The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Witness
Benedict J. Fernandez
The 60’s: Decade of Change
Photo by Benedict J. Fernandez . Source: bronxdoc.org
Benedict J. Fernandez, "Dr. Spock, Dr. King, and Rev.Rice marching down Fifth Avenue" 1967

The large photograph of Martin Luther King, Jr. that covers a ground floor window in the Bronx Documentary Center only hints at what’s inside. Here, on display in this South Bronx gallery and educational space, are 27 black and white images that document one of the most divisive periods in American history –known as the 1960s. They’re the work of photographer Ben Fernandez who captured some of the most iconic images of the era, documenting the peace marches, civil rights demonstrations, riots and assassinations.

Fernandez, with a persona larger than life, had an impact on photographers and photography that was immeasurable. He brought a new take to documentary photography and chose to photograph projects that he considered important ––rather than work on assignment for a publication with deadline pressures. While photographing a civil rights march in Central Park in 1967, he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and eventually became one of the few photographers allowed to photograph King at home, capturing intimate moments with his wife and children.

Photo by Benedict J. Fernandez . Source: bronxdoc.org
Benedict J. Fernandez, "Solidarity march honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. after his assassination. Memphis, Tennessee, April 6, 1968."

Fernandez’s friendship with King allowed him to capture the historic moment when the civil rights leader, Dr. Benjamin Spock, and Monsignor Rice from Pittsburgh appeared together in the 1967 Solidarity Day parade in front of the United Nations. Another iconic image is that of a young boy staring at the camera during a Solidarity march.

Fernandez was better known for more confrontational images and there is no shortage of them here: the iconic photograph of the 1967 Newark riots, National Guard troops sitting in front of a burned out store with mannequins lying on the sidewalk, another that he took from inside a wrecked store as a troop carrier drove past. If you’re a certain age, there are painful memories on display here, like the 1965 image of five young men in suits and ties burning their draft cards in Union Square and the 1966 picture of a mob of American Nazi party sympathizers and white citizens in what is probably Cicero, Illinois holding signs with racist messages. Fernandez was there– on the front lines so to speak. Also memorable is the 1966 image of a protest rally in Times Square about the treatment of Jews in Russia. It’s an in-your-face shot of a woman wearing a babushka with a cop and two men behind her. It’s a gorgeous work of art.

Photo by Benedict J. Fernandez . Source: bronxdoc.org
Benedict J. Fernandez, "Pro-Vietnam War Demonstration" 1970

Fernandez, now 78 years old, is not the typical photojournalist with a humanistic eye. A distinguished educator, in the 1970s he established the Photography Departments at the New School and Parsons School of Design, created the Leica Medal of Excellence, and inspired many emerging photographers with his unique “philosophy of vision.” He also received numerous awards including Guggenheim and Fulbright Fellowships and has published a number of books, including “Protest” which is for sale at the Bronx Documentary Center. This exhibition includes vintage prints as well as some work prints from the artist’s archives that have never been shown before.

(The Center, by the way, is easily accessible from midtown, with directions and other information on its website, www.Bronxdoc.org)

Go. It’s worth the trip as well as a tribute to a master of the genre—Ben Fernandez.

Benedict J. Fernandez
The 60’s: Decade of Change


Bronx Documentary Center
614 Courtlandt Ave.
Bronx         Map

917 696 1655
bronxdoc.org

Friday, May 2 to
Sunday, July 20, 2014
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