Civil Rights Photos at the Skirball Center

The following comes from Art Knowledge News:

Bill Eppridge’s Chaney Family as They Depart for the Funeral of James Chaney, Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1964
Bill Eppridge’s Chaney Family as They Depart for the Funeral of James Chaney, Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1964

LOS ANGELES, CA.- The largest exhibition in more than twenty years devoted to photography of the Civil Rights Movement will open at the Skirball Cultural Center on November 19, 2009, in its West Coast premiere. Organized by the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Road to Freedom: Photographs of the Civil Rights Movement, 1956–1968 features images that helped change the nation: they shed light on injustices prevalent in America at the time, promoted solidarity among citizens, and dramatically increased the momentum of the struggle for equal rights. Road to Freedom will remain on view at the Skirball through March 7, 2010. Breach of Peace will open simultaneously with Road to Freedom, on November 19, and will remain on view for an extended period through May 9, 2010. In addition to work by renowned photographers, the exhibition displays pictures taken by anonymous or unidentified individuals who made stirring visual documents of marches, demonstrations, and public gatherings out of a conviction for the social changes the movement represented.

The exhibition displays approximately 170 photographs by more than thirty-five photographers drawn primarily from the High’s permanent collection, which includes one of the most comprehensive holdings of civil rights–era photography in the country; many have never before been displayed to the public. Exclusively for this Southern California presentation of Road to Freedom, the Skirball has developed a new section focusing on Los Angeles civil rights history, with new loans from the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive in the Department of Special Collections at the Charles E. Young Research Library at UCLA, the J. Paul Getty Museum, and the Getty Research Institute. Among the local events portrayed are the picketing of Kress Store in Pasadena in 1960, the march on Pershing Square on March 14, 1965, and the Watts Riots of 1965.

Also on view at the Skirball will be Breach of Peace: Photographs of Freedom Riders by Eric Etheridge. This companion exhibition displays more than a dozen contemporary portraits by photographer Eric Etheridge of Freedom Riders, as they came to be known. In 1961, these young women and men converged on Jackson, Mississippi, to challenge state segregation laws and were arrested and convicted of the charge “breach of the peace.” Etheridge’s images of the Freedom Riders, now senior citizens, will be displayed alongside their original mug shots. Breach of Peace originated as part of the High Museum’s Road to Freedom exhibition, but has been expanded for the Skirball presentation to encompass related historical objects, including student activist buttons and newspaper clippings.

Exhibition Overview
Tracking the twelve-year span between Rosa Parks’ famed act of resistance against racial segregation aboard a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1956 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination in 1968, Road to Freedom chronicles such historical turning points as the Freedom Rides (1961), the March on Washington (1963), the Selma-to-Montgomery March (1965), and the Poor People’s Campaign (1968). Iconic images include Bob Adelman’s Kelly Ingram Park, Birmingham, 1963; Morton Broffman’s Dr. King and Coretta Scott King Leading Marchers, Montgomery, Alabama, 1965; Bill Eppridge’s Chaney Family as They Depart for the Funeral of James Chaney, Philadelphia, Mississippi, 1964; and Builder Levy’s I Am a Man/Union Justice Now, Memphis, Tennessee, 1968.

“The indelible images in Road to Freedom portray the hope and courage of the men and women who took to the streets and campaigned peacefully for social change,” remarks Robert Kirschner, Skirball Museum Director. “The Skirball is proud to bring this remarkable exhibition to Los Angeles as part of its ongoing mission to promote justice, equality, and human dignity in American life.”

“In many ways, the history of the Civil Rights Movement cannot be understood without contemplating the photographs that helped shape public opinion,” adds Cox. “Most of the photographs were taken by professional photojournalists sympathetic to the cause and by activists motivated to record newsworthy events with an objective and informing eye. Because of the moral energy they radiate, these are among the most important and beautiful photographs of our nation.”

“Press photographers defied threats of jail or worse to capture on film the fire hoses and police dogs of Birmingham, Alabama—and immortalized the spirit of those who withstood their attacks,” notes Erin Clancey, Skirball Associate Curator and managing curator of the exhibition’s presentation at the Skirball. She continues, “To this day, their images have the power to move, shock, and inspire.”

In the new section on local history added by the Skirball, photographs of the Watts Riots of 1965 document the violence that occurred in Los Angeles during the Civil Rights Movement. Yet other images illustrate the bravery of Angelenos who used nonviolent protest to fight discrimination in schools, workplaces, neighborhoods, and public places and who stood in solidarity with Southern civil rights workers by staging sympathy boycotts and vigils, such as the one held at Los Angeles Valley College in 1965.

Accompanying all photographs in the exhibition are extensive, informative captions, as well as related archival objects and documents. For example, Rosa Parks’s police fingerprint paperwork and the blueprint of the bus on which she made her fateful stand are shown alongside contemporaneous photographs. The exhibition also brings together newspapers, magazines, and posters from the period, demonstrating how, in the hands of community organizers and newspaper and magazine editors, photographs played a pivotal role in raising awareness of key issues and influencing public sentiment.

The exhibition also includes a short documentary film, Voices of Freedom, produced, edited, and directed by Neal Broffman, son of photographer Morton Broffman, whose work is represented in the exhibition. This poignant film weaves together historical footage and recent interviews with photographers, reporters, and activists from that time period. Co-produced by Julian Cox, the film was awarded the prestigious CINE Golden Eagle Award and the CINE Special Jury Prize in the “Arts and Exhibits Programs” category in 2008.

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Posted by Gina Genis

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