Seattle is not the first city that comes to mind when we think of the Black Panthers, but that’s where they’re headed–Stephen Shames‘ photographs of them, that is. “The Black Panthers: Making Sense of History,” an exhibition of Shames’ photos of the social movement from 1967 through 1973, opens on Wednesday at the University of Washington’s Odegaard Library.
Shames, who now lives in Brooklyn, had unprecedented access to the Black Panthers during the movement’s height, capturing street demonstrations and protests as well as behind-the-scenes moments and private meetings. In his 2006 book The Black Panthers, published by Aperture, he discusses an enlightening Q&A session that followed a talk that he gave a few years ago at the University of California, Berkeley.
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.”
Wow. That must have been some Q&A session! For Shames, his newfound status is “a badge [he] wear[s] with honor.” As for the lessons learned, he writes, “For me the most important part of the Black Panthers’ legacy is a belief that one can effect change even when things seem hopeless.” So chin up, Starbucks and Microsoft execs, and don’t miss this show!