Collecting photographers: Charles Moore RIP

Friday, March 26, 2010

Taken By Frank Siteman

I grew up at a time when Life & Look magazines were middle-America’s eyes on the world. Saturday Evening Post was another outlet that used the photograph as prime communication & informed a nation hungry for a glance. We watched the latest fads & trends & news printed alter the world just beyond our reach. And we assumed we were part of it. My parents indulged my rabid curiosity. Besides subscribing to all the picture publications we were one of the first African American families to have a television. My sister & I sat on the floor surrounded by playmates & their parents watching the small black/white screen.

Taken By Charles Moore

During the Civil Rights movement, Life had journalists scanning the issue, covering the major events. It was a scary time for African Americans. The black/white photographs of angry mobs, police dogs & marching protesters seemed to fill the newspapers. But one picture stood out & changed the opinion of a nation: Firemen attacking blacks with high powered water hoses in Birmingham. The photograph galvanized a somnolent USA to pass the historic Civil Rights Act.

For much of his life Charles Moore was represented by the photo agency Black Star & he was a contract photographer for Life Magazine. He fell into photography after the Marines.

Taken By Charles Moore
I was in the quaint auditorium at the Maine Photography Workshops. I traveled up to Rockport, Maine that week because I was teaching a workshop. The session broke up & all the students, instructors & photographers were milling around socializing. By luck I was casually introduced to a nondescript man. As I shook his hand he repeated his name, “Charles Moore.” My memory went into hyper-drive. In a nanosecond I dredged up from my medulla oblongata the byline I had seen under so many photographs from my past. I leaned in & tentatively asked if he was THE Charles Moore. I do not think anyone else in our vicinity had any idea who he was. He was from a time long past & an era most of the people in the room wanted to forget. I think he appreciated the adulation. I grabbed him by the shoulders & spun him around so that I had his undivided attention.

“I have your photograph on my coffee table at home. It’s been there for years. I look at it everyday.” At that time I lived in a one room, fourth storey walkup. For the life of me I cannot remember where I found the picture but it was an iconic image from my boyhood & the turmoil in which I had grown up. We talked for quite a while swapping “lies”. With me Charles was in his element. I was someone whose life was cataclysmically affected by racial discrimination & his photographs had illustrated the problems.

Taken By Charles Moore

Charles had followed the Movement & Martin Luther King for years. He was a product of the Depression. Maybe it prepared him for the bus boycotts & sit-ins & violence he would later cover. His influence on the civil rights movement elevated the significance of photography as a medium of social change. His was a moving piece on our fragile relationship with the world. Photojournalism came of age during that time.

Taken By Charles Moore
We talked many time during the rest of the week & continued to run into each other over the years at photography gatherings. I kept in touch with him over the years but gradually disappeared after he moved back down south. He was from Alabama & I guess he felt more comfortable in that environment even though he was so instrumental in changing its complexion forever.

My friend Frank Siteman told me Moore had married almost eight times. I was surprised but “photographers will be photographers”. He died late last week & we mourn the untimely passing. He was 79 years old & he had altered the world with his photography. There are few who will ever be able to claim that.

View his book Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore.

I think he’d appreciate the adulation.


Larry Lawfer April 2, 2010 at 1:28 PM  

Very nicely written tribute to THE Charles Moore. He worked in a time where there was access to the truth and he was unafraid to photograph it. I mourn his passing.

Dick Taffe,  April 6, 2010 at 2:51 PM  

Charles Moore's work demonstrated the unquestioned power of the image, and his iconic images will outlast all of us. Thanks for the appropriate memorium ...

Jennifer Marshall,  May 4, 2010 at 1:01 PM  

This subject hits a sad chord in my heart since I have three african american siblings..I have shed many tears learning about those times in our history and reading this about Charles Moore is no exception. Although this is the first time I have read about him, I now will never forget him,his photographs,or the times he helped change for my brothers and sister. Thank you

Unknown May 15, 2010 at 11:02 AM  

As a photographer, I am touched today in 2010 as much as I've been affected over the years. Where I have met Mrs. King [in 1983], and shared space with many of our American Nation builders, Mr. Moore's images remain in my consciousness, and sub-consciousness. I, a war baby, can only aspire to capture the images of our day. amir chela, photographer

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blog (blŏg, bläg) n. 1. short for Weblog 2. online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer 3. diary that is posted on the Internet 4. an experiment to verbalize my observations about the status of photography. It will be eclectic & deal with philosophy & practice of this universal art form. It will strive for periodic commentary about issues many photographers face, like ownership and the economy. It will also talk about pictures and what makes good ones and how to get them. No hardware. No software. No recycled clichés. No whining.