Aperture Gallery is pleased to exhibit two seminal photographic documents of the civil rights movement. Magnum photographer Bruce Davidson spent the years 1961–1965 chronicling the early chapter of the movement that was defined by a philosophy of non-violent resistance to institutionalized American racism. Davidson’s project chronicles five long years of struggle that made civil rights a national issue and led to the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. Though such legislation represented an important step forward, it did not, however, have an immediate effect on the material conditions facing the African-American community, prompting two college students, Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton to form the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, after Malcolm X was assassinated in 1966. The group would become emblematic of the Black Power movement that helped shape the tumultuous years of the late 1960s and early ’70s. As the official photographer for the Panthers, Stephen Shames was allowed unprecedented access, enabling him to intimately document this dynamic but controversial organization from 1967 to 1973.

Time of Change: Photographs by Bruce Davidson

On May 25, 1961, Bruce Davidson joined a group of Freedom Riders traveling by bus from Montgomery, Alabama, to Jackson, Mississippi. The actions of the Riders tested federal laws permitting integrated interstate bus travel. These historic episodes, which ended in violence and arrests, marked the beginning of Davidson’s exploration into the heart of the civil rights movement in the United States during the years 1961–1965. In 1962, Davidson received a Guggenheim Fellowship and continued documenting the era, including an early Malcolm X rally in Harlem, steel workers in Chicago, a Ku Klux Klan cross burning near Atlanta, migrant farm camps in South Carolina, cotton picking in Mississippi, protest demonstrations in Birmingham, and the heroic Selma march that led to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was instrumental in changing the political power base in the segregated Southern states. Davidson’s work on view in this exhibition includes intimate and revealing portraits of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Congressman John Lewis, and other leaders during those turbulent times. Davidson’s lyrical images are both poignant and profound as they describe the mood that prevailed during the civil rights movement.

The Black Panthers: Making Sense of History: Photographs by Stephen Shames

In the midst of the civil rights movement, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the legendary Black Panther Party, in 1966, in Oakland, California. The Party, revered by some and vilified by others, burst onto the scene with a revolutionary agenda for social change and the empowerment of African-Americans. Its methods were controversial and polarizing, so much so that in 1969, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover described the organization as the country’s greatest threat to internal security. In April 1967, Stephen Shames, a college student at the University of California, Berkeley, met the Panthers at a rally to end the war in Vietnam. He was invited to photograph them and continued to do so until 1973. His close friendship with the Panthers, and Seale in particular, gave Shames unusual access to the organization, allowing him to capture not only the public face of the Party—street demonstrations, protests, and militant posturing—but also unscripted behind-the-scenes moments, from private meetings held in the Party headquarters, to Bobby Seale at work on his mayoral campaign in Oakland. The immediacy and intimacy of Shames’s photographs offer an uncommonly nuanced portrait of this dynamic social movement, during one of the most tumultuous periods in recent U.S. history.

Both series in the show are accompanied by critically acclaimed publications. The Black Panthers, photographs by Stephen Shames, foreword by Bobby Seale, essay by Charles E. Jones, was released by Aperture in October 2006 on the occasion of the Party’s fortieth–anniversary reunion in Oakland, California. Time of Change: Civil Rights Photographs 1961–1965, photographs by Bruce Davidson, foreword by John Lewis, essay by Deborah Willis, was published by St. Anne’s Press in October 2002.

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Location Details:

Aperture Gallery
547 West 27th Street, 4th Floor
New York, NY 10001


Touring venues for Black Panthers:

Almond Eye Co., Ltd.
Tokyo
October 2006

Richard F. Brush Gallery, St. Lawrence University
Canton, New York
August 22, 2007 – October 6, 2007

University of Maryland/ Baltimore County, Albin O Kuhn Library and Gallery
College Park, Maryland
January 28, 2008 – March 24, 2008

University of Washington Library
Seattle
April 2, 2008 – May 31, 2008

El Centro College
Dallas, Texas
June 16, 2008 – July 11, 2008

Texas Southern University, University Museum
Houston, Texas
September 5, 2008 – October 31, 2008

DuSable Museum of African American History
Chicago, Illinois
April 23, 2010 – August 1, 2010

Haggerty Museum
Milwaukee
August 25, 2010- January 2, 2011