The Black Panthers: Making Sense of History

  January 28 - March 24, 2008

In 1966 in the midst of the civil rights movement, Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale founded the legendary Black Panther Party in Oakland, California. The Party, revered by some and vilified by others, burst onto the scene with a revolutionary agenda for social change and the empowerment of African-Americans. Its methods were controversial and polarizing, so much so that in 1969, FBI head J. Edgar Hoover described the organization as the country's greatest threat to internal security. In April 1967, Stephen Shames, a college student at the University of California, Berkeley, met the Panthers at a rally to end the war in Vietnam. He was invited to photograph them and continued to do so until 1973. His close friendship with the Panthers, and Seale in particular, gave Shames unusual access to the organization, allowing him to capture not only the public face of the Party - street demonstrations, protests, and militant posturing - but also unscripted behind-the-scenes moments, from private meetings held in the Party headquarters, to Bobby Seale at work on his mayoral campaign in Oakland. The immediacy and intimacy of Shames's photographs offer an uncommonly nuanced portrait of this dynamic social movement, during one of the most tumultuous periods in recent U.S. history.

A book that accompanies the exhibition, The Black Panthers, photographs by Stephen Shames, foreword by Bobby Seale, essay by Charles E. Jones, was released by Aperture in October 2006 on the occasion of the Party's fortieth-anniversary reunion in Oakland, California.

Stephen Shames is an award-winning photographer and social activist whose photographs on social issues have been published in numerous major publications and are in the permanent collections of the International Center of Photography, New York; National Portrait Gallery, Washington, D.C.; Museum of Photographic Arts, San Diego; University of California's Bancroft Library, Berkeley; and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. He has received awards from Kodak (Crystal Eagle for Impact in Photojournalism), World Hunger Year, Leica, International Center of Photography, and the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Foundation. Shames is one of ten photographers featured in Tipper Gore's book on homelessness, The Way Home. He has testified on the issue of child poverty to the U.S. Senate and was a featured speaker at American Bar Association and Children's Defense Fund national conferences. The Ford, Charles Stewart Mott, Robert Wood Johnson, and Annie E. Casey Foundations have underwritten his work. PBS named Lewis Hine, Marion Post Wolcott, and Stephen Shames as photographers whose work promotes social change. Shames's other publications with Aperture are Pursuing the Dream, Outside the Dream, and Empower Zone. He is represented by Polaris Images, and the Stephen Kasher Gallery, New York.