mericans hate history, and they’re getting tired of hearing what a magical, mystical time the ’60s were, blah blah blah — but there’s always room in the collective consciousness for something as raw and vital as “The Whole World’s Watching,” a new photojournalism show — as well as a forthcoming book of pix and commentary — at the Berkeley Art Center.
The subject is the social ferment of the ’60s and ’70s, captured on the streets by such noted photogs as Richard Misrach, Nacio Jan Brown (a gorgeous portrait of a fly dude, in silk shirt and chains, with a child in his arms on Telegraph Avenue), Robert Hsiang, Douglas Wachter (Berkeley cops watching a city car burn during the 1969 People’s Park riots), Ken Light, Cathy Cade, Richard Bermack, Ted Streshinsky, and Jeffrey Blankfort (covering “La Marcha de la Reconquista” by farmworkers in Sacramento, 1971). The photos recall a time when almost every day brought a piece of earth-shattering news.
What was it about the ’60s? “There were a lot of us,” says Robbin Henderson, the art center’s executive director. “We believed a lot of the rhetoric we were brought up with, and then we were horrified at the hypocrisy all around us.” Or as college professor Leon F. Litwack puts it in his accompanying essay, that huge post-WWII generation of young people were confronted with “an enormous contradiction between what television, the cinema, the school, and the home had taught them and the reality of racism… war… poverty… insensitive and faceless bureaucracies… the moral bankruptcy and lies of political leaders….” And the debate still hasn’t died down. These photos hit even the most blasé viewer like a moral sledgehammer.
“The Whole World’s Watching” opens at the Berkeley Art Center, 1275 Walnut St. in Live Oak Park, Berkeley, with a reception at 2 p.m. Sunday, September 16, and runs through December 16. Admission is free. The exhibition catalog, scheduled to be published in November, features text by Litwack, Judy Grahn, Ruth Rosen, and Peter Coyote. Several related events are also planned; see the weekly “Billboard” listings for details. 510-644-6893 or www.berkeleyartcenter.org.