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An initiative elevating stories and histories of the struggle for justice in Philadelphia and beyond

Values


Moments Within the Movement

An exhibit of work by Maurice Sorrell and Devin Allen featuring leading figures from the civil rights era and the rise of citizen activism

Fields of Knowledge
  • Memory
  • Public culture
  • Social Justice

Organizing Institutions

Penn Social Justice & Arts Integration Initiative, Slought

Organizers

Aaron Levy & Stephanie Renée

Opens to public

02/01/2019

Address

4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

On the web

philajustice.org

"I am." Two words, three letters, but they powerfully resonate with significance and meaning. As an affirmation of being, of personhood, "I am" is a declaration of irrefutable existence and humanity. It exudes confidence and strength in its simplicity, and challenges others to acknowledge its truth as fact, beyond personal perspective or bias.

In The Souls of Black Folks, Du Bois poses the question of "What must be done?" Responding to the problem of the color line in his time, he dedicated his life's work to let suffering speak and to realize justice for all. Inspired by Du Bois, the Social Justice & Arts Integration Initiative invites you to a permanent exhibit at Slought featuring the work of photographers Maurice Sorrell and Devin Allen. Both self-taught artists, they harness the power of portraiture and social documentary to foreground the reality of oppression and the importance of emancipation and freedom.

Exhibited alongside one another, Sorrell's work documents leading figures in the civil rights movement while Allen's work highlights the rise of citizen activism today in an era of social media. Foregrounded here are the challenges of class and coalition-building, which complicates the credibility of social justice work. Their work also questions who is empowered to voice and frame the story for a larger audience. Choosing to shoot their images in black and white, both Sorrell and Allen add gravitas to the notion that our lives dwell in contrasting realities, where right and wrong exist simultaneously, an endless pool of shades of grey that encircles all of humanity.

How can we support the desired outcomes of resistance and revolution? Media and the arts are challenged today to add relevance to the fierce beauty of these times. To document moments within the movement that illuminate its direction and outcomes. And to elevate the voices, images, and realities of the quest to not only exist, but to matter.

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Maurice Sorrell (1914-1998) captured the story of the civil rights movement using his camera. He preserved in pictures such notable events as the march from Montgomery to Selma, Alabama, and the historic March on Washington. In his photographic career that spanned more than three decades, he also was eyewitness to urban riots of the 1950s and 1960s and captured the images of nine U.S. presidents. His work regularly appeared in the publications of Johnson Publications, including Ebony and Jet magazines.

Sorrell worked as a laborer at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing but sought unsuccessfully to become a photographer's apprentice. In 1955, Sorrell accepted a photography position at the Pentagon, but because of his race, he was restricted to work in the darkroom and forbidden to go out on assignments. After two years, he left to become a freelance photographer. In 1961, Sorrell joined the White House Photographers Association, becoming the first black person to gain admission. Johnson Publishing Company hired Sorrell in 1962, where he remained news photographer for their Washington bureau from 1962 to 1993.

Devin Allen (1988-) is a widely acclaimed photographer and activist who was born and raised in West Baltimore. He gained national attention when his photograph of the Baltimore Uprising, which he shared through his personal Instagram account, was published on the cover of Time in May 2015 – only the third time the work of an amateur photographer had been featured. A Beautiful Ghetto, a visual story by Devin Allen about Freddie Gray's Baltimore and the rise of the New Activist, was exhibited at Slought in 2016 and published by Haymarket Books in 2017.

His photographs have also appeared in New York Magazine, The New York Times, the Washington Post, and Aperture, and are in the permanent collections of the National Museum of African American History & Culture, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, and the Studio Museum in Harlem. He is the founder of Through Their Eyes, a youth photography educational program, and the winner of the 2017 Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowship.

"We are. We live. We matter."

-- Ursula Rucker,
Philadelphia Child