By Karen Lee Wald
Cuba Inside Out
A Review of BLACK AND WHITE –photos by Howard Epstein from the archives of Liberation News Service 1968-1974
The photos in this book are stunning, both for their quality and content. But as important as that is, there’s more: the book tells a story of the times, of the people and institutions of those times. It reminds us of Liberation News Service, a collective of people in New York and writers (including myself) and photographers scattered around the country, committed to telling the world about the movement for peace and social justice. And not just individuals, but collectives who put out newspapers — daily, weekly, monthly– all around the country too. As Ken Light, a member of the LNS collective in NY comments in his foreword to the book, “If you weren’t around in the ’60s, you probably never heard of The Great Speckled Bird, The Old Mole, The Chicago Seed, The L.A. Free Press, The Berkeley Barb, The Guardian, The Austin Rag, Akwesasne Notes, Off Our Backs, Space City, and the Black Panther News, or maybe not even Liberation News Service”.
And he’s right, but that’s not by accident. In a time before email and internet, mimeographed or printed packets of articles and photos were mailed out to these and other media in what was known as “the underground press”. And the reason those who came later may not have heard of them (much less seen them) is that there was an organized (and sadly effective) effort on the part of the US government to wipe out what it saw as a very real threat to its control over what people read, knew and did in those turbulent times. It was, if I may, the COINTELPRO of the media. And just as surely as the FBI’s Counter Intelligence Program decimated and eventually completely wiped out many of its targets of the Black, Brown and Native American Left, the program also succeeded, through many devious means, in wiping out most of the alternative press in this country. Until the internet, that is……..
So it is more than just the very moving and revealing images in the black and white photos of this book that makes it important: it’s a history lesson, both of the determined movements to oppose war and racism and so many other evils of an oppressive capitalist and imperialist system, and of the people who worked tirelessly to let the world know about them.
Having said that, the pictures themselves do tell a story –or many stories. The most obvious is that the violence (both threatened and real) is apparent when you see the heavily armed and aggressive stance of the repressive forces (police or military) arrayed against demonstrators who are asking for peace. And the photos don’t leave you wondering whether their menacing stance was acted upon: you see in the photos that it was, as demonstrators are beaten bloody right in front of the camera.
Howard Epstein (or Howie as we always knew him then) gets up close and in their faces — so that we see the facial expressions of both the demonstrators and the police/soldiers – expressions that each tell their own stories. I found myself wondering how he got SO close — and also, when looking at a photo of a policeman aiming his club menacingly at a photographer, I realized how really dangerous it was to be in that place, taking those pictures…..
While the pictures are all from the 60s and 70s, they do more than just remind us of a history which hopefully will be passed on to our grandchildren and future generations, although that in itself is important as our history is constantly being rewritten by those who control the media. They are also a reflection of what is going on today, sometimes over new issues and, more scarily, sometimes still over the same ones.
It’s a book that should be in every home, school, community center and library.