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January 6, 2003

UCSC library receives donation of photos valued at $1 million from renowned California photographer Pirkle Jones

By Scott Rappaport

UCSC has received a donation of photographs from renowned California photographer Pirkle Jones and his late wife, Ruth-Marion Baruch, valued at more than $1 million. The collection includes their landmark documentary series of photos of members of the Black Panther party in 1968, just published in a new book by Greybull Press, and recently exhibited at the Shapiro Gallery in San Francisco and at the Monterey Museum of Art.

Photographs by Pirkle Jones, above, and his late wife, Ruth-Marion Baruch, below, have been donated to UCSC. Photos: Rita Bottoms

This image from the 1968 A Photo Essay of the Black Panthers exhibition is among those donated.

A colleague of Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, Jones had his first retrospective covering 60 years of photography last year at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. His work portrays a broad view of 20th-century California, ranging from a collaboration with Lange documenting the destruction of the Berryessa Valley, to the growth of the wine industry, small forgotten towns, the hippie movement, the city of San Francisco, and the landscape of the northern California coast.

The work of Jones and Baruch has been exhibited at museums around the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution.

The Jones/Baruch donation consists of 160 vintage gelatin-silver prints from the original exhibitions of A Photo Essay on the Black Panthers (1968) and Walnut Grove: Portrait of A Town (1961). The photographs will be housed in the Special Collections of the UCSC Library along with their complete archive.

The university has exceptional photographic archives that include work by many of the country’s most distinguished photographers such as Edward Weston, Philip Hyde, Victor Jorgensen, Erik Lauritzen, Morley Baer, Steve Crouch, and Al Weber. Head of Special Collections Rita Bottoms has played a key role in these acquisitions.

Jones became acquainted with UCSC in 1969 when he served as a teacher at a workshop held on campus by legendary photographer Ansel Adams.

"I was extremely pleased with the beauty of the campus," Jones said. "And the mood and the attitude there was something that I had never seen before. It is one of the most unique universities anywhere."

The Panther series of photographs came about in 1968 when Jones’s wife, Ruth-Marion Baruch, was introduced to Kathleen Cleaver, wife of Black Panther party leader Eldridge Cleaver. Given unprecedented access to the inner circle of the Black Panthers, Jones and Baruch took photographs from July through October of that year in an effort to create a better understanding of the controversial organization that FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover once called "the greatest threat to the internal security of the United States."

"Ruth had made contact with the Black Panthers--Kathleen and Eldridge Cleaver," Jones recalled. "We would bring stacks of prints to them every week for use in their newspaper and for whatever else they wanted them for. At the time, everything in the press was negative and always out for shock value."

An exhibition of these photographs at San Francisco’s de Young Museum in 1968 drew more than 100,000 people despite nearly being canceled due to unfavorable press.

"The de Young exhibit was one of the most important events in my life," Jones said. "The energy we put into it--I’m amazed that we put it together in such a short time. It was a great opportunity."

Jones and Baruch’s photo essay, Walnut Grove: Portrait of a Town, documents a small, racially diverse community that was displaced by a freeway on the Sacramento River Delta. Jones said the 1961 project came about purely by chance.

"We were coming back from a visit in the mountains and happened to take the road along the levee. We saw a little town and decided to turn around and take a look at it," he said.

"We liked the diversity of people that lived there and the mix of different cultures. But we had no definite outline or plan. We went in and just took photos of things that interested us.

"It was a wonderful thing--the Panther and Walnut projects," Jones added. "No one controlled us or our point of view. No funds were available. It was just us doing things that we loved to do. And both those projects show a point of interest. They have a definite opinion--this is how we feel."

Now 88, Jones taught photography at the San Francisco Art Institute from the late 1960s until his retirement from teaching in 1997. He currently lives in Mill Valley, California.

The Black Panther photos are slated for an upcoming show at the Berkeley Art Museum from March 26 through June 29, 2003. Pirkle Jones’ s retrospective will be at the Marin Community Foundation from April through June 2003.

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