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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Photographie. Shames fait entrer les Black Panthers dans l’Histoire

by Magali Jauffret

Shames makes the Black Panthers part of history

Translated Wednesday 20 December 2017, by Annette Mitchell

Panthers on Parade, Oakland (California), 28th July 1968. Stephen Shames/Courtesy Stephen Kasher Gallery

The Stephen Shames retrospective at the Robert-Doisneau Photography Gallery at Gentilly portrays the fractures in American society since the 1960s.

It was a time when the Black Panthers revolutionary movement, formed in 1966 in Oakland, near the heart of the black ghetto of San Francisco, unsettled the United States with a program of packed-house meetings, demanding an end to discrimination, to racist crimes and a demand also for school food distribution, free medical clinics, police patrols and charismatic leaders.

A white photographer, Stephen Shames, then a student on the Berkeley campus, was the only one entrusted to photograph the movement from the inside. First image in immersion April 15, 1967. As the author says today, "they liked my photos because the Panthers understood that America is a world where the media rules. They understood that images are important, especially the image of themselves that they wanted to promote."

A topic relevant today

On the walls of the Robert-Doisneau Photography Gallery, the powerful political reality of this investigation of these still unresolved racial issues is what strikes the viewer. This photographer, whose archives are held at the University of Texas at Austin, was there at each of these milestones and, at times, tragic events, in the epic journey of the Panthers to obtain civil rights.There were numerous demonstrations in the 1970s against the incarceration of Huey Newton, African-American writer and co-founder of the movement, thrown into prison after being accused of killing a police officer, before being acquitted on the grounds of self-defence; the portrait of Bobby Seale, incarcerated in San Francisco as part of the Chicago Eight affair; the funeral of George; Jackson, shot in detention.

The power of Stephen Shames’ work also derives from his documentation of the context: the barricade at the Panthers’ headquarters during the trial of Bobby Seale; Eldridge Cleaver’s presidential candidacy for the Peace and Freedom Party, which fought against the war in Vietnam, during which some 5,000 black marines would lose their lives; the daily life of the community that sponsored food drives and distributed newspapers on the street.

Pictures that became part of history

"I took most of the existing Panther photos," says Stephen Shames. It is a human testimony. But at the time, I did not realize it. I was just taking pictures. If you live long enough, your photos become part of history. "

The exhibition, curated by François Cheval and Audrey Hoareau, is also valuable because it is retrospective. And perhaps we are more interested in the narrative of Stephen Shames in this other role, where, like Jacob Riss, who used the medium to inform and change the world, he follows the Bronx youth in their most dangerous games, teenagers into prison and child victims of poverty. "An ardent, at times smouldering life, reflecting contemporary America, emerges from the work``, writes Francois Cheval in the catalogue. ``Thanks to the perseverance of certain photographers, like Stephen Shames, it is still possible for us to think that photography can grant us access to that rare sense: attentive gravity. "

"Stephen Shames. A retrospective ". Until January 14, 2018, Robert-Doisneau Photography Gallery, 1, rue de la Division-General-Leclerc, 94250 Gentilly. www.maisondoisneau.agglo-valdebievre.fr

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