Critical Reflections: 40 Years Ago Today

Monroe Gallery of Photography <br /> 112 Don Gaspar Avenue, Santa Fe

Date July 31, 2008 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts


By the time this photo of our planet was taken, the year 1968 was just about over. As the Apollo 8 astronauts circled the moon-getting ever closer to that one giant step for mankind, which would take place in 1969-the astronauts could justifiably allow themselves a few moments of detachment from all our planetary highjinks and hoopla, whether good or bad. Looking at this spectacular Earth at a distance doing its gravitational balancing act, who would suspect the amount of energy being expended there in terms of war and peace, political maneuverings, extravagant fantasies, life on the unassuming margins, death at center stage?

1968. As you walk willingly through this archive of events and personalities, you dread it too. You know what is there: Martin Luther King Jr. dead on the motel balcony; a member of the Vietcong about to get his head blown apart; gravely wounded soldiers without benefit of our present-day battlefield triage; Robert Kennedy on the hotel kitchen floor in California, his dying documented in one of the most amazing photographs ever taken. But there are so many other remarkable images strung between these hyper-real icons that have become part of our national psyche: Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Jimmy Hendrix; Muhammad Ali playing for the camera; that famous, gorgeous Black Power salute in Mexico City; Andy Warhol at The Factory before he was very nearly fatally shot; and Johnny Cash, whose "somber machismo finds a home"€ when he sings at Folsom Prison. There is the charismatic Abbie Hoffman outside the Democratic Convention in Chicago, anti-Nixon protesters being photographed by the FBI, student riots at Columbia, and a great sea of humanity on the Mall in Washington, D.C. gathered there for the Poor People's Campaign.

There is an image of the Apollo 8 astronauts in full regalia positioned on the wall near similarly dressed astronauts from Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the faux-space cadets look more convincing than the real ones. But the fantasy is the same for all: a voyage out and away from this planetary matrix representing all that nourishes and disturbs us.

There are many reasons to see this show, but if you need only one it is this: Bill Eppridge's partially burned master print of Robert Kennedy after he was assassinated. Eppridge had been traveling with the entourage, documenting Kennedy's campaign for the presidency. Kennedy had just won the California primary and had decided at the last moment to exit through the kitchen as opposed to the originally established route. As Eppridge was about to catch up with Kennedy, a shot rang out and Eppridge reached the scene as Kennedy lay stretched out on the floor. Weirdly enough, Eppridge's picture is one of the most supernaturally beautiful photographs you will ever see, and it will help to understand why photography needed to be invented-if for no other reason than to apprehend that metaphysical point where life meets death and resurrection becomes the sole true function of the photographic moment.