restricted access Bob Fitch
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228 Bob Fitch Bob Fitch was a student at the Pacific School of Religion in the mid-1960s when he began his career as an activist photographer. Trained to be a Protestant minister and expected to take a pulpit, he says, “Photojournalism seduced me. It is a compelling combination of visual aesthetics, potent communication, and storytelling. It is a way to support the organizing for social justice that is transforming our lives and future.” Shortly after working for the Glide Foundation in San Francisco, Fitch became a staff photographer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), led by Rev. Martin Luther King. Traveling throughout Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, Fitch documented movement events, including community organizing, violence against African Americans, voter registration, and political campaigns . His images and stories were shipped to national African American publishing outlets that could neither afford nor risk sending reporters to the South. Many of his best images document the courageous contribution made to the Civil Rights Movement by the men, women, and children who organized in the cause of freedom in their local communities. Fitch returned to California in 1966 and began to document the peace and social justice activities on the West Coast, focusing on Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker houses of hospitality; the first congressional campaign of California Congressman Ron Dellums; and the organizing efforts of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers Union. The 2002 Cesar Chavez stamp issued by the U.S. Post Office is a rendering of a Fitch photo. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s Fitch immersed himself in a variety of human services programs. He photographed less, but continued to actively “use any media necessary” to support organizing efforts. After leaving state service, he settled in Santa Cruz, California, where he worked for the Resource Center for Nonviolence (RCNV), a thirty-year-old community-based nonprofit that supports various local and national peace and social justice programs. Fitch currently lives in Watsonville, California , where he continues to work in behalf of organized labor and peace and justice campaigns. 229 I started meddling with photography in junior high school out of sheer amazement. I mean, you take this piece of paper out of the camera, put it in a little container, add some chemicals and poof, you get a negative. Shine a light through that on some paper, put that piece of paper in some chemicals and poof, this picture appears. Total magic. But I photographed intermittently [until seminary]. I’d pick up a camera, I’d do some work. In college, I photographed for the newspaper. Because there wasn’t a photographer, I filled a hole, but not very well. So I kept those skills growing a little bit. Then [in seminary] I read Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time. I’d gotten into it at about eleven at night. It was a class assignment, and I couldn’t put it down. I don’t know how much Baldwin you’ve read, but he’s vivid. You can feel, smell, taste, and see when you read Baldwin, and The Fire Next Time is this amazing prophecy. Baldwin takes off on this theme [based on] living in Harlem and the building anger and frustration of black people. It’s a stunning book. At the end of the reading, about four in the morning, I had a vision that somehow, someway I would aesthetically be portraying elements in that book. After this settled down, I was in my chair, thinking , if this is gonna happen, writing is a pain in the ass for me. I can’t draw for shit. What’s it gonna be? Well, within a week, I bought my first professional level, used camera back, 35mm lens, 100mm lens, and started to photograph. And then civil rights activity in San Francisco came along, [the] Free Speech Movement came along, and I began to photograph here and there. Glide really shaped that. Glide Church was a Methodist church in the inner city of San Francisco that had been set up by the Glide family of California oil wealth to evangelize in the inner city. And they meant old-style evangelism. Well, they got a new bishop and he said, “We’re going to start evangelizing in a different way. We’re going to assist gangs to pull out of their warfare; we’re going to assist the counterculture to stabilize its communes and its newspapers; we’re going to assist the gay and the lesbian community to empower...


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Subject Headings

  • Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (U.S.) -- History.
  • Political activists -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Photographers -- Political activity -- United States -- History -- 20th century.
  • Southern States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • United States -- Race relations -- History -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • Civil rights movements -- United States -- History -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • African Americans -- Civil rights -- History -- 20th century -- Pictorial works.
  • Photographers -- United States -- Interviews.
  • Political activists -- United States -- Interviews.
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