UC Merced’s art gallery is the Central Valley stop for an exhibit on counterculture during the tumultuous late 1960s in the Bay Area and United States.
“Black Power * Flower Power” is a traveling show that features the documentary photography of Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch, a Bay Area-based couple who were photographers.
The exhibit, which chronicles the hippie and Black Power movements of 1967 and 1968, has dates in California as well as Germany and Spain.
Ed Lanfranco, one of the six student curators for the exhibit, said the photographers were sympathetic to the counterculture causes they documented. They also studied at America’s first fine arts photography program, started by photographer Ansel Adams in 1946 at what is now the San Francisco Fine Arts Institute.
“Their work is a combination of fine arts photography and documentary photography,” the 50-year-old graduate student said.
Jones’ and Baruch’s images captured the blossoming hippie culture in San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury amid the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and the black liberation movement led by the Black Panthers in Oakland during the summer and autumn of 1968.
The couple wasn’t happy with the way the movements, and particularly the Black Panthers, were portrayed by mainstream media, Lanfranco said. The couple thought they could show a more well-rounded picture of the movement, he said.
“They wanted to cover the Black Panthers not as just militants that had shown up on the steps of the Capitol brandishing weapons,” he said, “but some of the other things the Black Panthers were doing, such as monitoring the police, having free breakfast programs for children and things of that nature.”
The students who curated the exhibit at UC Merced do so as a sort of lab for a class on curating museums.
Another student curator, Peter Racco, 23, said he and other students whittled about 150 photographs down to the roughly 40 that would fit into the UC Merced space.
“We were looking for pictures that were aesthetically striking to us,” the UC Merced senior said. “Pretty much all of our initial selections were ones that were dramatic and said something about the time period. And also we wanted to pick images that showed community and solidarity.”
Many of the pictures also depict prominent leaders from the Black Panther movement, including Huey P. Newton and Kathleen Cleaver.
The movements of 1967 and 1968, though separated by time, were conjoined as movements of counterculture trying to create a better society, Racco said.
“It basically represents one movement,” Racco said, adding many of the civil rights issues remain unresolved.
Jones came from a working-class family and grew up in Louisiana and Indiana. His interest in photography began in high school and his early work appeared in “U.S. Camera Annual” and “The American Annual of Photography.”
Baruch was born in Berlin, the daughter of a prominent neurosurgeon and wealthy socialite. Her family emigrated from Germany to New York in 1927. Baruch graduated from the University of Missouri with degrees in English and journalism, and earned a master’s at Ohio University with a thesis on photographer Edward Weston.
ShiPu Wang, the professor of the curatorial class, said the people of Merced play a large part in completing the task his students set out to do.
“You can put on a show, but with no audience it is meaningless,” Wang said, standing in the art gallery. “So, we want this space to be something the whole Merced community can participate in.”
Photographs by Baruch and Jones in “Black Power * Flower Power” have been exhibited around the country and the world since 1968.