For nearly all of photography’s one hundred eighty-year history, women have shaped the development of the art form and experimented with every aspect of the medium.

Conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which granted suffrage for some women, this exhibition showcases more than one hundred photographs from the High’s collection, many of them never before on view, and charts the medium’s history from the dawn of the modern period to the present through the work of women photographers.

Organised roughly chronologically, each section emphasises a distinct arena in which women contributed and often led the way. Among the artists featured are pioneers of the medium such as Anna Atkins as well as more recent innovators and avid experimenters, including Betty Hahn, Barbara Kasten, and Meghann Riepenhoff. The exhibition also celebrates the achievements of numerous professional photographers, including Berenice Abbott, Margaret Bourke-White, and Marion Post Wolcott, who worked in photojournalism, advertising, and documentary modes and promoted photography as a discipline.

The exhibition also highlights photographers who photograph other women, children, and families, among them Sally Mann, Nan Goldin, and Diane Arbus, and those who interrogate ideals of femininity through self-portraiture. Also on view will be works by contemporary photographers who challenge social constructions of gender, sexuality, and identity, including Zanele Muholi, Sheila Pree Bright, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas, and Carrie Mae Weems.

 

 

 

Underexposed B roll

 

Mickalene Thomas (American, born 1971) 'Les Trois Femmes Deux' 2018

 

Mickalene Thomas (American, b. 1971)
Les Trois Femmes Deux
2018
Dye coupler print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta. purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography

 

 

Mickalene Thomas creates vibrantly layered artworks that reclaim iconic images to centre Black female subjectivity in the history of art. A direct response to Edouard Manet’s Luncheon on the Grass, this photograph transposes the scene of three White figures having a picnic in a park to an interior view of three exquisitely coiffed and adorned Black women (including Thomas’s partner at right) gazing directly and confidently at the viewer. The colourful, wood-panelled living room, complete with fake plants and mismatched African textiles, evokes Thomas’s 1970s childhood and the aesthetics of Blaxploitation cinema, known for its audacious, dangerous, and sexually confident gun-toting heroines.

 

 

This spring, the High Museum of Art will present “Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection” (April 17 – August 1), an exhibition featuring more
than 100 photographs from the Museum’s collection, including many that have never before been exhibited. The artworks demonstrate the notable contributions of women throughout the history of photography, spanning from innovators of the medium to contemporary practitioners who investigate the intersections of photography, representation and identity.

Originally conceived in conjunction with the centennial of the passage of the 19th Amendment, “Underexposed” pays homage to the work of women who have pioneered and championed the art of photography, from its earliest days through today. The exhibition is arranged roughly chronologically and showcases distinct arenas in which women photographers flourished and often led the way: as professionals working across multiple genres; as avid experimenters pushing photography into new directions; as teachers and patrons who supported the growth of the medium; and as creative, critically engaged artists exploring such issues as gender, identity and politics.

“With this exhibition’s focus on women photographers, ‘Underexposed’ highlights a trajectory of participation and influence extending from the earliest days of photography to a leading role in defining the medium today,” said Rand Suffolk, the High’s Nancy and Holcombe T. Green, Jr., director.

Sarah Kennel, the High’s Donald and Marilyn Keough Family curator of photography, added, “Focusing on the last 100 years, this exhibition highlights how women have embraced photography as a powerful form of professional and creative expression. In bringing together pioneers of the medium with artists who reflect critically on photography’s capacity to shape and challenge concepts of gender and identity, we have an extraordinary opportunity to expand the history of photography and bring greater recognition to the many women who have contributed to and led the field.”

The exhibition opens with a selection of work by artists who transformed the practice of photography from the 1920s through the 1950s. Coinciding with the global rise of the feminist ideal of the “New Woman” in the late 1900s, practitioners including Ilse Bing, Margaret Bourke White, Dorothea Lange and Imogen Cunningham emerged as savvy leaders in the fields of  documentary, fashion and fine art photography. The exhibition continues with a section focused on artists who have experimented with photographic technologies and alternative processes to redefine the expressive and material limits of the medium. Works made in the 1970s and 1980s by artists including Barbara Kasten, Olivia Parker and Sheila Pinkel join pieces by contemporary makers, such as Meghann Riepenhoff and Elizabeth Turk, who continue to expand the language of photography.

The second half of the exhibition explores how women photographers have used photography to reflect on and interrogate the personal, social and cultural dimensions of gender and identity. Works by Diane Arbus, Nan Goldin, Susan Meiselas, Anne Noggle and Clarissa Sligh reveal different ways women have looked at and photographed other women. Similarly, works by Sheila Pree Bright, Sandy Skoglund and Susan Worsham deconstruct ideas around domesticity and feminine ideals. The exhibition closes with a selection of portraits and self-portraits by Judy Dater, Zaneli Muholi, Cindy Sherman, Mickalene Thomas and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, that explore the intersections of photography, representation and identity.

“Underexposed: Women Photographers from the Collection” will be presented on the lower level of the High’s Wieland Pavilion. This exhibition is curated by Sarah Kennel with Maria Kelly, curatorial assistant for photography.

Press release from the High Museum of Art

 

Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871) 'Mauritius, from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Fern' 1851-1854

 

Anna Atkins (British, 1799-1871)
Mauritius, from Cyanotypes of British and Foreign Flowering Plants and Fern
1851-1854
Cyanotype
10 1/8 x 7 15/15 inches
Gift in honour of Edward Anthony Hill

 

Doris Ulmann (American, 1884-1934) 'Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative' before 1931

 

Doris Ulmann (American, 1884-1934)
Studious Girl, Fleischman Relative
before 1931
Platinum print
Purchase

 

 

Doris Ulmann began her photographic career while attending the Clarence H. White School of Photography in New York – the first art photography school in the United States. There she worked in the Pictorialist tradition, embraced the “painterly” qualities of soft focus, and manipulated surfaces. After undergoing a major surgery, Ulmann decided to pursue her interest in people “for whom life had not been a dance.” She began traveling throughout the southeastern United States documenting the folk traditions and people of the Appalachian Mountains. She made several sun-dappled portraits of this young girl (identified on other prints as “Kreiger girl”) in and around Berea, Kentucky.

 

Ilse Bing (American, born Germany, 1899-1998) 'Self-Portrait in Mirrors' Paris, 1931

 

Ilse Bing (American born Germany, 1899-1998)
Self-Portrait in Mirrors
Paris, 1931, printed c. 1941
Gelatin silver print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta
Purchase with funds from Georgia-Pacific Corporation

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991) '"El" Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side' 1936

 

Berenice Abbott (American, 1898-1991)
“El” Station Interior, Sixth and Ninth Avenue Lines, Downtown Side
1936
Gelatin silver print
10 3/8 x 13 3/8
Purchase with funds from a Friend of the Museum

 

 

A towering figure of photography, Berenice Abbott learned the craft while assisting artist Man Ray in Paris. By 1926, she had established her own portrait studio, capturing the leading cultural icons of the day. She also befriended French photographer Eugène Atget and became his tireless champion, even rescuing many of his negatives after his death. After returning to New York in 1929, Abbott spent the next decade working on a major project documenting the rapidly transforming cityscape, which she published in the 1939 book Changing New York, produced with her partner, art critic Elizabeth McCausland. Although known for her urban views, in the 1950s, Abbott started working with Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore the potential for photography to illustrate scientific principles and phenomena, as shown in this picture.

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993) 'Frida looking into mirror' 1944

 

Lola Alvarez Bravo (Mexican, 1903-1993)
Frida looking into mirror
1944
Gelatin silver print
8 3/4 x 7 1/4 inches
Purchase with funds from Margaretta J. Taylor
© Lola Alvarez Bravo/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

 

Doris Derby (American, b. 1939) 'Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi' 1968

 

Doris Derby (American, b. 1939)
Grass Roots Organizer, Mississippi
1968
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from Jeff and Valerie Levy

 

 

Dr. Doris Derby is an educator, anthropologist, and photojournalist based in Atlanta. In the 1960s and 1970s, she was an active member of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, and the Adult Literacy Project. Derby’s photographs reflect her interest in and concern for the role of poor, disenfranchised women during the movement. Many women had been fired from their jobs for registering to vote; in response, they built skill-based cooperatives and community groups that kept their families and communities together in very difficult times.

 

Diane Arbus. 'A family on their lawn one Sunday in Westchester, N.Y.,' 1968

 

Diane Arbus (American, 1923-1971)
A Family on the Lawn One Sunday in Westchester in June, 1968
1968, printed 1970
Gelatin silver print
14 3/4 x 15 inches
Purchase with funds from a friend of the Museum

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976) 'Magnolia Blossom' 1975

 

Imogen Cunningham (American, 1883-1976)
Magnolia Blossom
1975
Gelatin silver print
10 1/4 x 13 inches
Purchase with funds from a Friend of the Museum
© The Imogen Cunningham Trust

 

Joyce Neimanas (American, b. 1944) 'Daytime Fantasies' 1976

 

Joyce Neimanas (American, b. 1944)
Daytime Fantasies
1976
Gelatin silver print with applied colour
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

For most of her career, Joyce Neimanas has created photographic images without directly using a camera, choosing instead to make complex collages and photograms of found imagery derived primarily from mass culture. In this work, Neimanas enlarged and printed a still from a 16 mm pornographic film to which she applied colour and annotated with text drawn from the controversial Kinsey Report on Sexual Behavior in the Human Female (1953). Made at a time of expanded conversation around gender, feminism, and sexual liberation, this work explores and challenges conventional representations of women’s sexuality.

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954) 'Untitled' 1979

 

Cindy Sherman (American, b. 1954)
Untitled
1979, printed 1989
From the Untitled Film Stills series
Chromogenic print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

Cindy Sherman has used self-portraiture as a strategy to interrogate representations of identity, gender, and mass culture. In her breakout Untitled Film Stills series, she photographed herself in varied guises inspired by generic Hollywood depictions of female characters: the bereft housewife, the sultry vamp, the wide-eyed ingénue. She challenges traditional understandings of photography and self-portraiture and exposes mass media’s constructed norms and ideas about femininity. Although she shot the original series in black and white as a nod to mid-twentieth-century B-grade black and white films, she also reprised the themes in colour works like this one.

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942) 'Magnolia, Juchitán, México' 1986

 

Graciela Iturbide (Mexican, b. 1942)
Magnolia, Juchitán, México
1986
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953) 'Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989' 1989

 

Nan Goldin (American, b. 1953)
Cookie and Sharon on the Bed, Provincetown, MA, Sept. 1989
1989
Dye destruction print
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

One of the most important photographers of her generation, Nan Goldin is an artist whose personal life is at the centre of her art. Her Cookie Portfolio documents her intimate friendship with Cookie Mueller. This photograph strikes a somber note as we see Cookie’s friend and lover Sharon sitting at the front of her bed, disconnected from a frail-appearing Cookie, who lies underneath her wedding picture. Cookie’s husband, Vittorio, died from AIDS the month this picture was made, and Cookie would die two months later. Despite the palpable loss sensed in the distance between the earlier and later works in the portfolio, Goldin conveys the steadfastness and tenderness of female friendship and support, which also infused her process: “I’m looking with a warm eye, not a cold eye. I’m not analysing what’s going on – I just get inspired to take a picture by the beauty and vulnerability of my friends.”

 

Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946) 'Gathering Paradise' 1991

 

Sandy Skoglund (American, born 1946)
Gathering Paradise
1991
Dye coupler print
47 x 60 1/2 inches
Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James L. Henderson, III

 

 

Like many of installation artist and photographer Sandy Skoglund’s surrealist views of domestic spaces, this macabre, pink-tinged scene of squirrels running riot across a patio suggests the frenetic anxiety that bubbles beneath the placid appearance of suburban life. Eschewing digital manipulation, Skoglund meticulously constructs room-size theatrical sets – in this case, complete with sculpted squirrels – which she then photographs. At once funny and unsettling, her photographs of everyday spaces invaded by a menagerie of fantastical animals reveal the nightmarish aspects of the American dream.

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941) 'Self-Portrait on Deserted Road' 1982

 

Judy Dater (American, born 1941)
Self-Portrait on Deserted Road
1982
Gelatin silver print
14 1/4 x 18 1/4
Gift of Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection

 

 

Over the course of her career, Judy Dater has primarily photographed women, including herself. This work is from a series she made during ten trips to national parks in the West between 1980 and 1983, where she photographed herself nude amidst the grandeur of nature. Seemingly stranded on an empty, endless road, she appears vulnerable and lost, but across the larger series, her photographs veer from savage self-examination to carefully constructed performances that explore identity, subjectivity, and femininity. One of the key influences on Dater’s photography is the work of Imogen Cunningham, who was also a close friend.

 

Barbara Kasten (American, b. 1936) 'Architectural Site 17' 1988

 

Barbara Kasten (American, b. 1936)
Architectural Site 17
1988
Dye destruction print
Support/Overall: 50 x 60 inches
Purchase

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, born 1967) 'Untitled 13' 2006

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967)
Untitled 13
2006
From the Suburbia series
Dye coupler print
49 1/2 inches
Gift of Sandra Anderson Baccus in loving memory of Lloyd Tevis Baccus, M.D.
© Sheila Pree Bright

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967) '#1960Now Ferguson protest: National March in Ferguson, "We Can't Stop" Mike Brown, Ferguson, MO, March 2015' 2015

 

Sheila Pree Bright (American, b. 1967)
#1960Now Ferguson protest: National March in Ferguson, “We Can’t Stop” Mike Brown, Ferguson, MO, March 2015
2015
From the series #1960Now
Gelatin silver print
Purchase with funds from the Friends of Photography

 

 

Sheila Pree Bright is one of Atlanta’s most prominent photographers working today. For the ongoing series #1960Now, she travels with and photographs the civic actions and protests of the Black Lives Matter movement. The title refers to the similarities between these contemporary protests and the civil rights movement and photography of the 1960s. The hashtag in the title refers to social media’s growing role in circulating images and defining current events. Here, two young girls and a little boy are at the forefront of a march in Ferguson, emphasising how the youth of today can be change makers for tomorrow.

 

Xaviera Simmons (American, born 1974) '10A Untitled' 2010

 

Xaviera Simmons (American, born 1974)
10A Untitled
2010
From the Utah series
Dye coupler print
30 x 40 inches
Purchase with David C. Driskell African American Art Acquisition Fund
© Xaviera Simmons

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972) 'Zibuyile I (Syracuse)' 2015

 

Zanele Muholi (South African, born 1972)
Zibuyile I (Syracuse)
2015
Gelatin silver print
25 5/8 x 17 inches
Purchase with funds from the Donald and Marilyn Keough Family and the H. B. and Doris Massey Charitable Trust

 

 

Visual activist Zanele Muholi, whose personal gender pronoun is they, uses self-portraiture to address the politics of gender and race in the ongoing body of work Somnyama Ngonyama (which translates to “Hail, The Dark Lioness” from their mother tongue, Zulu). Muholi poses in locations around the world and incorporates everyday found objects such as props, costumes, and set dressing to build images that draw on their personal family history, consumer culture, and art history. In this photograph, Muholi addresses the viewer with a forceful, piercing gaze, challenging the conventional exoticised, othered, and sexualised depictions of Black female bodies.

 

Jill Frank (American, born 1978) 'everyone who woke up at the yellow house' 2016

 

Jill Frank (American, born 1978)
everyone who woke up at the yellow house
2016
Double sided inkjet print
High Museum of Art, gift of Louis Corrigan

 

V. Elizabeth Turk (American, born 1945) 'Calaeno' 2018

 

V. Elizabeth Turk (American, born 1945)
Calaeno
2018
Van Dyke print
High Museum of Art, Atlanta, purchase with funds from Lucinda W. Bunnen for the Bunnen Collection
© Elizabeth Turk

 

 

The High Museum of Art
1280 Peachtree St NE
Atlanta, GA
30309

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Saturday 10am – 5pm
Sunday 12 – 5pm
Monday closed

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23
Sep
16

Exhibition: ‘Danny Lyon: Message to the Future’ at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York

Exhibition dates: 17th June – 25th September 2016

Curator: Julian Cox

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-portrait, Chicago' 1965/1995

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Self-portrait, Chicago
1965/1995
Gelatin silver print montage
Image: 31.2 x 27.8cm (12 1/4 x 10 15/16 in.); mount: 50.8 x 40.6cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

This man is a living legend. What a strong body of socially conscious work he has produced over a long period of time. Each series proposes further insight into the human condition – and adds ‘value’ to series that have gone before. It is a though the artist possesses the intuition for a good story and the imagination to photograph it to best advantage, building the story over multiple encounters and contexts to form a thematic whole.

In a press release for a currently showing parallel exhibition titled Journey at Edwynn Houk Gallery the text states, “Continuing in the tradition of Walker Evans and Robert Frank, Lyon forged a new style of realistic photography, described as “New Journalism,” where the photographer immerses himself in his subject’s world.” This reference to immersion is reinforced by the second quotation below, where “the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents.”

While the observation is correct that the artist immerses himself in the cultures and communities he documents, this is different to the tradition of Robert Frank and to a lesser extent, Walker Evans. Frank was a Swiss man who imaged his impressions of America on a road trip across the country. His “photographs were notable for their distanced view of both high and low strata of American society” which pictured the culture as both alienating and strange, “skeptical of contemporary values and evocative of ubiquitous loneliness”. This is why The Americans had so much power and caused so much consternation when it was first released in 1959 in America, for it held up a mirror to an insular society, one not used to looking at itself especially from the position of an “outsider” – where the tone of the book was perceived as derogatory to national ideals – and it didn’t like what it saw. The American Walker Evans was also an outsider photographing outsiders, journeying through disparate towns and communities documenting his impressions how I can I say, subjectively with an objective focus, at one and the same time. He never immersed himself in the culture but was an active observer and documenter, never an insider.

Lyon was one of the first “embedded” social documentary photographers of the American street photography movement of the 1960s who had the free will and the social conscience to tell it like it is. His self-proclaimed “advocacy journalism” is much more than just advocacy / journalism. It is a vitality of being, of spirit, an inquiry of the mind that allows the artist to get close, both physically and emotionally, to the problems of others through becoming one with them – and then to picture that so that others can see their story, so that he can “change history and preserve humanity.” But, we must acknowledge, that humanity is mainly (good looking) males: outlaw motorcycle clubs, mainly male prisons, mainly male civil rights, tattoo shops, and male Uptown, Chicago. Women are seemingly reduced to bit-players at best, singular portraits or standing in the background at funerals. This is a man’s world and you better not forget it…

Having said that, can you imagine living the life, spending four years as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. How exhilarating, how enmeshed with the culture you would become – the people, the travel, the ups and downs, the life, the danger – and then when you get photographs like Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee (1966, below) with the manic look in Funny Sonny’s eyes, how your heart would sing. If I had to nominate one image that is for me the epitome of America in the 1960s it would be this: Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville (1966, below): all Easy Rider (an 1969 American road movie) encapsulated in one image. The structure and modernism / of the two bridges frames / the speeding / wicked bike / helmet lodged over the headlight; the man / wearing a skull and crossbones emblazoned jacket / helmet-less / head turned / behind / hair flying in the wind / not looking where / he is going / as though his destiny: unknown.

Danny Lyon IS one of the great artists working in photography today. He is a rebel with his own cause. Through his vital and engaging images his message to the future is this: everyone has their own story, their own trials and tribulations, each deserving of empathy, compassion, and non-judgemental acceptance. Prejudice has no voice here, a lesson never more pertinent than for America today as it decides who to elect – a woman who has fought every inch of the way or a narcissistic megalomaniac who preaches hate to minorities.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

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

 

 

“Closeness, both physical and emotional, is a recurring theme throughout the 175 works in “Message to the Future,” Lyon’s Whitney Museum retrospective, a quietly brilliant affair curated with panache by Julian Cox. (Later this year, the show will travel to the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco, which organized it; Elisabeth Sussman oversaw the Whitney installation.) We see here a photographer who was witness to a changing America and, occasionally, other places in the world. Since the early ’60s, Lyon has been infiltrating outsider groups – talking to and photographing bikers, Texas prison inmates, and hippies, and learning from them by becoming close with them. It’s as if Lyon has no sense of personal space. That, as this revelatory show proves, is his greatest attribute…

Lyon is a deft stylist who cares deeply about his subjects, to the point of exchanging letters with them for years after taking their pictures. What results is something more intimate, more political, and, in some ways, better than traditional photojournalism – a fuller portrait of America since the ’60s.”

.
Alex Greenberger on the ArtNews website

 

“Self-taught, and driven by his twin passions for social change and the medium of photography, the power of Lyon’s work has often derived from his willingness of immerse himself entirely in the cultures and communities he documents. This was evident early on in his series ‘Bikeriders’ (1968; reissued in 2003 by Chronicle Books), which evolved from four years spent as a member of the Chicago Outlaw Motorcycle Club. And ‘Conversations with the Dead’ derived from his close study of the Texas prison system; it also revealed Lyon’s novel and distinctive approach to the photobook, which often sees him splicing images with texts drawn from various sources, including interviews, letters, and even fiction.”

.
Text from the Edwynn Houk Gallery website [Online] Cited 21/09/2016. No longer available online

 

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait, New Orleans 1964' 1964

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Self-Portrait, New Orleans, 1964
1964
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 12.2cm (7 3/16 x 4 13/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

In his 1981 book, “Danny Lyon: Pictures From the New World,” he wrote of starting out in the early ’60s. “Photography then seemed new and exciting, and all America, which I regarded with mystery and reverence, lay before me.”

That sense of newness and excitement fills the show. What we’re discovering now, Lyon was discovering then – not just seeing or observing, but discovering, with the sense of revelation that brings. Mystery and reverence are here, too, but complicatedly. Framing them – debating with them? – are the clarity of precision the camera affords and a skepticism born of a forthrightly ’60s sensibility. Several photographs of the Occupy movement attest to how vigorous that sensibility remains…

He was working as a documentarian but not a photojournalist. That’s an important distinction. These images are implicitly polemical – inevitably polemical, too. Rarely in our nation’s history has the distinction between what’s right and what’s wrong been as clear cut. Yet then as now, people matter more to Lyon than any ideological stance. Outsiders attract Lyon and populate the show: civil rights demonstrators, transgender people (in Galveston, Texas, of all places), lower Manhattan demolition crews, inmates, undocumented workers, Indians, Appalachian whites transplanted to Chicago, motorcycle gangs…

Enclosure and entrapment are not for Lyon – nor, for that matter, is the absence of people (a very rare condition in his work). A larger restlessness in Lyon’s career reflects the energy so often evident within the frame – within the frame being another form of enclosure and entrapment. The South, Chicago, lower Manhattan, Texas, New Mexico, China, Haiti, Latin America share space in the show. Even so, sense of place doesn’t signify as much for Lyon as a sense of a place’s inhabitants. More likely he’d say that the two are indistinguishable. Looking at his pictures, you can see why he’d think so.”

Mark Feeney. “Outsiders fill compelling Danny Lyon photography show,” on the Boston Globe website 8th July 2016 [Online] Cited 10/09/2016

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia' 1962

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Arrest of Eddie Brown, Albany, Georgia
1962
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22 x 31.7cm (8 5/8 x 12 1/2 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuts at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organised by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016. The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker. The presentation also includes a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums. A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice.

Photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon (b. 1942) has over the past five decades presented a charged alternative to the sanitised vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the standard detached humanism of the traditional documentary approach in favour of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history but helped to shape it.

Lyon committed intensively to photography from the beginning. In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, he hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the civil rights movement. He went on to photograph biker subcultures, explore the lives of the incarcerated, and document the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. He has travelled to Latin America and China, and has lived for years in New Mexico; the work he has made throughout these journeys demonstrates his respect for the people he photographs on the social and cultural margins.

Message to the Future, shaped in collaboration with the artist, incorporates seldom-exhibited materials from Lyon’s archive, including rare vintage prints, previously unseen 16mm film footage made inside the Texas prisons, his personal photo albums, and related documents and ephemera. In his roles as a photographer, filmmaker, and writer, Lyon has reinvented the expectations for how the still photographic image can be woven together with journalism, books, films, and collage to present a diverse record of social customs and human behaviour. His work, which he continues to make today, reveals a restless idealist, digging deep into his own life and those of his subjects to uncover the political in the personal and the personal in the political.

Text from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Civil rights

In the summer of 1962, Lyon hitchhiked to Cairo, Illinois, to witness demonstrations and a speech by John Lewis, chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), one of the most important organisations driving the civil rights movement of the early 1960s. Inspired to see the making of history firsthand, Lyon then headed to the South to participate in and photograph the civil rights movement. There, SNCC executive director James Forman recruited Lyon to be the organisation’s first official photographer, based out of its Atlanta headquarters. Traveling throughout the South with SNCC, Lyon documented sit-ins, marches, funerals, and violent clashes with the police, often developing his negatives quickly in makeshift darkrooms.

Lyon’s photographs were used in political posters, brochures, and leaflets produced by SNCC to raise money and recruit workers to the movement. Julian Bond, the communications director of SNCC, wrote of Lyon’s pictures, “They put faces on the movement, put courage in the fearful, shone light on darkness, and helped make the movement move.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) Sit-In, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 24cm (6 3/8 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
The Leesburg Stockade, Leesburg, Georgia
1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.5 x 26cm (6 7/8 x 10 3/16 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Abernathy, Shuttlesworth (SCLC), King and Wilkinson (NAACP)
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Voting Rights Demonstration, Organized by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.3 x 26.8cm (7 3/16 x 10 9/16 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama' October 7, 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Sheriff Jim Clark Arresting Demonstrators, Selma, Alabama
October 7, 1963
Gelatin silver print
Image: 18.4 x 27cm (7 1/4 x 10 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.8 x 35.4cm (10 15/16 x 13 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchased with funds from the Photography Committee

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland' 1964

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Stokely Carmichael, Confrontation with National Guard, Cambridge, Maryland
1964
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.5 x 22.2cm (6 1/2 x 8 3/4 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the High Museum of Art, Atlanta; purchase with funds from Joan N. Whitcomb

 

Danny Lyon. 'Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon
Woman Holds Off a Mob, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Bob Dylan behind the SNCC office, Greenwood, Mississippi
1963
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Arrest of Taylor Washington, Atlanta
1963
Gelatin silver print
24 x 16cm (9 7/16 x 6 1/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'The March on Washington' August 28, 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
The March on Washington
August 28, 1963
Gelatin silver print
29.8 x 20.8cm (11 3/4 x 8 3/16 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; Gift of Anne Ehrenkranz

 

Galveston

Danny Lyon. 'Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Pumpkin and Roberta, Galveston, Texas
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.8 x 16.1cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Prisons

In 1967, Lyon applied to the Texas Department of Corrections for access to the state prisons. Dr. George Beto, then director of the prisons, granted Lyon the right to move freely among the various prison units, which he photographed and filmed extensively over a fourteen-month period. The result is a searing record of the Texas penal system and, symbolically, of incarceration everywhere.

Lyon’s aim was to “make a picture of imprisonment as distressing as I knew it to be in reality.” This meant riding out to the fields to follow prisoners toiling in the sun, as well as visiting the Wynne Treatment Centre, which housed primarily convicts with mental disabilities. He befriended many of the prisoners, listening to their stories and finding the humanity in their experiences, and still maintains contact with some of them.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Weight Lifters, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.4 x 33.2cm (8 7/8 x 13 1/16 in.); sheet: 27.7 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
New Arrivals from Corpus Christi, The Walls, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.4 x 32cm (8 7/16 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Contents of Arriving Prisoner’s Wallet, Diagnostic Unit, The Walls, Huntsville, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.3 x 17.5cm (9 9/16 x 6 3/4 in.); sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Six-Wing Cell Block, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16 x 24cm (6 5/16 x 9 7/16 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Charlie Lowe, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.2 x 23.8cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Shakedown, Ellis Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
21.6 x 31.3cm (8 1/2 x 12 1/4 in.)
Museum of Modern Art, New York; purchase

 

Danny Lyon. 'Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Shakedown, Ramsey Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17 x 24.2cm (6 5/8 x 9 9/16 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Convict With a Bag of Cotton, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Two Inmates, Goree Unit, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.8 x 24cm (6 5/8 x 9 91/6 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The destruction of Lower Manhattan

In late 1966 and into the summer of 1967, starting from his loft at the corner of Beekman and William Streets near City Hall Park, Lyon documented the demolition of some sixty acres of predominantly nineteenth-century buildings below Canal Street in lower Manhattan. With funding from the New York State Council on the Arts, he photographed most of the buildings that would be torn down to make way for the World Trade Center. Lyon recalled later: “I wanted to inhabit [the buildings] with feelings and give them and their demise a meaning.”

Moving from the outside of the buildings to their deserted interiors, Lyon also took pictures of the workers involved in the demolition. The photographs, together with Lyon’s journal entries, became a book, published by Macmillan in 1969 and dedicated to his close friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero. The volume’s significance lies in part in its depiction of a city – and, more broadly, a culture – cannibalising its own architectural history for the sake of development.

 

Danny Lyon. 'View South from 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
View South from 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.3 x 18.2cm (7 1/4 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Self-Portrait in Susquehanna Hotel, Third-Floor Room with Grass, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
18.2 x 18.2cm (7 3/16 x 7 3/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

Danny Lyon. 'Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Ruins of 100 Gold Street, New York
1967
Gelatin silver print
23.6 x 23.4cm (9 5/16 x 10 7/16 in.)
Collection of Melissa Schiff Soros and Robert Soros

 

 

The Bikeriders

Lyon purchased his first motorcycle – a 1953 Triumph TR6 – in 1962, after spending weekends watching college friend and motorcycle racer Frank Jenner compete at informal dirt track races across the Midwest. When he returned to Chicago in 1965 after leaving SNCC, Lyon joined the hard-riding, hard-drinking Chicago Outlaws Motorcycle Club and began making photographs with a goal to “record and glorify the life of the American bike rider.” With clubs like the Hells Angels making headlines for their criminal and vigilante activities at the time, bike riders were simultaneously feared for their anarchism and romanticised for their independence.

Riding with the Outlaws, Lyon attempted to capture their way of life from the inside out. Their unapologetic pursuit of freedom and libertine pleasures compelled him to get close to them as people. Lyon’s images are intimate and familiar, whether taken during rides or at clubhouse meetings. He also used a tape recorder to document the bikers speaking for themselves, unobtrusively capturing their collective voice. The resulting photographs were gathered into the now classic book of the same name, published in 1968, combining his pictures with an edited transcription of the interviews.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Racer, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Racer, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
13.9 x 20.3cm (5 1/2 x 8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville' 1966

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Crossing the Ohio River, Louisville
1966
Gelatin silver print
20.3 x 31.8cm (8 x 12 1/2 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Route 12, Wisconsin' 1963

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Route 12, Wisconsin
1963
Gelatin silver print
15.6 x 23.8cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/8 in.)
Silverman Museum Collection

 

Danny Lyon. 'Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Sparky and Cowboy, Schererville, Indiana
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.1 x 23.9cm (6 3/8 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.4cm (8 x 10 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)' 1966

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Untitled (Close Up of Cal on the Road)
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Renegade's funeral, Detroit' 1966

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Renegade’s funeral, Detroit
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon Funny Sonny. 'Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee' 1966

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Funny Sonny Packing with Zipco, Milwaukee
1966
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Chicago' 1965 (printed 1966)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Kathy, Chicago
1965 (printed 1966)
Gelatin silver print, printed 1966
25.8 x 25.5cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois' 1966 (printed 2003)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Cal on the Springfield Run, Illinois
1966 (printed 2003)
Cibachrome print
Image: 22.8 x 32.5cm (9 x 13 1/4 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Cowboy, Rogue's Picnic, Chicago' 1966

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Cowboy, Rogue’s Picnic, Chicago
1966
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.5 x 15.9cm (9 1/4 x 6 1/4 in.); mount: 50.8 x 40.6cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Benny, Grand and Division, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image 24.5 x 17.2cm (9 5/8 x 6 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

New Mexico and the West

Lyon headed west from New York in 1969. Tired of the hectic pace of the big city and in search of new surroundings, he settled in Sandoval County, New Mexico. He developed a great admiration for the region’s close knit communities of Native Americans and Chicanos. Lyon’s photographs and, increasingly, his films reflected his growing understanding of the cross-cultural flow between these disparate groups and how they interacted with the geography of the Southwest.

With the help of his good friend, a migrant labourer named Eduardo Rivera Marquez, Lyon built a traditional adobe home for his family in Bernalillo, in the Rio Grande Valley just north of Albuquerque. As Lyon’s family grew, his children also became a frequent subject, often depicted against the dramatic Western landscape. Though Lyon moved back to New York in 1980, New Mexico would remain a centre of gravity for the artist, who returned every summer with his family to photograph and make films.

 

Danny Lyon. 'Eddie, New Mexico' 1972

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Eddie, New Mexico
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image 23 x 34.5 cm (9 x 13 5/8 in.); sheet 27.9 x 35.6 cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico' 1971

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Navajo Boy, Gallup, New Mexico
1971
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.3 x 33.8cm (9 1/8 x 13 5/16 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Maricopa County, Arizona' 1977

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Maricopa County, Arizona
1977
Gelatin silver print
Image: 22.8 x 33.5cm (9 x 13 3/16 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico' 1969/1975

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Stephanie, Sandoval County, New Mexico
1969/1975
Gelatin silver print (decorated)
Image: 16.7 x 25cm (6 9/16 x 9 3/4 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
El Paso, Texas
1975 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image 27.9 x 40.6cm (11 x 16 in.); sheet 33 x 45.7cm (13 x 18 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'El Paso, Texas' 1975

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
El Paso, Texas
1975

 

 

Films and montages

Lyon started making 16mm films in earnest in the 1970s, focusing on marginalised communities and injustice as he had in his photographs. His subjects included Colombian street kids in Los Niños Abandonados (1975) and undocumented workers from Mexico in El Mojado (1974) and El Otro Lado (1978). Lyon has explained that after leaving the Texas prisons he struggled to move forward, feeling that there were “no more worlds to conquer” in creating photography books. Filmmaking became the means by which he could continue to make sense of the beauty and inequality he saw in the world around him.

Lyon did not give up photography completely, however. He turned to assembling family albums and creating collaged works that he describes as montages, referencing the filmmaking practice of juxtaposing disparate images to form a continuous whole. Lyon’s montages combine multiple images and materials sourced from his archives. Initially meant as vehicles for reflection and, in the case of the albums, as family heirlooms, these deeply personal works bridge past generations of his family with his present.

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Los Niños Abandonados
1975

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
El Mojado
1974
New Mexico, colour, 14 minutes [The Wetback]
English and Spanish with subtitles
A portrait of a hard-working undocumented labourer from Mexico produced by J.J. Meeker

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
El Otro Lado
1978
Mexico and Arizona, colour, 60 minutes [The Other Side]
Spanish with English subtitles
An honest film infused with poignant beauty, without political rhetoric

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Dear Mark
1981, New York and France, colour and b&w, 15 minutes
A comedy in which the artist’s voice has been replaced by Gene Autry’s
Lyon’s homage to his friend, sculptor Mark di Suvero, from footage shot in 1965 and 1975.

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Soc Sci 127
1969
Houston, color and b&w, 21 minutes
A comedy – Danny Lyon’s first film with the late great Bill Sanders and his “painless” tattoo shop.

 

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Willie
1985
New Mexico, color, b&w, 82 minutes
Willie is a realistic film made in Bernalillo, home of Willie Jaramillo and filmmakers Danny and Nancy Weiss Lyon
Defiantly individual and implacable in the face of authority, Willie is repeatedly thrown into jail for relatively minor offences. The filmmakers gain access to jail cells, day rooms, lunatic wards, and the worst cellblock in the penitentiary where Willie is locked up next to his childhood friend and convicted murderer, Michael Guzman.

 

Knoxville

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Knoxville, Tennessee' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Knoxville, Tennessee
1967
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Leslie, Downtown Knoxville' 1967

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Leslie, Downtown Knoxville
1967
Gelatin silver print
Image: 28.7 x 19.1cm (11 1/4 x 7 1/2 in.); mount: 56.2 x 45.7cm (22 1/8 x 18 in.)
Art Institute of Chicago; gift of Mr. Danny Lyon

 

Tattoo

Danny Lyon. 'Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas' 1968

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Bill Sanders, Tattoo Artist, Houston, Texas
1968
Gelatin silver print
Image: 20.7 x 20.7cm (8 3/16 x 8 3/16 in.); sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Chicago

Danny Lyon. 'Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners' 1974

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Two youths in Uptown, Chicago, Illinois, a neighborhood of poor white southerners
1974

 

Danny Lyon. 'Children at an apartment entrance' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Children at an apartment entrance
1965
From series Uptown, Chicago
Gelatin silver print

 

Danny Lyon. 'Kathy, Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Kathy, Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 24.1 x 23.9cm (9 1/2 x 9 3/8 in.); sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Uptown, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Uptown, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 16.4 x 16.4cm (6 1/2 x 6 1/2 in.); mount: 50.8 x 40.6cm (20 x 16 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

New York

Danny Lyon. 'Subway, New York' 1966 (printed 2015)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Subway, New York
1966 (printed 2015)
Pigmented inkjet print
Image: 23.7 x 24.1cm (9 5/16 x 9 1/2 in.); sheet: 28.8 x 29.2cm (11 5/16 x 11 1/2 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York' 1969

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Self-Portrait in Mary Frank’s Bathroom, New York
1969
Gelatin silver print
Image: 15.6 x 23.5cm (6 1/8 x 9 1/4 in.); sheet: 20.3 x 25.2cm (8 x 9 15/16 in.)
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from Joanna Leonhardt Casullo, Niko Elmaleh, Lauren DePalo, Julia Macklowe, and Fern Kaye Tessler

 

Danny Lyon. 'John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York' 1969 (printed c. 2005)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
John Lennon and Danny Seymour, The Bowery, New York
1969 (printed c. 2005)
Gelatin silver print, printed later
Image: 22.3 x 33.3cm (8 13/16 x 13 1/8 in.); sheet: 27.6 x 35.4cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago' 1965

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Mark di Suvero and Danny Lyon, Hyde Park, Chicago
1965
Gelatin silver print
Image: 23.9 x 16.2cm (9 3/8 x 6 3/8 in.); sheet: 25.4 x 20.3cm (10 x 8 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Colombia

Danny Lyon. 'Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia' 1972

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Mary, Santa Marta, Colombia
1972
Gelatin silver print
Image: 17.1 x 25.3cm (6 3/4 x 10 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia' 1966 (printed 2008)

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Tesca, Cartagena, Colombia
1966 (printed 2008)
Cibachrome print
Image: 25.7 x 25.7cm (10 1/8 x 10 1/8 in.); sheet: 35.6 x 27.9cm (14 x 11 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

The most comprehensive retrospective of the work of American photographer, filmmaker, and writer Danny Lyon in twenty-five years debuted at the Whitney on June 17, 2016. The first major photography exhibition to be presented in the Museum’s downtown home, Danny Lyon: Message to the Future is organised by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, where it will make its West Coast debut at the de Young Museum on November 5, 2016.

The exhibition assembles approximately 175 photographs and is the first to assess the artist’s achievements as a filmmaker as well as a photographer. The presentation also includes many objects that have seldom or never been exhibited before and offers a rare look at works from Lyon’s archives, including vintage prints, unseen 16mm film footage made inside Texas prisons, and his personal photo albums.

A leading figure in the American street photography movement of the 1960s, Lyon has distinguished himself by the personal intimacy he establishes with his subjects and the inventiveness of his practice. With his ability to find beauty in the starkest reality, Lyon has presented a charged alternative to the vision of American life presented in the mass media. Throughout, he has rejected the traditional documentary approach in favour of a more immersive, complicated involvement with his subjects. “You put a camera in my hand,” he has explained, “I want to get close to people. Not just physically close, emotionally close, all of it.” In the process he has made several iconic bodies of work, which have not only pictured recent history, but helped to shape it.

“We are delighted to partner with the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco on Danny Lyon: Message to the Future,” stated Adam D. Weinberg, the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art. “Since the early 1960s, Lyon’s photographs and films have upturned conventional notions of American life. The Whitney has long championed Lyon’s work and we are thrilled to present this retrospective, which encompasses more than half a century of important work.”

In 1962, while still a student at the University of Chicago, Lyon hitchhiked to the segregated South to make a photographic record of the Civil Rights movement. His other projects have included photographing biker subcultures, exploring the lives of individuals in prison, and documenting the architectural transformation of Lower Manhattan. Lyon has lived for years in New Mexico, and his commitment to personal adventure has taken him to Mexico and other countries in Latin America, China, and the less-traveled parts of the American West.

“Danny Lyon is one of the great artists working in photography today,” said Julian Cox, Founding Curator of Photography for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and Chief Curator at the de Young Museum. “Lyon’s dedication to his art and his conviction to produce work underpinned by strong ethical and ideological motivations sets him apart from many of his peers.

Press release from the Whitney Museum of American Art

 

Ongoing activism

Lyon’s first encounter with Latin America was through a trip to Colombia in February 1966, during which he photographed extensively in and around Cartagena. In the 1970s and 1980s, Lyon’s self-described “advocacy journalism” took him to Bolivia, where he captured the hard lives of rural miners; Mexico, where he photographed undocumented workers moving back and forth across the U.S. – Mexico border; back to Colombia, where he made the film Los Niños Abandonados, chronicling the lives of street children; and to Haiti, where he witnessed firsthand the violent revolution overthrowing Jean-Claude Duvalier’s dictatorship.

More recently, Lyon made six trips between 2005 and 2009 to Shanxi province in northeast China. Aided by a guide, he photographed the people living in this highly polluted coal-producing region. As in his work in the civil rights movement and the Texas prisons, Lyon’s photographs from his travels are examples of his advocacy journalism, part of his effort to “change history and preserve humanity.”

 

Danny Lyon. 'Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti' February 7, 1986

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Boulevard Jean-Jacques Dessalines, Port-au-Prince, Haiti
February 7, 1986
Gelatin silver print
Image: 21.3 x 32.1cm (8 3/8 x 12 5/8 in.); sheet: 27.9 x 35.6cm (11 x 14 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Occupy

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles' 2011

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Occupy Demonstration on Broadway, Los Angeles
2011
Inkjet print
Image: 24.5 x 32.9cm (9 5/8 x 12 15/16 in.); sheet: 32.7 x 40cm (13 x 15 3/4 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

Danny Lyon. 'Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland' 2011

 

Danny Lyon (American, b. 1942)
Occupy Oakland, City Hall, Oakland
2011
Pigmented inkjet print
Image: 24.6 x 33cm (9 3/4 x 13 in.); sheet: 27.3 x 38cm (10 3/4 x 15 in.)
Collection of the artist

 

 

Whitney Museum of American Art
99 Gansevoort Street
New York, NY 10014
Phone: (212) 570-3600

Opening hours:
Mondays: 10.30am – 6pm
Tuesdays: Closed
Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays: 10.30am – 6pm
Saturdays and Sundays: 11.00am – 6pm

Whitney Museum of American Art website

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22
Feb
15

Exhibition: ‘Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein’ at the New-York Historical Society, New York

Exhibition dates: 16th January – 19th April 2015

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaking to 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery 
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

And still it goes on… whether it be so called Chelsea football “fans” singing racist songs and abusing a black man on the Paris Metro, the Australian government’s “intervention” in Aboriginal communities, or Channel Seven’s adverts for Australia: The Story of Us which states, “This is the story of how a bunch of convicts transformed Australia from a barren, frontier prison into one of the richest countries in the world.”

The use of the word “barren” insidiously supports the hidden tenants of racism, surreptitiously reaffirming the idea that Australia was a terra nullius when it was invaded. And for one of the richest countries in the world, the Aboriginal and refugee population is sure not seeing the benefits, both in terms of freedom (refugee children and Indigenous people from incarceration), health, education and life span.

When will the human race ever grow up? We have been fighting this stuff since time immemorial, or perhaps that should be time ‘in memoriam’ – in honour of those who have passed – and in honour of those that continue to suffer. In the end it all comes down to the intersectionality of power, race, religion, money, gender and place, a moveable and fluid feast of fear and loathing, possession and patriarchy. I don’t believe that it will ever change, unless something truly momentous happens to this world… the earth self regulates and rids itself of this disease, this human ‘race’. But we can and we will still fight the good fight, against bigotry, war, corporations and government surveillance, everywhere.

Dr Marcus Bunyan

.
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.

 

 

“All through the march I was thinking, ‘This is history in the making. Can I capture it? Can I give a sense to other people of what I am experiencing myself?’ That was the thread that always wove through the back of my mind. Am I up for the task?… I turned my camera most consciously to the people watching the march. It was meant to free them. The march was meant to give them voting rights. The march was meant to change their lives… I wanted the pictures to be a window for people to look back in time and see what it was like then. I needed to capture a sense of their vision.”

.
Stephen Somerstein

 

 

Stephen Somerstein. '"Things Go Better With Coke" sign and multi-generational family watching marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
“Things Go Better With Coke” sign and multi-generational family watching marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

This is among Somerstein’s favourite shots from the march. “Only in this instant are they looking mostly in the same direction,” he said, recalling that a second shot he took just after lacked the “unity” of this composition.

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Marchers on the way to Montgomery as families watch from their porches' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Marchers on the way to Montgomery as families watch from their porches
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Nuns, priests, and civil rights leaders at the head of the march' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Nuns, priests, and civil rights leaders at the head of the march
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Two mothers with children watching marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Two mothers with children watching marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looks out at crowd in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Looks out at crowd in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

“I had to be totally cool about it,” Somerstein said of getting this shot, taken from the platform where Martin Luther King was speaking. “You don’t ask people, you don’t discuss it, you just do it… I had 30 seconds to take the photograph.” This image inspired the poster for the current film Selma.

“Somehow, the photographer managed to position himself directly behind Dr. King as he delivered the sonorous “How Long? Not Long” speech: “Somebody’s asking, ‘How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?'” it began, ending, “Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” (Holland Cotter)

 

Iconic Photographs by Stephen Somerstein Capture the Spirit of the Civil Rights Movement

The New-York Historical Society showcases a powerful selection of photographs by Stephen Somerstein that chronicle the 1965 Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March, honouring the 50th anniversary of the protest that changed the course of civil rights in America. On view from January 16 through April 19, 2015, the exhibition Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein will feature the work of the 24-year-old City College student, who felt he had to document “what was going to be a historic event.” He accompanied the marchers, gaining unfettered access to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Coretta Scott King, Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, Joan Baez, and Bayard Rustin.

Through 55 black and white and colour photographs, Freedom Journey 1965 will document the quest for equality and social justice over the five-day march. Then the managing editor and picture editor of the City College newspaper, Stephen Somerstein recalls “When Dr. King called on Americans to join him in a massive protest march to Montgomery, I knew that important, nation-changing history was unfolding and I wanted to capture its power and meaning with my camera.”

The Selma-to-Montgomery March marked a peak of the American civil rights movement. From March 21 to March 25, 1965, hundreds of people marched from Selma to the State Capitol Building in Montgomery, Alabama to protest against the resistance that the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and other groups had encountered in their mission to register black voters. By March 25, the group had grown to 25,000 people, which Dr. King addressed from the steps of the Montgomery State Capitol. Three months later, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Somerstein took approximately 400 photographs over the five-day, 54 mile march. Exhibition highlights include images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. addressing the crowd of 25,000 civil rights marchers in Montgomery; folk singer Joan Baez, standing before a line of state troopers blocking the entrance to the State Capitol; white hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers; families watching the march from their porches; and images of young and old alike participating in the demonstration.

Somerstein pursued a career in physics, building space satellites at the Harvard Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and Lockheed Martin Co. Upon retiring, Somerstein revisited the Selma photographs. Though he had sold a few of them, the majority were not showcased until he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange in 2010. “I realised that I had numerous iconic and historic photographs that I wanted to share with the public,” says Somerstein.

This exhibit features the stunning and historic photographs of Stephen Somerstein, documenting the Selma-to-Montgomery Civil Rights March in January 1965. Somerstein was a student in City College of New York’s night school and Picture Editor of his student newspaper when he traveled to Alabama to document the March.

He joined the marchers and gained unfettered access to everyone from Martin Luther King Jr. to Rosa Parks, James Baldwin, and Bayard Rustin. “I had five cameras slung around my neck,” he recalled. Over the five-day, 54-mile march, Somerstein took about four hundred photographs including poignant images of hopeful blacks lining the rural roads as they cheered on the marchers walking past their front porches and whites crowded on city sidewalks, some looking on silently-others jeering as the activists walked to the Alabama capital. Somerstein sold a few photographs to the New York Times Magazine, Public Television and photography collectors, but none were exhibited until 2010, when he participated in a civil rights exhibition at the San Francisco Art Exchange.

Rather than choosing photography as a career, Somerstein became a physicist and worked at the Harvard-Smithsonian Astrophysical Observatory and at Lockhead Martin Company. It was only after his retirement in 2008 that he returned to his photography remarking that he wanted “to have exhibitions of my work and that I realised that I had numerous iconic as well as historic photographs.” Among those photographs were his moving photographs of that memorable march to Montgomery in 1965.”

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

 

 

 

Selma – Montgomery March, 1965

A powerful and recently rediscovered film made during the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for voting rights. Stefan Sharff’s intimate documentary reflects his youthful work in the montage style under the great Russian filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein. The film features moving spirituals. Marchers include Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his wife Coretta Scott King. (NJ state film festival)

Director: Stefan Sharff

Cameramen:
Stefan Sharff
Christopher Harris
Julian Krainin
Alan Jacobs
Norris Eisenbrey

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Coretta Scott King and husband civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on platform at end of 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March - March 25, 1965' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Coretta Scott King and husband civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., on platform at end of 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Alabama Civil Rights March – March 25, 1965
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

It had taken them 54 miles on the march and their entire lives to reach their goal of voting rights for blacks. Somerstein, who took that photo as a CCNY student, says it’s one of his favourite images from that time.

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Folk singer Joan Baez in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Folk singer Joan Baez in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Hecklers yelling and gesturing at marchers
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Young civil rights marchers with American flags march in Montgomery' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Young civil rights marchers with American flags march in Montgomery
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

For all involved, danger was ever-present. The march, which covered 54 miles and took five days, from March 21 to 25, had been preceded by two traumatic aborted versions. On March 7, 600 people trying to walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River leading out of Selma to Montgomery were accused by local law officials of gathering illegally and were savagely assaulted by state troopers. Two days later, a second group, this one led by Dr. King, approached the bridge, knelt to pray and turned back. If the retreat was intended as a symbolic rebuke to violence, it did no good. That night, a Unitarian minister from Boston named James J. Reeb, in town for the event, was beaten on the street by a group of Selma racists and died.

By the time of the third march, certain protective measures were in place. The force of public opinion was one. Pictures of the attack at the bridge had been widely seen in print and on national television: All eyes were on Selma now. An Alabama judge had finally granted legal permission for a march to proceed. Finally, President Lyndon B. Johnson, enraged at Gov. George C. Wallace’s refusal to shield the marchers, ordered federal troops to guard them…

Scads of photographers were on the job that day and, inevitably, certain subjects – political leaders, visiting celebrities – were the focus of many cameras, including Mr. Somerstein’s. Yet most of the people in his pictures are not stars; they’re rank-and-file participants. It’s from their perspective that we see the march. In one shot, we’re in the middle of it, surrounded by fellow walkers. In others, we’re looking out at bystanders who line the way: white office workers; hecklers; multiracial shoppers; African-American children on porches; women, dressed in Sunday best, on the steps of black churches.

This viewpoint subtly alters a standard account of the event, one perpetuated in Selma, which suggests that a small, elite band of high-level organisers were the heroes of the day. They were indeed heroes, but they were borne on the shoulders of the countless grass-roots organisers who paved the way for the march and the anonymous marchers, many of them women, who risked everything to walk the walk…

… in the film, the image [of the back of Dr King’s head] seems to be about the man and his drama; in Mr. Somerstein’s photograph, it seems to be about the crowd. For an account of this and other civil rights era events that balance symbols and facts, I look back to the documentary series Eyes on the Prize that ran on public television between 1987 and 1990. Its use of archival images and contemporary interviews with people involved in the Selma-to-Montgomery march gave equal time to personalities and larger realities. And its news clips of the bloody attack on citizens by the police on the bridge in Selma, despite being choppy and grainy, are to me far more wrenching in a you-are-there way than a Hollywood re-enactment, however spectacular. Mr. Somerstein’s quiet photographs are moving in a similar way.

Extracts from Holland Cotter. “A Long March Into History: Stephen Somerstein Photos in ‘Freedom Journey 1965’,” on the New York Times website [Online] Cited 19/02/2015. No longer available online

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Family watching march' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Family watching march
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

Stephen Somerstein. 'Man with American flag and marchers walking past federal troops guarding crossroads' 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein (American, b. 1941)
Man with American flag and marchers walking past federal troops guarding crossroads
1965
Courtesy of the photographer

 

 

Martin Luther King Jr. (MLK) delivers his famous “How Long, Not Long” speech on the steps of the state capitol building in Montgomery, Alabama, 1965

 

 

Eyes On The Prize – (Part 6) Bridge to Freedom 1965

 

Stephen Somerstein talks about a photo he took during the famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march at the New-York Historical Society

 

Stephen Somerstein talks about a photo he took during the famous 1965 Selma to Montgomery, Ala., march at the New-York Historical Society on Wednesday. Somerstein was a 24-year-old college student when he photographed Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the march from Selma to Montgomery that changed the course of civil rights in the U.S. REUTERS

 

 

New-York Historical Society
170 Central Park West
at Richard Gilder Way (77th Street)
New York, NY 10024
Phone: (212) 873-3400

Opening hours:
Tuesday – Thursday, Saturday – Sunday: 11am – 5pm
Friday: 11am – 8pm
Monday: CLOSED

New-York Historical Society website

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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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