Pirkle Jones

Thursday, March 16th 2023

Pirkle Jones (1914-2009) was an American photographer known for his work documenting the social and political landscape of California in the mid-20th century. He was a member of the San Francisco Bay Area photography community, and his work was characterized by a strong commitment to social justice and activism.

Jones was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, in 1914. He studied photography at the California School of Fine Arts (now the San Francisco Art Institute), where he was mentored by the photographer Ansel Adams. He later worked as a freelance photographer for magazines such as Life and Look, and also served in the U.S. Army Signal Corps during World War II.

In the 1950s, Jones began to focus on documenting the changing social and political landscape of California. He worked with his wife, the photographer Ruth-Marion Baruch, and together they produced a series of iconic images of the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, and the farm labor movement led by Cesar Chavez. Their photographs captured the energy and intensity of these movements, and helped to shape the public perception of these struggles.

Jones' most important work includes his images of the Civil Rights Movement in the San Francisco Bay Area, which include photographs of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and other key figures in the struggle for civil rights. His images of the Black Panthers, made in the late 1960s, are also notable for their powerful and evocative depictions of the organization's members and their activities.

Jones received numerous awards and honors throughout his career, including a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1967 and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Photographic Education in 2004. His work is held in the collections of many major museums and galleries, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and the Oakland Museum of California.

Some of Jones' most important works include "Black Panther Demonstration, Oakland, California, 1968," "Martin Luther King Jr. Speaking at UCSF, San Francisco, 1967," and "Strikers Picketing, Delano, California, 1966." These images showcase Jones' commitment to social justice and his ability to capture the energy and intensity of important social and political movements.