Protest is Patriotic: David Fenton’s SHOTS

by Chris Murray on July 2, 2020

It was fifteen years ago this year that SHOTS, a book of David Fenton’s political demonstration photographs, was published. I was introduced to Fenton by my friend, the photographer, archivist, and teacher, Lely Constantinople. Together we edited and published SHOTS (Earth Aware Editions, 2005). I organized an exhibition of Fenton’s photographs in April 2005 at Govinda Gallery to launch the book.

Fifty years later, many of the people I see in demonstrations today remind me so much of the spirit captured by David Fenton in his book SHOTS. I’m sure significant books will be published from these days, of these times.

Entrance to the Fort Dix stockade, New Jersey, October 12, 1969
Two boys at a rally in support of Black Panther Party Chairman Bobby Seale and other Panthers, New Haven, CT, May 1, 1970
Black Panther Dhoruba Bin-Wahad, a co-defendant in the Panther 21 case, speaks at a rally in support of the Panther 21. Co-defendants Afeni Shakur (mother of Tupac Shakur) and Jamal Joseph stand to his left and right. New York City, April 4, 1970
Policeman in riot gear during “Honor America Day” (note the tear gas in his shirt.) Washington, D.C. July 4, 1970
Women demonstrators outside Fort Dix, a major transshipment port for U.S. Army soldiers leaving for Vietnam, October 12, 1969
A crucifixion tableau during an antiwar rally, Washington, D.C., May 9, 1970

I would often see this demonstrator at antiwar rallies up and down the East Coast. It was profoundly moving to see him quietly depict the crucifixion in the midst of very passionate demonstrations.

Protesters arrested during the Days of Rage, Chicago, IL, October 11, 1969
John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the “Free John Sinclair” rally, in support of Sinclair, a White Panther and manager of the band MC5, after his arrest for giving two joints to an undercover police officer. Jerry Rubin is playing congas. Ann Arbor, MI, December 10, 1971
Allen Ginsberg at a rally in support of the Black Panther Party, New Haven, CT, May 1-2, 1970

Allen Ginsberg was my spiritual and political mentor. He remains one of the greatest American poets of all time. He was a remarkable activist with a brilliant intellect. I chanted mantras with Ginsberg in Lafayette Park in front of the White House in the early 70s as he played his harmonium and I played a dulcimer. On another evening, I was tear-gassed while chanting by Ginsberg’s side on the street outside Lisner Auditorium as antiwar and social justice demonstrators were being confronted by the police. Chuck Berry was performing at the same moment inside the auditorium as the tear gas was shot in front of us and behind us. Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide. In the chaos, people began to flee the auditorium as the tear gas was finding its way into the concert.

The photographer David Fenton at the Liberation News Service offices, New York City, May 21, 1970
SHOTS is available on amazon.com.

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