EXHIBITS - RUTH-MARION BARUCH & PIRKLE JONES: BLACK PANTHER PHOTOGRAPHS, 1968

 

SMITH ANDERSEN NORTH presents

Ruth-Marion Baruch & Pirkle Jones:

Black Panther Photographs, 1968

January 21 - February 25, 2012

OPENING RECEPTION: January 21, 6 - 9PM

with a special screening of

The Black Power Mixtape: 1967 - 1975

a 2011 documentary featuring never-before seen footage of the Black Power Movement taken by a group of Swedish journalists in the late '60s and early '70s, edited by director G?ran Hugo Olsson.

 

 

 

"We photographed the Black Panthers intensively from July into October of 1968, during the peak of a historic period and in the Bay Area, where the Black Panthers National Headquarters is located. We couldn't possibly photograph all the aspects of this virile, rapidly growing, and deep-rooted movement, but we can show you: this is what we saw, this is what we felt, and these are the people."
 
- Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch, 1969
 
The San Francisco Bay Area
was a turbulent cauldron in the sixties. The Free Speech Movement, Vietnam War protests, Haight-Ashbury, Love-Ins and the Black Panthers were all part of the roiling pot of political change, cultural unrest and social upheaval. Huey Newton and Bobby Seale, students at Merritt College in Oakland, California founded the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense in 1966, and by 1968 the movement had spread to over 15 U.S. cities with an estimated membership of over 10,000 people nationwide.  


The party set out to create practical change, and distinguished itself from both the non-violent civil rights movement of Martin Luther King, Jr., and the black nationalist rhetoric of Malcolm X, instead aligning itself with socially, politically and economically oppressed people throughout the world. Newton and Seale wrote a Ten Point Platform for the new organization, demanding as its first point, "the power to determine the destiny of our black community." They added longstanding black aspirations for housing, education, employment opportunities, and an end to police brutality and murder, as well as a right to bear arms in self-defense. Their program called for blacks to be tried by juries of their peers, for black prisoners to be released because none had received fair trials, and concluded with a quotation from the Declaration of Independence, asserting the right to revolution.
 
Former Party Communications Director Kathleen Cleaver recalls the Panthers as "a mobilization of tremendously talented but very young Black people who had little financial and institutional resources, but we had unlimited imagination.... We had to imagine how we could make a fundamental change in the United States that would make Black People's lives better."  
Despite rampant vilification by the mainstream media and a rash of internal conflicts that would eventually divide the party, the Black Panthers were able to combine divergent activities in a unique way. They provided free breakfasts for school children and other community service programs. Simultaneously, they ran electoral campaigns, challenged racist exploitation, published a newspaper, organized schools, engaged in armed clashes with police forces, formed international alliances with nations and movements that shared their ideologies, and advocated a revolutionary transformation of the political system of the United States. 

 
By 1968, however, optimism had taken some serious hits. FBI Chief J. Edgar Hoover vilified the Black Panthers as "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States." Huey Newton was awaiting trial for allegedly killing an Oakland, California police officer.
 
Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones entered the scene at this critical moment. Baruch had proposed a photographic essay on the Black Panthers to Jack McGregor, Director of the De Young Museum in San Francisco, with the idea of presenting "the feeling of the people."  McGregor agreed to show the photographs that same year, understanding the timeliness of the subject matter.


After gaining permission to photograph the Free Huey Rally at DeFremery park from Panther Party leaders Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver, Baruch set out to document the party for the next several months, bringing husband Pirkle Jones to photograph alongside her. After showing the Cleavers their first photographs, they were given unprecedented access to the Party and its inner circle.


Stemming from the artists' work with the Peace and Freedom Party, the project reflects a desire to capture in images a closer understanding of the Black Panthers and their organization.


The work of Baruch and Jones stands in radical contrast to mass media images of the time depicting the Panthers as thugs, criminals, or dangerous subversives. Their pictures reflect the dignity and humanity that animated the young revolutionaries, and also suggest universal themes of family, commitment, and hope for the future.
 
McGregor cancelled the De Young show, fearing media backlash, but when Baruch and Jones fought against the censorship, he eventually agreed to let the exhibition go forward. In December 1968,  A Photographic Essay on the Black Panthers opened to record crowds and was viewed by over 100,000 people before traveling to three other venues. The Vanguard, A Photographic Essay on the Black Panthers was published in 1970 by Beacon Press, and Black Panthers, 1968, which includes an essay by Kathleen Cleaver was published by Greybull Press in 2002.
 
In conjunction with this exhibition, Smith Andersen North will be screening The Black Power Mixtape, 1967 - 1975, a 2011 documentary containing footage shot by a group of Swedish journalists who documented the Black Power Movement in the United States in the late '60s and '70s. The documentary has been edited together by contemporary Swedish filmmaker G?ran Hugo Olsson and features extraordinary, virtually unseen footage from the Black Power Movement.
February is Black History Month 2012.
 

Top Left: Pirkle Jones, Kathleen Cleaver, DeFremery Park, Oakland, 1968;
Top Right: Ruth-Marion Baruch, Black Panther Guards, Free Huey Rally, DeFremery Park, 1968;   
Bottom: Center: Pirkle Jones, Black Panther Demonstration, Alameda County Courthouse, 1968