Photographer recounts life, work

Veteran photojournalist Charles Moore spoke Monday in the Sanford Institute of Public Policy about his experiences chronicling the Civil Rights movement.

Moore , who has worked for a variety of publications, photographed Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1958 arrest in Birmingham, Ala., and the forced integration of the University of Mississippi in 1962.

He also documented Bloody Sunday-the attack by police on a peaceful attempt to march from Selma, Ala., to the state capitol at Montgomery in March 1965-and a Ku Klux Klan gathering the same year in North Carolina.

His most iconic image-a 1963 photograph taken in Birmingham-shows protesters buffeted against a wall as they are blasted with a fire hose.

"It was meant for me to be out there," Moore said. "I'm very proud that you can see changing attitudes in the South today."

A panel discussion at Monday's event featured Robert Korstad, associate professor of public policy and history, and Charles Payne, the Sally Dalton Robinson professor of history, African-American studies and sociology and director of African and African-American studies. The discussion touched on Moore's images as well as contemporary civil rights and journalism.

The discussion and a question-and-answer period were preceded by a screening of Charles Moore: I fight with my camera, a documentary produced by Dan Love, a senior, during his freshman year at Duke. Love also moderated the discussion.

Moore explained that the film's title arose from of an interview several years ago. A reporter, aware of Moore's experiences as a Golden Gloves boxer and a Marine, asked why he felt threatened in the middle of the violence he photographed.

"I don't fight with my fists anymore," Moore said he told the reporter. "I fight with my camera."

Moore learned his trade while in the Marine Corps, and he got his first job with the Montgomery Advertiser. He emphasized the role that his father, a Baptist priest, played in cultivating his belief in racial equality when Moore was a boy.

"You can make a difference, but you have to focus," Moore told the assembled group. "You have to look beyond, both in terms of making a difference and in how the photograph looks through the lens."

In prepared comments and in response to student questions, Korstad and Payne provided historical context for the photos.

"For many of the young people in the movement, it still sticks in their craw that these images are too powerful, because people respond to the sheer fact of what was occurring without the images," Payne said. "If there weren't photos, you couldn't get the feds out there to provide protection."

Payne also cautioned that although the photographs are very powerful, they tend to hide the longer story of the Civil Rights Movement, obscuring it with single events made vivid to the public by the lens.

During his prepared remarks, Korstad questioned the continued social relevance of photojournalism.

"Does the camera have the same power it did 40 years ago?" he asked. "I wonder to what extent we have the capability of being shocked today."

Audience questions covered a wide range of topics-from Moore's relationship with King to the state of the media today.

When one student asked if the pervasiveness of the media made it impossible for people to trust leadership now as they did in past days, Korstad demurred.

"I think the danger is that we don't have the kind of access we did then anymore," he said. "Journalism today isn't nearly as good coming out of Iraq as it was in Vietnam. We have people embedded, but they see what the Army wants them to see."

Both the speakers and audience members noted that while the moral issues of civil rights seem to have been extremely clear-cut during the heyday of the movement, many people now find it too difficult to find a clear right and wrong in the contemporary world.

The lecture hall was nearly full for the event, and many students stayed after the panel had finished to speak with Moore, Payne and Korstad.

"As an African-American student, I was very pleased to see such a diverse turnout," said Nicole Jackson, a junior.

She said she had seen many of Moore's photos but was unaware of who the photographer was. Responding to Korstad's remarks, Jackson said she thinks the photographs still retain the ability to appall viewers.

"I was personally very shocked by these images, and I've seen a lot of them before," she said. "Also, Rodney King was not that long ago, and Katrina images are very shocking today."


Share and discuss “Photographer recounts life, work” on social media.