In 1968, after meeting the wife of Party leader Eldridge Cleaver, husband and wife photographers Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch gained unprecedented access to the inner circle of the Black Panthers. From July to October of that year, Jones and Baruch took photographs as members managed nationwide community building from their national headquaters in Oakland.
An exhibition of the photographs at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in 1968 drew more than 100,000 people despite nearly being cancelled due to pressure from City Hall. Critics accused the photographers of being one-sided, as images of the Panthers engaging in violence were notably absent. Baruch responded to the critics, “We can only tell you: This is what we saw. This is what we felt. These are the people.”
In 2016, UCSC received Jones’ and Baruch’s entire photography collection, the single largest gift in the campus’ history, with an estimated value of $32 million. Donated by The Marin Community Foundation, the gift comprised 12,000 photographic prints, 25,000 negatives, and thousands of transparencies created by both Jones and Baruch, as well as a selection of prints by such colleagues and collaborators as Dorothea Lange, Edward Weston, Ansel Adams, and Minor White. In 2018, UCSC digitized over 6,000 of the photographs and made them available online for the public.
a great eye for humanity; nobody was posing; we were all part of somebody’s family,” and that they “captured the real love and inspiration of what the Black Panther Party was all about.”Black Panther Co-Founder Elbert Howard speaking of Pirkle Jones and Ruth Baruch
Vanguard Revisited: Poetic Politics & Black Futures continues at SFAI-Chestnut Street Campus until April 7.