History Framed for All Time; Canadian Embassy Displays American Photojournalism

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), June 2, 2008 | Go to article overview

History Framed for All Time; Canadian Embassy Displays American Photojournalism


Byline: Deborah K. Dietsch , THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Some of the most famous American photographs of the last century belong to Ryerson University in Toronto. They portray President John F. Kennedy in his rocking chair, Martin Luther King delivering his "I have a dream" speech and Elvis Presley in his Army uniform.

The images were taken by the photographers of the New York-based Black Star agency and first shown in popular publications such as Life, Newsweek and the Saturday Evening Post.

In 2005, an anonymous Canadian donor, who had purchased Black Star's archives, gave nearly 300,000 of the historical photos to Ryerson along with $7 million to build a gallery and a research center to house them.

The transfer of this iconic American photography collection to a foreign university, even one just north of the border, is a stinging loss for this country's cultural institutions, made all the more poignant by an exhibition of Black Star photos at the Embassy of Canada.

Displayed within the embassy's art gallery are 330 images reflecting the best of the agency's work from 1939 through 1989. The photos are divided into three themes - the civil rights movement, war and conflict, and personalities - and mostly presented as slide shows on separate screens within the small space.

The photographers who took these black-and-white scenes helped define the evolving field of American photojournalism over the past half century, particularly in the area of race relations. Charles Moore was asked by Black Star to return to his home state of Alabama in 1962 and record anti-segregation protests. Soon joining him were colleagues Flip Schulke, who died earlier this month; Dennis Brack; Steve Shapiro; and others who charted the progress of the civil rights movement during the 1960s.

Their powerful photos remind us of the violence that erupted when James Meredith, the first black student to enroll at the University of Mississippi, was escorted to class and when later demonstrations against segregation were held in Birmingham, Ala. Captured with unflinching candor is the force of the fireman's hose and policeman's club on the nonviolent marchers.

Later photos document the crowds assembled to hear King deliver his stirring speeches during the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers' strike. It is clear even from this small selection of prints that Black Star compiled a comprehensive visual history of the movement, a photographic memorial deserving an exhibit on its own.

Another effective section of the embassy show presents images from World War II. …

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