BY TAMARA STEPHENS
Charles Moore is arguably one of the most influential photojournalists of all time. His claim to fame came when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was being arrested after arguing with two policemen in 1958. Moore was the only photographer on the scene and therefore produced the only photograph of Dr. King’s arrest. For the rest of the years of the civil rights era, Moore took several immediately recognizable shots of profound events that changed American history.
Charles Moore was born in 1931 in Hackelburg, Alabama. He began leisurely taking photos at the age of fourteen and later found he had a passion for his camera. After high school he enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served a three year enlistment. After his military service came to a close, Moore ventured out to Santa Barbara, California where he studied at the Brooks Institute of Photography. There, he received an honorary Master of Science degree in professional photography. Following his graduation from Brooks Institute, Moore studied fashion and commercial photography. He never expected that he would take an interest in photojournalism.
He returned to his hometown after he graduated and he applied for a photojournalist position at the Montgomery Journal. He spent the next six years of his life taking photos for that publication. The Montgomery Journal offices were located just a few blocks away from Dr. King’s church, Dexter Avenue Baptist Church. He got his first opportunity to meet with Dr. King at his church when he ventured there for an assignment for the Montgomery Journal. He had heard Dr. King give a sermon and became fascinated with him and the way he spoke. At that moment, he knew that Dr. King would be a powerful man during the civil rights movement.
Moore began following Dr. King wherever he went. And that uber famous day in 1958 soon came. He was the only photographer at the scene when Dr. King was arrested September 3, 1958. Being in the right place at the right time paid off for Moore because the priceless photo was distributed nationwide through multiple news sources; the Associated Press was the first organization to publish the photo outside of The Montgomery Journal. Moore never planned on being an activist with his camera because he always envisioned he’d be in the fashion or commercial photography business. That single photo began the career that Moore never imagined he’d have.
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is arrested on a loitering charge in Montgomery, Alabama September 3, 1958. The original photo is a gelatin silver print.
He had always considered himself an activist for civil rights because as a young boy his family instilled in him that people are not to be treated differently based on the color of their skin. He knew that everyone was equal. When civil rights became a major issue he knew that he wanted to involve himself somehow in the fight for equality but he didn’t want to partake in the violence. That’s when he decided to pick up his camera and fight with it. His photos fought against the Jim Crow laws and some even argue that his photos helped to quicken the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Moore’s photos put a face to the violence experienced during those times and with his photos having high rates of publication nationally, it brought each situation to reality in households across America.
Another famous photograph that he took was taken in 1963 of three schoolchildren up against a wall in Birmingham, Alabama bearing the 100-pound water pressure of a fireman’s hose.
The photo was taken during the Birmingham riots in 1963 and this too is regarded as one of his most influential photos of that time. All of Moore’s photos possessed impact and importance. He deems the photo above as one of his favorite photos because it told a story all on its own. The photo went on to be published multiple times and got a positive response from the people who supported his mission.
Many of Moore’s photographs were published in LIFE Magazine in the 1960s. In May 1963, LIFE honored Moore with an eleven page spread of his photographs. The magazine was applauded by many but was also criticized for being too liberal and seeming to take a political stance in the civil rights movement. LIFE Magazine chose one of Moore’s photos to be presented in their collection 100 Photographs that Changed the World.
After six years at The Montgomery Journal he became a freelance photojournalist. Although the majority of his work stems from the civil rights era, Moore also covered the civil war in the Dominican Republic, and political violence in Haiti and Venezuela. LIFE Magazine sent him on these assignments. He also covered much of the Vietnam War time period. He later moved on to his initial aspiration of being a fashion and commercial photographer and he also became well versed in nature and travel photography.
His photos have been featured in numerous publications across the globe including the Saturday Evening Post, Time, National Geographic, Newsweek and Geo. In 1989, he became the first winner of the first annual Kodak Crystal Edge Award for Impact Photojournalism. It is said to be one of the most prestigious awards in the industry.
Towards the end of his life he was a frequent speaker at universities where he discussed his work and the civil rights era. Moore passed away on March 11, 2010 at the age of 79. Multiple news sources honored him with stories chronicling his incredible life and the amazing work he did for the civil rights era.
Durham, Michael S., and Charles Moore. Powerful Days: the Civil Rights Photography of Charles Moore. Tuscaloosa, Ala: University of Alabama, 2002. Print.
"Charles Moore, Photographer Of The Civil Rights Movement, Dies At 79 : The Picture Show : NPR." NPR : National Public Radio : News & Analysis, World, US, Music & Arts : NPR. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. http://www.npr.org/blogs/pictureshow/2010/03/charles_moore.html
"KODAK: Powerful Days in Black and White." KODAK Digital Cameras, Printers, Digital Video Cameras & More. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. <http://www.kodak.com/US/en/corp/features/moore/mooreIndex.shtml>
"Powerful Days: Charles Moore Biography." Web. 05 Nov. 2010. <http://www.viscom.ohiou.edu/oldsite/moore.site/Pages/Moorebio.html>
"Charles Moore – Civil Rights Photographer 1931-2010 | Enticing the Light." Enticing the Light | A Quest for Photographic Enlightenment. Web. 05 Nov. 2010. <http://enticingthelight.com/2010/03/17/charles-moore-civil-rights-photographer-1931-2010/>.