Charles Moore, 1931-2010

Charles Moore, the celebrated Black Star photographer whose searing images of violence and injustice during the Civil Rights Era helped mobilize U.S. public opinion toward change, died last week at the age of 79. The Black Star family joins the world in mourning him.

Ben Chapnick, Black Star’s president, has had the privilege of discussing Moore and his legacy in interviews with the news media since the legendary photographer’s passing. His comments to NPR’s “All Things Considered” sum up what made Moore special:

He was not a cool, detached photographer. He was very viscerally involved with everything he photographed.

He had one thing that most of the other photographers didn’t have: he insisted on getting in close. Very rarely, if ever, did he use a long lens. He was always right in the middle, and quite often, you’ll see him in other people’s pictures.

This insistence on getting in close reflected Moore’s bravery. But Moore was “in close” — and in deep — in more ways than one. He was a Hackleburg, Ala., native taking pictures that many fellow white Alabamans considered a betrayal of their race.

As Moore once told USA Today:

To people who were really bigoted, I was the worst enemy, a Southern boy working for Life. I knew the South. . . . I also knew how to talk back to racists.

A collection of Moore’s photographs can be found in “Powerful Days: The Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore.” Below are just a few of his many historic images.

Martin Luther King Jr. arrested, Montgomery 1958

Firefighters hose demonstrators, Birmingham 1963

Demonstrators challenge a police officer, Birmingham 1963

Police dogs attacking demonstrator, Birmingham 1963

Demonstrators seek shelter from the hoses, Birmingham 1963

All photos © Charles Moore/Black Star

3 Responses to “Charles Moore, 1931-2010”

  1. Scott, My Thanks for this article about my dad. It's wonderful to see his work appreciatted and remembered by so many. We plan a 'celebration' of his life behind the camera sometime in April/May for either Florence or NYC, and if you wish will include you in the invitations.

  2. To Gary, comment above: my sincere condolences to yourself and your family.

    I first saw Charles Moore's work while at college in the UK. It was shown to us as an example of the power of photojournalism to win hearts and change minds. The image of MLK shown above has stuck with me ever since as an approach to aspire to.

    I can't think of a better epitaph for a photojournalist than that your work moved the world on its axis, even if by only a fraction. Moore's work certainly achieved that in spades, and in doing so provided us with an eloquent and lasting testimony to the inevitable triumph of dignity and perseverance over hatred and oppression.

  3. The Moore Family!

    That your father was a great photographer is not in dispute. That he must have been an extraordinary man to have allowed himself to photograph his subjects with such implicit sympathy in the tortured circumstances of the America of the 1960s deserves mentioning!

    I was born in SW Uganda. My mother travelled to the US in 1963 sponsored by the Kennedy Administration in a program he hoped would expose Africans to the US and the US to the Africans. Largely, that extended visit was educational, impressive and useful. However, my mother also witnessed the worst specimen of humankind during that time, with the police turning dogs and fire-hoses on people and justifying their actions with racist attitudes.

    Much later, in 1980, I arrived in the US and studied in Ohio before living in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. At the University of New Hampshire, I had my first experience of being referred to by the N-word in 1987. It was a terrible vexation to my spirit and generated such a violent internal reaction that I have since hated the memory of my time in Hew Hampshire.

    Growing up in East Africa - Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania - had liberated me even in childhood. My parents were politicians who had joined the scene because of their belief that we could govern our own countries with dignity and mutual respect. Even though we have failed we have at least had the wealth of experiment rather than spending an eternity in the servitude of colonialism. Even as we celebrated our own independence from British rule then Nelson Mandela became a victim of long-term imprisonment. We saw your father's American photographs at the same time as those that captured the suffering of black South Africans and the struggles of Winnie Mandela. The name of Nelson and Winnie Mandela became part of our learning at the same time as did the names of Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King.

    It is only recently that I have been able to put a face to the origin of the photos that changed the way all of us viewed America! I am deeply grateful for the life and work of your father.

    Edward Nobel Bisamunyu
    Zhengzhou, China

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