On March 16th, 2010, Charles Moore, one of the giants of photojournalism’s golden age, passed away at the age of 79. Moore, who earned his stripes in the battlefield of the 1960’s civil rights movement, has been long-recognized as the photographer whose startling, 'you-are-there' imagery jumped off the pages of Life magazine and influenced not only public opinion, but the thoughts and opinion of the champion of the 1964 Civil Rights Bill, President Johnson.
The son of a Southern preacher, Moore served as a US Marines photographer during WWII, followed by several stints as a newspaper photographer. His big break came when, as a freelance journalist represented by the Black Star photo agency, he began documenting the civil rights movement at a time when southern Blacks, with growing support from others around the country began speaking out against a social system that was clearly stacked unfairly – and often brutally – against them.
While Moore was hardly alone in documenting the many marches and demonstrations taking place in cities and towns across the South, it was Moore’s photographs that grabbed the reader and placed them center stage in the events. Moore preferred using shorter focal-length lenses, which forced him to shoot from within the field of action rather than observing things from a safer distance. In fact, it wasn’t unusual to spot Moore in photographs taken by other photographers covering the same events. As a result he was also punched, kicked, and arrested more often than fellow-shooters, but at the end of the day its Moore’s iconic photographs that remain burned into our collective memories of those tumultuous times.
When reflecting back on Moore’s heyday, it’s also worth noting how the art, craft, and discipline of photography have changed. Today, anyone with a cell phone can qualify as a ‘journalist’, and even those who invest in a ‘real’ camera have the luxury of auto this, auto that, and the ability to capture stills with an extraordinary level of speed and ease. Working with hand meters and the occasional motor-drive (true beasts by today’s standards), Moore and his contemporaries had to set exposures, frame, focus, and shoot images without benefit of automation, and often one frame at a time. And with rare exception, there aren’t many shooters out there today capable of capturing monumental moments in time with the same perception and skill as Charles Moore.
Photographs by Charles Moore