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Monday, February 21, 2011

There can be an exciting life style as a photographer and you may find your legacy taking center stage over your years of hard work after you departed this life. Case in point, Ernest Withers Civil Rights Photographer.

Ernest Withers was a photographer who’s black-and-white images illustrates a history of life in the segregated South in the 1950s and ’60s. He recorded the civil rights movement from the front lines and from the Beale Street music scene. He is also remembered for his capturing on film the last years of Negro League baseball. His work appeared in publications like Time, Newsweek and The New York Times and has been collected in four books: “Let Us March On,” “Pictures Tell the Story,” “The Memphis Blues Again” and “Negro League Baseball.”

He was born August 7, 1922, in Memphis, Tennessee. He worked as a photographer in the Army in World War II and started a studio when he returned. He also worked for about three years as one of the first nine African-American police officers in Memphis. I think this history of service to country and community is important when you look at accusations he was an FBI informant.

In a yellow journalistic style, Marc Perrusquia writes, "As a foot soldier in J. Edgar Hoover's domestic intelligence program, Withers helped the FBI gain a front-row seat to the civil rights and anti-war movements in Memphis. In Withers, who ran a popular Beale Street photography studio frequented by the powerful and ordinary alike, the FBI found a super-informant, one who, according to an FBI report, proved "most conversant with all key activities in the Negro community.''
Marc Perrusquia filed his FOIA request in 2007, after Withers died. So Withers cannot offer any response in his defense. During my meager research, I’ve read similar descriptions but have also run across a claim he was force into that role. Nothing definitive. At least not to my satisfaction.

Not give too much credit to Mr. Perrusquia’s claim, all I’ve read is that there are references to a confidential informant number, ME 338-R, which the FBI didn't redact. However it isn’t directly linked to Mr. Withers in the accounts given by Mr. Perrusquia. Mr. Perrusquia notes that, "the one record that would pinpoint the breadth and detail of his undercover work — his informant file — remains sealed."

Withers played a key roll in the Civil Rights Movement as a result of his photographic document of the Emmett Till trial. He was witness to key Civil Rights moments including: the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Medgar Evers Funeral, the Integration of Little Rock High School, the March Against Fear, the Memphis Sanitation Workers' Strike and the Martin Luther King, Jr. assassination and funeral.

I reserve judgment on the discrediting claim and look to what his talent behind the lens produced. To help support that position, I add in Mr. Withers service to country, support and service to the law as a police officer, and both the era and the nature of J Edgar Hoover and his FBI. Any claims his being a sneaky little tattle tale falls short when compared to the danger of being a black photo journalist in the throes of desegregation of the 50’s and 60’s.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Power of A Picture to Expose Injustice

This is a picture of Bibi Aisha, an 18-year-old woman from Oruzgan province in Afghanistan, who fled to her family's home from her husband's house, complaining of violent treatment. The Taliban arrived one night, demanding Bibi be handed over to face justice. After a Taliban commander pronounced his verdict, Bibi's brother-in-law held her down and her husband sliced off her ears and then cut off her nose. Bibi was abandoned, but later rescued by aid workers and the U.S. military. After time in a women's refuge in Kabul, she was taken to America, where she received counseling and reconstructive surgery. Bibi Aisha now lives in the U.S.

The photo was taken by Jodi Bieber, an Institute for Artist Management for Time magazine photographer based in South Africa. She won the World Press Photo of the Year 2010 with this photo.

Jury chair David Burnett said about the photo: "This could become one of those pictures - and we have maybe just ten in our lifetime - where if somebody says 'you know, that picture of a girl', you know exactly which one they're talking about". The prize-winning entries of the World Press Photo Contest 2010, the world's largest annual press photography contest, were announced February 11, 2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Power of Photography to Unite

Mysterious Roll of Film Found in Brooklyn

This is a fun and interesting link about a young man who found a roll of film in a park and how trying to find the owner has opened him up to possibilities he never imagined. Just click on the title above the picture.