Interview with Stephen Shames
In 1967, while a student at the University of California, Berkeley, Stephen Shames met Black Panther Party co-founder Bobby Seale at an antiwar demonstration in San Francisco and began photographing the Panthers. This self-assigned project continued for the next six years, ending in 1973, after Bobby Seale’s unsuccessful mayoral run in Oakland. Embraced by the organization, Shames was allowed unprecedented access, thus enabling him to capture not only its public face—street demonstrations, protests, and militant posturing—but also unscripted behind-the-scenes moments, from private party meetings to Bobby Seale in prison. Through his prolific output, Shames amassed an impressive archive of images, most of which have never been seen. Those that have been published appeared in the Black Panther, the party’s own newspaper, and a few other publications. For an organization that often suffered as a result of their portrayal through images, Shames’s photographs offer a nuanced portrait of this complex and often misunderstood group that helped define the turbulent 1960s.