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Toronto, Ontario, Canada
"To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." ~ Henri Cartier-Bresson

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Photographer Profile ~ Stephen Shames

STEPHEN SHAMES was born in Brooklyn. His work is deeply engaged with social issues such as poverty and race, and he has worked in collaboration with numerous not-for-profit organizations and art museums. He is best known for his photographs of the Black Panther Party and Children living in the Bronx. Shames’s images are in the permanent collections of the Interna­tional Center of Photography (ICP), New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; University of California’s Bancroft Library, Berkeley; San Jose Art Museum; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He has received awards from Kodak (Crystal Eagle Award for Impact in Photojournalism), Leica, ICP, and the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial (RFK Journalism Award), World Press, and the New York Art Director’s Club. Shames is the founder of the Stephen Shames Foundation, which puts AIDS orphans and child soldiers into school in Uganda. Shames testified about child poverty to the United States Senate in 1986. He lives in Brooklyn.

 "The Bronx has a terrible beauty— stark and harsh—like the dessert. At first glance you imagine nothing can survive. Then you notice life going on all around. People adapt, survive and even prosper in this urban moonscape of quick pleasures and false hopes. I am attracted to survivors, to people who overcome incredible odds and harsh environments. Some of the kids in these photographs did just that. My images reflect the feral vitality and hope of these young men" ~ Shames

"I guess these kids in the Bronx are also lost boys. They let me into their lives because I did not judge them. Many of them saw me as a father / mentor / friend. Sometimes when I was not photographing, I listened to them and helped them comprehend their confusing world." ~ Shames

Kid Smoking Dope, Bronx, ca. 1980

 a teenage boy smoking a cigarette on chicago’s south side, 1972

 "The act of photographing, taking an interest in someone's life — especially if society does not care a hoot about them — can have an enormous, positive impact on someone. Plus, I gave pictures to everyone. That is how I work. I always give people their photos. I think seeing themselves, seeing how good they looked in the photo boosted their confidence." ~ Shames

 The Black Panthers
In the midst of the largely nonviolent Civil Rights movement sweeping through America, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the legendary Black Panther Party, in 1966, in Oakland, California. The party burst onto the scene with a militant vision for social change and the empowerment of African-Americans. Its methods were highly controversial and polarizing, so much so that in 1968, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover described the organization as the country's greatest threat to internal security. During the height of the movement, from 1967 to 1973, photographer Stephen Shames had unprecedented access to the organization and captured not only its public face-street demonstrations, protests, and militant armed posturing-but also behind-the-scenes moments, from private meetings held in its headquarters to Bobby Seale at work on his mayoral campaign in Oakland. Shames's prolific output has produced the largest archive of Panther images in the world. His remarkable insider status enabled him to create an uncommonly nuanced portrait of this dynamic social movement, during one of the most tumultuous periods in U.S. history. 

 Panthers on parade at Free Huey rally in Defermery Park (named by the Panthers Bobby Hutton Park) in West Oakland.
  "a few years ago, I gave a talk at the University of California, Berkeley, and someone in the audience asked about my role in the Black Panthers-was I a member of the party? I said, 'No, I was just a photographer.' Several former Panthers got up and said, 'Steve, we always considered you a member of the party.' That is a badge I wear with honor. . . ." Shames
 Children of party members attend school at the inter-communal youth institute at the house for panther children. Oakland, 1971
 Bobby Seale speaks at Free Huey rally in West Oakland.

 Panther Jerry Dunigan serves breakfast to children at Panther Free Breakfast Program.

Angela Davis speaks at a Panther rally in Defermery Park, West Oakland.

Panthers listen to Huey P. Newton give a radio talk during Bobby Seale’s trial, New Haven, May 1970. When this image was taken, Bobby Seale was on trial for the murder of fellow Panther Alex Rackley, who was suspected of being a police informant.

 Huey P. Newton holds a Bob Dylan album at home after he was released from jail. Photograph

1 comment:

  1. The photos have captured the essence of the BPP. I had the good fortune to live in Oakland for a while. Really brought my awareness to the fore. Attended Huey Newton’s funeral. Years later I came to New Haven, CT and met Bobby Seale. Thanked him for allowing me to have a life not knowing anything else besides “Black Power!