But what may have encouraged Cleaver's request may have been Howard Bingham's largely apolitical nature. Bingham always kept quiet about any political feelings that he had, but instead focused on individuals, as is evident in his recent exhibition at the Californian African American Museum; A Moment in Time: Bingham's Black Panthers. The exhibition's introduction summarises Bingham's role as follows;
"This exhibition and the accompanying publication, not only showcase recognisable snapshots taken during public displays, but also posed, private and unusual moments that the Panthers' leaders could have only granted to a well trusted soul whose artistry and openness to the cause would be honestly reflected through the lens of a camera. That is the access that they gave to photographer Howard Bingham, from which he created an extremely personal and priceless tribute."3
For me Bingham distanced himself, or tried to distance himself, from the politics of the movement in order to portray the human, everyday character of its members and what I believe he felt to be the essential matters, especially community. It is for this reason that I want to concentrate on one particular photo by Bingham, simply entitled 'Panthers' Headquarters, Oakland'.
The photograph shows two young girls, one African America, the other Caucasian, cycling past the Panthers' Headquarter building. The immediate symbolism of the photo is quite clear, portraying the notions of equality and possibility, but what makes the image especially interesting is the apparent anxious expression on the face of an African American woman standing in the doorway of the building as she watches the two children. And when one looks closer at the image the face of a man becomes recognisable in the window of the Panthers' Headquarters, peering out at the children. The viewer immediately asks his or herself what is the reason for the seemingly shared anxious expressions of the African American man and woman, in complete contrast to the children.
Another feature of the image that encourages questions from the viewer is the role played by shadow. Although the two children are side by side they are separated by shadow, the African American child within it, and the Caucasian child outside it. But what we must not forget when analysing the work of this exhibition is that these photos are journalism as art, and that it is impossible to know how much of the scene has been constructed by the author. It is very likely that these two children just happened to be riding together at a particular time of day but the image still poses questions. Is the artist attempting to suggest that there is a natural division between the children or is he in fact highlighting the idea that racial division is as superfluous as how the sun's rays reach the sidewalk at a certain time of day, and that the innocence of these children allows them to transcend the division. Is Bingham here suggesting the idea of an integrated future
A number of different aspects of the image can be interpreted as a variety of symbols, that lead to more questions arising, and give us an interesting view into, or interpretation of, of the artists own personal feelings towards the Black Panthers, and in fact the entire Civil Rights Movement. It is impossible to tell if the woman at the threshold of the Headquarters is stationary or if she is leaving the building,