1/27/2009 - Exhibit explores dark past - The UAB Kaleidoscope

Words and images come to mind when visitors walk into the Jennifer Hunt Gallery, which is presently displaying the racially charged show, “Powerful Days.”

Shocking. Horrific. Hard to withstand, or even so much as think about. You try and tear your eyes away, but you simply cannot, in spite of the terrible content of the photographs before you.

Yet voyeurism has never seemed so acceptable as it does once the viewer takes into account that the images are pure history and that the racial issues of the South are so forcefully rendered. The Civil Rights photography exhibit highlights the work of famous award-winning photographer Charles Moore.

Moore, an Alabama native, displays through his camera some of the shocking events that took place during the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.-led Civil Rights movement in Alabama.

According to Jennifer Hunt, the gallery’s owner, the pieces are a revealing look into the sometimes overly unjustified violence toward demonstrators and protest marchers of the era.

“The pieces grab you and it isn’t easy to look away,” she said. “I really enjoy these images for their outstanding photographic quality, but the raw subject matter is so spot-on, that you really find it hard to not get caught up in the emotions of the subjects.”

Pieces like “The Selma March” and “Selma (tear gas)” show, with enormous visual flair, the large number of people who participated in the event, but who also faced such turmoils as tear gas and police brutality on March 7, 1965.
Though the tear gas piece might appear smaller and more difficult to see because of the thick barrel of smoke cloaking the subjects, it’s that ‘real’ quality that Moore’s image has that captures the emotions.

  In the tear gas picture, there is an undeniable strength in the single photo, but it should be noted that Moore took many of his show stopping photos in sequence and as part of a larger series.

One of the most stunning and arresting images has to be the one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. being forcefully pushed into a counter for booking, after being arrested while loitering around the Montgomery courthouse.

Moore recalls the events on Sept. 3 1958, as King was trying to enter a crowded courtroom and was taken away by force. Moore says that King was just standing near the door trying to enter the courtroom and when he was asked to leave by police, King replied that no, he had his rights.

Moore says he took pictures as the police arrested King and pushed him down the street. When the group arrived at police headquarters, Moore says he ran behind the sergeant as they booked King at the counter.

While Moore’s other images at the gallery are gripping in their own right, his piece of King against the counter seems almost to snarl with frustration, as you see the calm beneath the stormy nature of the event itself. While King remains firm in his stance, violence seems to swirl around him, yet never quite gets the best of him. This contradiction in terms gives the photograph an almost luminescent eeriness.

King appears with one of his hands against the counter, while the other is locked behind his back. He seems visually engaged, but it’s the gaze in his eyes, clearly seen in Moore’s image, that makes King seem angry and yet resigned. It is photography at its absolute best, and in my opinion, currently the best photography display to see in Birmingham at the moment.

“Powerful Days,” the collection of documentary photography by Charles Moore, is on display until Feb. 21 at the Jennifer Hunt Gallery located on Highway 280 in the shopping center across from Whole Foods.

<-- Go Back