With sympathy and observing distance, the photographer couple Pirkle Jones and Ruth-Marion Baruch captured the 1960s in San Francisco, when the Black Panthers emerged from the civil rights movement and hippies experimented with new forms of living and working in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. It was a time when the various currents of the civil rights movement and counterculture were concentrated particularly on the West Coast of the United States. The politicization and radicalization following the assassination of Malcolm X and the bloody race riots in Watts, Los Angeles, contrasted with anarchic hedonism, and the agitative posters of the Black Panthers could be seen alongside psychedelic posters from the hippie culture across the urban landscape.
In 2013 the Museum Ludwig received a donation of fifty-two photographs by Ruth-Marion Baruch and Pirkle Jones from the Pirkle Jones Foundation. Now they are being presented in their entirety for the first time in a studio exhibition in the museum’s photography room. A Spotify playlist will provide visitors with a unique audiovisual experience that will immerse them in the atmosphere of the time.
Ruth-Marion Baruch (1922–1997) and Pirkle Jones (1914–2009) met in 1946 in Ansel Adams’s photography class at the California School of Fine Arts. Three years later, they married. Baruch had emigrated with her family from Berlin to New York in 1927, which saved them from persecution by the Nazis. After beginning her studies in English and journalism, she ultimately came to photography through her master’s thesis on Edward Weston. Jones had witnessed racism and violence in Louisiana and Indiana. Thus, they both shared a sharpened social consciousness, which is evident in their works.
The couple was deeply interested in the hippie movement, which formed in their own backyard: in 1967 Baruch frequently visited the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, the origin and center of the alternative Flower Power scene. The hippies’ program was visible on every street corner: free love and drug use, peaceful coexistence in communities and individual self-realization—far from capitalist society’s pressure to perform. Jones was interested in the houseboat community Gate Five in Sausalito, a group of free thinkers, artists, and dropouts whom he constantly accompanied for more than two years.
After these projects, Baruch turned to photographing the Black Panther Party, which differentiated itself from Martin Luther King’s non-violent civil rights movement. Although racial segregation had been officially abolished in 1964, reality was different. With their ten-point program, the Black Panthers continued to combat social oppression and exploitation. They called for equal access to education, work, and dignified housing, fair trials, and the end of arbitrary police brutality. To combat the latter, the Black Panthers advocated self-defense and did not oppose the use of violence. The press presented a markedly negative picture of the party. With the aim of counteracting this one-dimensional image, Baruch initially planned the series by herself. Ultimately it grew into a joint project with Pirkle Jones when he was to drive her to the Black Panthers’ first demonstration and spontaneously decided: “I’ll drive you there if you really want to go, but then I’ll take my camera too.”