March 27, 2018

Archive of Black Panther Party Photographer Stephen Shames Enters Briscoe Center Collection

AUSTIN, TEXAS—The Briscoe Center at the University of Texas at Austin has acquired the photographic archive of Stephen Shames, who is best known for his role as the Black Panther Party’s photographer between 1967 and 1973.

“Shames has used his camera to document the intimate histories of a wide range of subjects, including black political activism in the Bay Area, everyday life in New York City, and child poverty across America,” said Don Carleton, executive director of the Briscoe Center. “His archive will not only be preserved here at the center, it will be actively utilized in our mission to foster exploration of the American past, which is why a selection of his work prints is currently on display in the center’s exhibit hall.”

Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Shames was raised in California, where he began working as a photojournalist in 1967. He covered local protests and unrest in the Bay Area while he was still a student at the University of California, Berkeley. That same year he became a photographer for the Black Panther Party after meeting its cofounder Bobby Seale at an anti–Vietnam War demonstration. Through his friendship with Seale, Shames gained behind-the-scenes access to the party’s organization and work advocating for social change. Among the many moments he recorded with his camera are street demonstrations and protests, party strategy meetings, student life in Panther schools, and their community food programs. Shames also documented Seale’s mayoral campaign in Oakland.

“As a young man, I was privileged to have inside access to the Black Panther Party. Later, as a photojournalist and artist I traveled the world and embedded myself in the lives of many living on the edges of society,” Shames said. “I hope students and scholars can use these archives to enter worlds they cannot see in person, but can experience through historic photography. I learned a great deal from the people I photographed. I hope others can expand their knowledge and understanding of our world through my work.”

A selection of Shames’s work prints is now on display at the Briscoe Center. According to the center, collectively these works reveal a lesser-known side of an organization whose image is often perceived as excessively militant. Shames’s photographs can be found in the collections of a number of major institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York; the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC; and the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis. He is also the author of ten books, including Outside the Dream: Child Poverty in America (Aperture, 1992) and Power to the People: The World of the Black Panthers (Harry N. Abrams, 2016).

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