John Shearer’s career as a photojournalist began in 1964, when at the age of seventeen he became one of the youngest staff photographers for LOOK magazine. Working for LIFEduring the turbulent late 1960s and early 1970s, he quickly became a noted, award-winning photojournalist who focused primarily on the civil rights movement. His work in photography has now spanned forty-six years, and this exhibition brings together thirty photographs, the majority taken since 2004.
Shearer’s central concern throughout his career has been social justice, and the focus of this exhibition is immigration, which the artist believes to be the primary human rights issue currently facing the United States. The works in this exhibition explore immigration not as an isolated topic, but rather by relating it to the deeper issues of race, class, and economic disparity that are at the roots of discrimination and injustice.
Shearer describes his approach as “picture stories”—he wants to capture an image of an individual that somehow tells their complete story. Influenced early in his career by photographers such as Cartier-Bresson and Eugene Smith, Shearer brings an attitude of emotional idealism to the field of photojournalism, expanding it to embrace the ordinary people whose lives are so often invisible.
The exhibition is bracketed by two large images from early in Shearer’s career, adhered directly to the wall. One is a montage of photographs taken during the civil rights movement, and the other is a solitary portrait of Horace Wilcox, a black man who spent five years in prison in Prichard, Alabama, after being unjustly accused of rape. Acting as bookends to the other photographs, they express both the continuity of Shearer’s career and the unfortunate reality that the struggle for social justice is a continuing battle.
Richard Klein, Exhibitions Director