Inside the dimly lit room, tall standing tables adorned in black tablecloths were scattered across the room and the smell of wine lingered in the air.
Platters of hors d’oeuvres set up in the middle of the room offered fancy cheeses and crackers, pita chips and hummus. Attendees milled about, looking at the framed black and white photos hanging on the gallery’s walls, many of them with a clear glass in hand.
Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery, once located at 18 S. Michigan Ave., was reopened Oct. 11 on the Auditorium side of the University’s Auditorium Building on South Wabash Avenue. The gallery’s reopening was christened by a showing of the photo negatives and contact sheets from the civil rights movement produced by Steve Shapiro’s, a noted photographer whose pictures of the Civil Rights movement is highly acclaimed.
Mike Ensdorf, a Roosevelt professor of photography and the associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, planned the exhibit in conjunction with the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center, which is currently housing an exhibition with Shapiro’s prints from the civil rights era as well.
“I thought it would be an interesting twist to show his contact sheets or his process of shooting during that time,” Ensdorf said. “There aren’t many shows like that, so it’s a bit unique.”
Many of the pictures in the exhibit feature well-known figures — Martin Luther and Coretta Scott King — and some feature lesser-known figures, including members of the general public. All of the photos were centered around the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the events that shaped the movement. Shapiro, who attended the opening, reflected on his work.
“As a photographer at that time, there was no posterity,” said Shapiro. “When these pictures were taken, there basically were no galleries.”
Shapiro, a young photographer and freelance journalist at the time, spent the 60’s capturing events such as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963, and the
Selma to Montgomery march in 1965. It never occurred to the young man that his photos might be important pieces of history one day. And yet, their impact continues to be felt.
“All the images or other images may have a greater impact today than individual images were at the time, especially considering our current political climate,” said Lynne Brown, a professional art photographer from East Humboldt Park who attended the opening.
She found it fascinating to be able to see another photographer’s process of editing down the photos taken of an event to the key images and “how what becomes important changes over time,” Brown said.
Others attending the event were able to see the era from a different perspective and make it more personally applicable. “I like to look at the expression on people’s faces in the photos. It just tells you a lot about the magnitude of it,” said Jan Parkin, the interim vice president for advancement at Roosevelt. “It was a transformational movement done by individual people.”
Parkin wondered aloud what the people in the photos could have possibly been thinking about while the photos were being taken.
“Did they know that what they were doing would last 50 years? That we’d still be talking about it and that it would have had such an impact?” said Parkin, a resident of Kennelworth.
Karina Herrera, an intern with the Gage Gallery and a senior integrated marketing communications major at RU, saw the gallery as an opportunity for untold history to be documented.
“So much has been erased or documentation has been lost, specifically with these, these have never been printed or displayed or seen by anyone before,” she said. “So, this is like history that is being documented as we put it on display… It’s gonna get remembered.”
Several people attending the event were struck by the similarities they saw in the photos of protests on the walls and the photos recently taken at protests such as the Women’s March and the March for our Lives.
“It makes you realize how, in some ways, how connected those events are to today’s events,” Ensdorf said. “As we’re walking through different events here, protests, you get a sense that it’s historic, but it’s only history after the fact and photography kind of helps build that history.”
Others at the event admitted that they gained a new perspective of media and how what content the public sees is orchestrated.
“I never thought about how the photographer was not the one to get to select the photos that got put out there… ,” Herrera said, standing in the middle of the gallery, taking in the frames full of photos. “Editors at these middle class, white magazines got to choose what actually got put out…changing perspectives, point of view.”
The exhibit will be open for the remaining fall semester, until Dec. 22. The gallery will host another exhibit with some of Shapiro’s more contemporary work during the Spring semester. This work will focus more on modern movements such as Black Lives Matter and other anti-violence organizations.