The wavy lines that frame some of Frederick Kuretski’s photographs were not imbued for artistic effect – they are the remnants of a basement flood. The fact that the undulating, soft waves only add to the pictures proves one thing; Kuretski’s images are profound, and their impact on the viewer is due to more than their popular history.
“Moments in Future History: Images from mid-60’s Alabama,” is a small but comprehensive showing at the Orlando Gallery in Tarzana. Kuretski is a CTVA professor, and his treasure trove of historical photos from Alabama during the civil rights movement in the ’60s have finally resurfaced.
In 1964, the Woodrow Wilson Foundation created a new program, the Southern Teaching Fellowship. Kuretski was invited to participate, and he chose to teach at Stillman College, in Tuscaloosa, Ala.
In a segment explaining the origins of his art, Kuretski said “If you were the one walking around with a camera you automatically became the official photographer of everything. The prints in this exhibition are a result of me carrying out these duties.”
Kuretski said he chose to show these images more than 40 years after their conception because “This period in my life has always been close to me. You know it’s a pretty damn exciting time, but you didn’t know its historical significance. The meaning of these pictures is tied into the passage of time – and they became more important to me as time went on.”
Kuretski’s photos merge photojournalism and portrait photography – each image is a careful study in the composition of light and framing, but shows an un-posed moment.
In “Klan photographer,” Kuretski tells the story of how he captured the image of a Ku Klux Klan photographer. Kuretski was working to integrate public restrooms for all races at a courthouse.
“We were marching around the sidewalk, and we were all wearing inner tubes in our shirts, and newspapers in our hats, because they were hitting us with a cattle prod,” he said. “This guy came to all of the marches, and he would take pictures of all of the white people. We were ‘outside agitators.’ He was just about to bring his camera up and shoot me, but I whipped it up like this, and bam! I took his picture. He was kind of stunned – and he looked at me and said,’Well – what’s fair is fair.'”
The photo is simple, but the intense glare of the subject translates many emotions from that day.
In one picture, entitled “Siblings and Cousin,” three impoverished children sit smiling on a bed, their wide eyes full of hope and happiness. “Look how full of hope these kids are,” said Kuretski.
“I was just documenting daily life – like an FSA (farm security administration) photographer,” he said.
In another photo, he zoomed in close to a woman clutching a burning cigarette, a piece of paper pinned to her brooch that reads “peace.” In the background, a police officer’s head is centered between protestors, and a small black and white peace button on somebody’s coat draws more attention to the intricate detail of the image.
“This picture to me sums up the anti-war movement. There was less time taking these, less contemplation, more time documenting,” he said.
Kuretski’s gallery exhibition includes images of JFK’s fresh gravesite, Julian Bond, who was a leader of the civil rights movement, and Willie Ricks (aka Mukasa Dada), a civil rights activist who coined the term “black power” and was recently beaten by police at Morehouse College.
“This kind of stuff exists everywhere in this country,” said Kuretski.
“It has certain meaning to you, but that meaning is slowly lost, but it travels in time and comes back and it all becomes moments in everybody future’s history.”
“Moments in Future History” will be showing at the Orlando Gallery at 18376 Ventura Blvd. until March 29. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm.