Chrysler Museum of Art
Pictures Tell The Story: Ernest C. Withers
January 28 - May 7, 2000
The Chrysler Museum of Art is pleased to announce the first retrospective exhibition and major monograph of the photography of Ernest C. Withers. After opening at the Chrysler, the exhibition will travel to other venues and will be accompanied by a lavishly illustrated book. (left: Ernest C. Withers (b. 1922), Ernest C. Withers, 1995, ©Ernest C. Withers, Courtesy of Panopticon Gallery, Boston, MA)
Ernest Withers holds a unique place in mid-20th-century American photography. Working as a self-employed photographer in the American South, Withers was in a unique position to record the making of history. However, he was not merely a recorder of this history, but was very much an active participant. His photographic subjects have ranged from the Civil Rights Movement, the baseball players of the Diamond League, to the blues and jazz performers in his hometown of Memphis, Tennessee.
Withers could be called the original photographer for the Civil Rights Movement. Documenting the Movement from the 1950s through the 1960s Withers produced a book on the Emmett Till murder that became a motivating influence for the push towards equal rights. In the 1950s he photographed players of the Diamond League including such icons as Jackie Robinson and Willie Mays. Based on legendary Beale Street in Memphis, Withers photographed the early performances of such celebrities as Elvis Presley, B.B. King, Ike and Tina Turner, Ray Charles, and Aretha Franklin. (left: Ernest C. Withers (b. 1922), Harlem House Girl, Beale Street, c. 1950s, gelatin silver print, on loan)
In 1992 the Massachusetts College of Art organized the exhibition and published a catalogue entitled Let Us March On! Selected Civil Rights photographs of Ernest C. Withers, 1955-1968, which is now out of print. The photography of Ernest Withers has been reproduced in many publications, including Time, Newsweek, Ebony, Jet, The New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Defender, The Tristate Defender, Norfolk Journal and Guide, Amsterdam News, and others. (left: Ernest C. Withers (b. 1922), Lionel Hampton, Hippodrome, Beale Street, 1950s, gelatin silver print, on loan fom the artist)
The exhibition is organized by Brooks Johnson, Curator of Photography at the Chrysler Museum. The biographical text is authored by the distinguished photographic historian F. Jack Hurley Ph.D., who wrote the classic book entitled Portrait of a Decade: Roy Stryker and the Development of Documentary Photography in the Thirties. An additional text on the significance of the music photographs is written by Daniel Wolff. (left: Ernest C. Withers (b. 1922), I Am a Man, Sanitation Workers..., 3/28/68, gelatin silver print, 15 x 15 inches, Chrysler Museum of Art, 97.21.1)
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