BLACK LIFE: IMAGES OF RESISTANCE AND RESILIENCE IN SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA By Sandra Castillo
The black-and-white images ranged from milieu awash in the ominous shadows of civil unrest surrounding protestors marching through the streets of L.A. to the wide-eyed innocence of a child, the stare permeating the frost of adversarial conditions surrounding her. Each portrait on display was a stunning revelation of a tumultuous, ever-changing era swept up in the dynamic charges of celebrity and controversy, as well as the imbalances disposed to the throes of racial segregation and what life was really like for a person of color living in a predominantly all-white America in the second half of the twentieth century.
The photo exhibition Black Life: Images of Resistance and Resilience in Southern California recently wrapped up its three-month-long showcase at the San Diego Museum of Art’s Fleming Sr. Gallery, where it featured the works of individuals who were an integral part of the African-American movement from the 1950s to the 1990s. The expose hosted a fifty-year span and was documented in four principle categories: Entertainment, Sports, Figures, Activism.
Photographers Guy Crowder, Harry Adams and Charles Williams-with cameras in tow-captured the pulse and sway of key figures in the sports, political and entertainment industry, as well as ordinary humans who had lived in a world defined by status quo and set color boundaries. The men worked on assignment as freelancers for various publications-the Los Angeles Sentinel, California Eagle, L.A. Times and the LA Metropolitan Gazette. When they were out in the field documenting the events of daily living and certain challenges that impacted a sector of society that faced rampant discrimination and other societal injustices, the lensmen wrangled their observations and succinctly captured it all on film.
Adams’ photo of a man holding a large sign that read “We Are Tired Of Waiting,” in “Protest Car,” underscored the frustration and resolve of one who refused to back down in his solidarity to show the world the restrictions imposed upon him and his people.
The seduction of “Barbershop” coyly smolders as a voluptuous beauty and well-heeled gentleman in fedora and two-piece suit pose in the front of the barbershop he owned. When visiting this image, it proved challenging to completely turn away from the ebb-and-flow of the lines and symmetries of the one standing next to a man whose eyes were coolly fixated on the ravishing woman.
The ruthless, brutal world of boxing and its fearless champion-Muhammad Ali-unleashed itself against flesh-and-bone in Crowder’s portrait (Untitled) of the prized fighter in the ring with his opponent. The intentional slamming of one’s gloved fist into the body of his opposition yielded itself as a definitive case study of what it meant to incorporate death-rattling blows in its inevitable quest for victory-when defeat was not an option.
“Child Holding Book” centered on a small girl peering over the top of a booklet that reminded many observers of their own childhood memories tethered to a beloved grade-school book titled, “Are You My Mother?”
Williams stood on the sidelines in “Cocktail Party,” as he captured a gathering of women in heels and social evening attire strutting the night away. In their ebullience, they cast all dispersions to the wind to simply enjoy themselves with one another, even if male suitors were absent from the premises.
The importance of history is to remember, honor and revisit it often from the archives preserved for the posterity of all future generations to come. The succession and legacy of the African-American collective was earmarked in Black Life, thanks to those who were there and the photographers who documented those essential moments to ensure its inheritance and continuance well into the next century and beyond.