Summer is here. July is upon us. The sun is out, though we are still bobbing around in a sea of bad news. Not a lot on the front page to lift spirits in quite some time now. Where we live, COVID is still bubbling, but at a less fierce rate. Certain signs of normalcy dawn. I put a half tank of gas in the truck the other day. First gas I’ve bought since mid-March, when I came off the road and into quarantine. I had traveled for 60 of the first 75 days of 2020, but acknowledged the good sense Annie was talking to me, and came home on March 15th. Flew in from Amsterdam, on a 747, with about 50 people on board. Least populated 747 I’ve ever been on. And, most likely, the last time I’ll ever fly in one of those amazing, four engine behemoths.
Doing some writing, and conjuring pictures, but all is deferred for field work. I still get excited about getting back in the world with a camera, and thus can be a bit manic here and there, inside these four walls. Poor Annie must at least occasionally think she’s home schooling a toddler. But, not a day goes by I am not deeply thankful to be home and healthy, amidst so much loss.
But, through my window, and on my screen, through the prism of this utterly fractured year of our lives, I do see hope. People are marching for fairness, decency, and with an open heart, seeking common cause driven by our common, shared humanity. Horribly, it took yet another callous, unjust death of a black man as a catalyst, but that infinitely sad, infuriating spark has turned into a flame, and in the ongoing, sustaining heat of that flame there is hope. Hope for real change, permanent change, overdue change–call it what you will. But it feels real, and possible. And so yearned for, and necessary. The people marching in the streets, young, old, of all races, and genders, backgrounds, from cities and countrysides, a giant swirl of humans seeking to make a difference, and they already have. Black Lives Matter has the undeniable power of speaking the truth, and holds the unassailable ground of being right, and needed, and loud, and just, and necessary. The voices for change in the streets are powerful indeed, and will echo in our hearts and minds, now and forever.
I turned 16 in 1968, which was a tumultuous year by anyone’s yardstick. We lost Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy, and there were riots, and shootings, and demonstrations demanding civil rights, housing fairness, and an end to the war. America would never be the same. People hit the streets and pushed for change, and for our society and culture to be kind, and decent, and open to all, on an equal footing, regardless of race. It was an idealistic time, and has even been described historically as naive, but change was on everyone’s lips, and change happened. The assassinations, the tumult, the importance of good leaders who lift us up by the example of their lives, left its indelible mark on my sixteen year old consciousness. There is a reason we revere Dr. King, and his dream. He spoke truth to power. He dreamed of an America that, as Langston Hughes wrote, is “the land that has never been yet.”
As life turned for me, I became a photographer. Who knew? I didn’t even pick up a camera with serious intent until I was 20. And, even more strangely, I became a staff photographer at LIFE, and friends with Bill Eppridge, who was the senator’s photographer in Bobby’s all too brief run at the presidency. Bill made a picture of the Senator campaigning in the streets, standing on a car. I bought it a number of years ago. The energy, the eagerness, the readiness for change is in this picture. 1968.
Now, 52 years later, there is the same energy, but much more powerful and lasting, in the streets again. There is hope, again, in the streets, and in the voices of people demanding justice, fairness, and a way of American life that includes all, and resonates every day, in all actions, with love, understanding, outreach, conversation, and an embrace of fellow humans. Hope.
There is hope in this picture. I look at it every single day.
Carlos Perez says
Joe, thanks for the reflective words. It is indeed remarkable how the theme have had a resounding impact around the world, not just here at home. Like you, I hope it is permanent positive change that comes, in spite of all the pain that has come with it.
Juan Jose Gonzalez Cruz says
Thanks for your writing. I live very far away in South America and the USA civil right fight of the sixties, was something distant from us. Nowadays and although we see the news on TV, describing the events and the following crisis, yet it isn’t like a thoughtful thinking from an artist like you, expressed on the letter you kindly share. I follow you because your work in an example of the famous adage: “A picture is worth a thousand words” … but not this time.
Joe, thanks for acknowledging the mania many photographers feel right now, not being able to feed their soul with what they live for. Your blog reminded me that I’m not alone in my frustration.
Thank you Joe. I turned 18 in 1968 and living in the DC suburbs saw some of the protests first hand. Your story resonates.
Nicely stated Joe ! I have always enjoyed your writing, and of course your photography. Stay healthy !
Dieter Vandervan says
Your photos and words are an inspiration – thank you sir!
The heading itself is a powerful one.
Keith B Dixon says
Good words and thoughts
Some really nice words it sums up lockdown for me as a photographer. I’ve found it frustrating but I have had some really great family time that I never would have had in normal circumstances. Thanks for the great post.
Joe McNally says
Many thanks for stopping by the blog, Chris….