Public Eye: Full Text

PUBLIC EYE: A CIVIL RIGHTS CASE STUDY examines both the daily happenings and monumental moments of the historic Civil Rights era.  On display are documents of the organizing, shaping, and transformative fight for racial equality and social justice in the United States from the 1960’s to the 1970’s as captured by the unblinking eye of surveillance. 

History has repeatedly shown the struggle of the majority against consolidated power, as Stokely Carmichael stated, “ The masses don’t shed their blood for the benefit of a few individuals.”  This archive represents a slice of time that bears witness to the actions of groups and individuals that mobilized, led by a moral compass that pointed towards revolution and outrage against segregation, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the war in Vietnam, the unethical treatment of prisoners, institutional racism, and the systematic oppression of people. 

We are offered a glimpse into the organizations whose power is being challenged; films and photographs of Ku Klux Klan marches, organized protests to keep schools segregated, and audio recordings of the police struggling to strategize a way to respond to a society that is becoming increasingly foreign and hostile under the rising influence of Black Power and the Students for a Democratic Society.  In this way PUBLIC EYE presents not only the socio-political landscape of Richmond, but the daily activities of public and private activities that defined the era.

The role surveillance culture plays in the struggle for social justice frames changing and prevailing ideas of freedom.  Periodically, throughout these images, we see the subject looking back on the photographer, in these moments we are directly confronted with the complexities of this archive and its relevancy of the past to the present.