Acting as chairman, the League's president, Walter Rosenblum, opened the meeting.
Walter Rosenblum: "You have all received notice of this meeting, so you know why you are here. I first heard about our being listed as "totalitarian, fascist, communist or subversive" up in Danny Weiner's studio. I was watching him photo- graph some very pretty girls for an ad when I got a call from Sonny, our secretary. For the first time in our 18 years we had been honored by a direct call from a newspaper city desk. The Herald Tribune wanted to know if we wanted to make a statement. Sonny asked what about. The reporter broke the news that we had been listed as disloyal by the Attorney General. This was Thursday, December 5, about 6 p.m., and the news had just hit the papers. Since we knew nothing beyond what the reporter told us, I decided we had better wait until we could read Clark's statement, and called a meeting of the Executive Committee for the following evening. All members of the committee were present, and we also asked Beaumont Newhall, Paul Strand, and Gene Smith.
"The first thing we did was to issue a press release categorically denying that we were "totalitarian, communist, fascist, or subversive." I consulted our lawyer, who said Clark's action in smearing without giving facts, quoting witnesses, or giving an opportunity for rebuttal, was unconstitutional and un-American. He suggested we call a members' meeting to discuss this problem. The executive Committee agreed. That in the reason we are here.
Since 1936, when the Photo League rose out of the moribund Film and Photo League, Paul Strand has been a member of the Board of Advisors. During those twelve years he has often come to talk to us, as have many other photographers, writers, and critics. But never before this evening has he or any other leading speaker been concerned with purely political issues.
ADDRESS BY PAUL STRAND
.... We are not allowed to talk about photography tonight. A lot of other people in America are being prevented from discussion the things nearest to them, things which relate to their creative work and creative lives. Instead, they are faced with the necessity of talking politics. Although artists have not in the past wanted to mix art with politics' the politicians have already mixed politics in art. So we are now in politics, very much so.
In speaking tonight, I do so both as a photographer, a member of the Photo League, and also, but not officially, as Co-Chairman of the Art Division of PCA, an office I have the honor to share with Ben Shahn, who is here tonight.
We are all shocked at the listing of the Photo League as a disloyal organization by Attorney General Tom Clark. But I don't think we should have been too much surprised. Nor should we feel isolated. We are the co-victims of something happening in the country today that is widespread and which threaten every American. In reality, we have the honor, along with a lot of other people of being in the front line, defending American democracy.
In a decision handed down in a 1943 Supreme Court Justice Robert B. Jackson said: "If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein." And Justice Jackson said further: "Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard."
Abe Pomerantz, United States government trial lawyer at Nuremberg upon his return from Germany recently said: "We are giving Nazi war criminals American justice, and American citizens, Nazi Justice." Thus did he characterize the summary dismissal of federal employees under the President's loyalty purge. He said that he had seen the accused Nazis given fullest protection of civil and legal rights. He returned to find Americans fired from jobs without hearing, or right to confront accusers or cross-examine, or even to know the charges against them.
Well, these things tell, in a nutshell, a good part of the story. I think we have to realize that our government has fallen into the hands of. "the economic Royalists" who through their representatives, both Democrats and Republicans in Congress and in the Cabinet, have gotten control of our government and are really riding herd on the American people. I think we must recognize that Democrats and Republicans now pursue the same policies so that actually there is but one party to-day in the United States. And this party's foreign and domestic course adds up to one single reactionary policy. I think when we see this clearly we can understand this attack upon the Photo League.
This bi-partisan policy in the field of our foreign relations began in the admission of fascist Argentina to the United Nations. The act itself, coming but shortly after the death of F.D.R. began a clear American policy of weakening the United Nations, of turning it into another League of Nation .... Hoover and Dulles and their policies soon yore welcomed at the White House ... and the killing of the international relief agency, UNRRA, soon followed. Then came the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall plan which in action meant unilateral interference by our government in the internal political and economic life of many nations... military aid to the reactionary regimes of Greece, Turkey and China....economic aid with strings attached to France and Italy, no aid at all to those nations, however devastated by the Nazis, who refuse to chance their political and economic systems to suit the taste of American imperialists. These are policies which lead only to World War 3.
On the domestic front, similar things have happened but here the attacks are made against the American people. First of all the destruction of O.P.A. with the inevitable inflation and constant reduction of people's purchasing power. Never on such a scale has there been such a pillaging of the public purse as was accomplished by the removal of price controls..
Then came the attack upon labor's Magna Charta the Wagner Act, in which labor's gains over many years, were wiped out by the Taft-Hartley law...Truman's loyalty order was soon to hit several million federal employees... spearheaded by the Un-American Activities Committee, artists in other professions were to feel the blows of reaction. . .all liberal commentators were driven off the air ... Howard Fast's book "Freedom Road" banned from New York public schools...
Then followed the cancellation by the State Department of the exhibition of American paintings which it had purchased and which were received in the countries of Europe with high praise and great interest. It was when the pictures were recalled by Sec'y. of State Marshall that he said the expenditure of $49,000 was no way to use the American tax-payer's money...millions of dollars for every fascist remnant in Europe and Asia, from Chiang Kai-Shek to Zervas, collaborator of the Nazis in Greece is alright but not a penny to bring American culture to other peoples. At the same time the artists involved, among the most distinguished in our country, were smeared in Congress as having produced pictures "of various shades of New Deal Communism."
The purpose of these attacks upon American Art was clearly stated in a pamphlet issued by the Art Division of PCA: "We are not alone concerned with a direct, bigoted, and successful assault on the work of 45 contemporary artists. We must also note that this was no more than a screening action to mask a full-scale--and largely successful--attack on the whole cultural program of our government, a program of potential benefit to all arts and to our national culture.
A little more recently the artist was again singled out for suppression. Anton Refregier, one of our best known muralists, has been working for a number of years on a series of 29 panels in a Post Office in San Francisco In the final panel he wanted to paint the inauguration of the United Nations, which as you remember, took place in San Francisco. The central figure was to be a large portrait of FDR. It doesn't seem unnatural for a painter to want to portray one of the greatest architects of the United Nations, certainly the greatest American architect. But he has been forbidden to do so on the ground that it is improper for prominent persons to be painted in a mural of this kind, notwithstanding the fact that portraits of fifteen other prominent Americans have been approved for the other panels. It is symbolic that the forces now in control do not want us to remember Roosevelt or his policies. Throughout the country, artists are fighting this issue.
Lastly, and perhaps the meet important to date, come the hearings of the House Un-American Committee on the Hollywood writers. There the forces of reaction have gone a step further than anywhere else before. The motion picture industry was induced by intimidation to fire and blacklist these men, deprive them of their jobs and violate their contracts. These ten men, who had spent their creative lives learning how to write motion picture scripts, are not allowed now to practice that profession. They are not allowed to earn a living unless they find some other kind of job. And this is something that can lead anywhere. It means that writers, the publishing industry, radio industry, theatre, every single thing in America can become involved in a gigantic blacklist, and as in the case of the Photo League, without specific charges, without fair trial, and in absolute violation of our constitutional rights. That is why this issue as it concerns the Photo League has to be fought not alone but together with everyone who is a victim of this kind of injustice.
To silence you, intimidate you, make you think before you speak or not dare to think your own thoughts, but to go along with something that people are not willing to go along with--these are the objectives of the reactionary forces existing in our country today. My feeling is that Americans, if they know the truth, have good instincts of fair play, and don't want to become cannon fodder in an atomic war.
The methods of reactionaries are not new. The chief one is red-baiting. It is an old trick and Hitler used it effectively. It divides and confuses people, and gets them looking for the real culprits everywhere except in the place where they are. Senator Glen Taylor recently said "The Nazis had everyone looking under the bed for communists, and when they got up from their knees, they were looking right straight into the ovens of Buchenwald."
That is why we here tonight have to stand up to this thing. No use in trying to run away and be afraid and say, "Please, I am a good boy." It won't do any good. We have been picked out because we are articulate people. The artist himself, if he is really an artist, has to tell the truth as he sees it. He can't help himself. As soon as he stops telling the truth, he ceases to be an artist. The reactionary forces are quite aware that we, the photographers, the painters, radio commentators, film writers who have a craft and medium by which to express ourselves, will tell the truth, once we see it. And artists have a good sense of the truth. And that is why they want to silence us.
There is an old quotation from Nazi ideology: "When I hear the word "Culture"' I reach for my gun." Well, they did. But we should not think that they did that because they hated culture. People like Goering were art collectors. They stole all the painting they could get hold of in Europe. They tried to buy Picasso, Matisse. Their propaganda, calling such artists decadent, was only for home consumption. They pulled their guns, because they were afraid of the artists, couldn't get them to toe the mark, crawl, and heil Hitler in their work. Well, the time has come for us in the Photo League to realize that something like that is happening in America today. The reactionaries are reaching for their guns.
There are important things for the Photo League to do. We should do them not only for the League but for ourselves. As I said in the beginning, we are, in a sense, honored by being placed in the front ranks of the fight for the Bill of Rights. It is our job to defend it, not only for ourselves, but for all the American people today. We are supposed to be articulate and to be able to speak our minds. So let us begin to do so in the actions taken at this meeting. Let us do it both as artists and as citizens. It is a fight to the finish. As citizens we must do our part to change the complexion of a Congress and administration which permit and participate in the curtailment of basic American liberties. The elections in 1948 will be critical for the future destiny of our country. We hope that there will be a third party because as is now, there is no choice between the Republicans and Democrats. I urge you all to join PCA, to work in the Art Division and to help carry on effective political action. And above all lets go on with expanding the Photo League end its activities, to become better photographers. We can only do this in America which is free.
THE FOLLOWING LETTERS AND TELEGRAMS WERE RECEIVED AND READ
PHOTO LEAGUE HAS BEEN THE HEALTHIEST CENTER OF PHOTOGRAPHIC ACTIVITY IN AMERICA FOR OVER A DECADE. WISH TO STAND WITH YOU AGAINST THIS ODIOUS EFFORT TO FRIGHTEN ALL INDEPENDENT THOUGHT AND CREATIVE WORK.
I would like to say that I have been a member of the Photo league for almost ten years. In that space of time I have never seen or heard of a single instance of any type of subversive activity. I have never been approached or asked to join or vote for any political party. In fact there have never been any instances of political discussion either at public meetings or at the club rooms in my presence. The Photo League during this entire time has interested itself solely with the question of better American photography and has done a great deal to help this country achieve a high position in the field of documentary photography.
I feel that the listing of the Photo League by the Attorney General is a very flagrant example of this indiscriminate name-calling plaguing America today. I hope that this matter can be cleared up shortly and that this mistake will not interfere in any way with the very necessary functioning of the Photo league.
The Attorney General's public announcement that the Photo League is a subversive organization comes as a great shock to me. I always understood that the League was a non-political professional group dedicated to the advancement of creative photography, and I have never observed anything to the contrary in its activities. I would not be able to continue as a member, much less a sponsor, if this were not true.
Very truly yours,
HENRY M. LESTER
I am alarmed to hear that the Attorney General has declared the Photo league subversive. I am sure that men of his caliber secretly think that the camera itself is subversive I am sure that organized protest will secure withdrawal of this kind of categorization. Sorry I can't be with you tonight.
The Photo League is one of those organizations containing in its ranks some of the leaders of our national culture. It has been a pioneer in the creative field helping to raise the world standards of craft and to place America in a position of leadership in this field. This smearing attack listing the Photo League as subversive is not only depriving free Americans of their liberty and their culture, but is giving Government support to the enemies of Freedom and progress.
The attack on the visual arts is becoming somewhat complete--the State Department's attack on its own collection abroad, the Hollywood smear of its most talented writers' and now the Photo League. This is a pattern that calls for united action. Nobody with an idea is exchange of ideas is the touchstone of democracy.
ANSEL ADAMS, DISCUSSION FROM THE FLOOR
I am no "Communist" or "fellow-traveller." I don't like the domination of any creed, theory, party> or fashion I defeat fascism. I think of myself as a liberal--perhaps close to a Jeffersonian democrat. My family comes from New England; my name is not a new one to American ears--especially to Washington ears. My clan produced a couple of Presidents a long time ago!
I Joined the Photo League because of my interest in photography and because of' the league's attitude toward photography. Many of my close friends are members--for the same reasons. Many of the League members think differentially than I do about photography and other matters. That is what keeps the League alive; as in the Nation as a whole, the life of the people thrives on opposition of thought and opinion. It is perhaps bite to say here that some men and some groups are endangering the life of America because of their attacks on free thought and action. We have heard and read a lot about that, we have evidenced grave concern and expressed our pity for the victims--but now it "comes home" to us with the sickening realization that we, too, are among the victims---that the whole nation is the real victim, and no one can afford to sit in complacency again. It "comes home" as a brutal slur to a small liberal organization quite powerless to defend itself except by the dynamic insistence of its right to think, feel, create, and interpret searchingly and constructively
Protest is not enough. This accusation demands more than protest. It demands action. It demands that we re-affirm the principles of American Democracy. The writers must write, the painters must paint, the photographers must photograph. Their theme must be America---the land, the people, the power of Democracy, the human promise of a free society. We have the promise--it exists in the great Documents of State---but it is being defiled by men who, in swearing to uphold the Constitution of the United States, are committing the greatest perjury of the age.
Now we have a real project--a huge, vital obligation placed in our hands as a challenge to our courage and ability. Get out your texts of Whitman, Paine, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt---pore over them again; strengthen your concepts and your confidence. You will need all you can muster. Dust off your lenses and get going! Photograph the truth of America---the majesty of the Natural Scene, and the majesty of our people and their accomplishment. Show the unity of all people and that people can live together in peace. The constant, dynamic affirmation of the camera must be devoted to the support of the democratic potential.
DISCUSSION FROM THE FLOOR
Rosenblum: Clark issued his statement without giving any information whatever. The custom in this country is to make specific charges and have a trial where witnesses are examined and cross-examined, so that a judge and jury can decide whether or not a crime has been committed. In this case no evidence of any kind has been submitted Clark says we are subversive but has neglected to say why, when, where, or how.
A TELEGRAM TO ATTORNEY GENERAL CLARK, voicing the protest of this meeting against his action and all similar governmental actions unsupported by specific legislation, was proposed by Jesse Crystal' drafted by Paul Strand and Nancy Newhall, , and unanimously approved, with the recommendation that it be also Bent to New York Congressmen and local newspapers:
TO ATTORNEY GENERAL TOM C. CLARK
The PETITION submitted by the Executive Committee was read and discussed One proposal that the phrase "cultural workers" be deleted was vetoed on the ground that it is this group we shall approach for signatures. Another to include a statement denying that we are subversive was vetoed as unnecessary. The petition was then passed unanimously without corrections.
Note: A copy of this petition is attached to a number of Photo Notes for your signature and the signatures of all the people you know who believe in the fundamental freedom of America as promised in the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Get this petition filled an mailed as soon as possible to The Secretary
EXHIBITION: Phineas Zolot proposed a project given us directly by the Attorney General---to make a photographic document of the Photo League and its activities. Sol Libsohn, Chairman of the Exhibitions Committee, reported that in answer to this emergency he and his committee want to assemble the best photography show ever seen anywhere, that they are already canvassing museums and galleries here for space, and planning to circulate the exhibition afterwards. They intend to issue a call for photographs immediately.
OUTLINE OF DOCUMENTARY PHOTOGRAPHY: Barbara Morgan suggested that the type of photography being attacked---documentary photography--should be presented to the largest possibly audience so that the public can see it and understand its important function in ameliorating evils. She proposed that a group of photographs with orientating captions, starting with Jacobs Riis and Lewis Hine and tracing the historical development, be assembled and submitted to some national magazine reaching all kinds of readers. A further motion was made that reprints of this article might be sent with the League's brochure to social institutions throughout the country. Beaumont Newhall was appointed chairman of a committee to carry out this project.
OFFICIAL LETTER TO ATTORNEY GENERAL CLARK: Having been asked by the Executive Committee to draft his letter, Gene Smith reported that he had already discarded two drafts and was working on a third. Every shade of meaning, in his opinion, is important, and we should not act hastily, or our efforts will be wasted.
Barbara Morgan seconded his remarks, saying that she believed the most effective way to fight such attacks is not to be emotional---to be hurt, to rant and start defending ourselves---but to make a dignified, loyal, carefully written reply: to cite our constitutional rights, ask for reasons and charges, and then make a clear and concise record of the activities of our group. We should end with an appeal on moral grounds to the American spirit of democracy---but let the legal, factual tone dominate.
GROUP ACTION: Dick Alexander proposed that we should contact other photographic clubs and organizations and rally them to the protection of photographers' rights to photograph without censorship. Ed Schwartz proposed that a delegation from the Photo League ask New York Congressmen for their aid in fighting the Un-American Committee and the use of its methods by Clark. A further motion was made that we consult with some of the groups attacked, find out their plans, and work with them. Danny Weiner read a telegram from the Civil Rights Congress inviting the League to join them and other groups in sending a delegation to Washington to appeal directly to President Truman. During the discussion on whether or not we should work with the Civil Rights Congress, Sid Grossman pointed out that we cannot be considered subversive until a court says so, and that the Supreme Court is the only final authority. Our only real defense in this struggle remains the courts. He suggested that the constitutionality of the listing be examined, that we take our position on that, and involve ourselves in no action that assumes Clark's present method of trying to safeguard the United States is a good or safe technique. The motion that we join with the Civil Rights Congress was passed unanimously.
THE CAFE SOCIETY PARTY, in spite--or because--the blacklisting, was reported by Danny Weiner, Chairman of the Fund-Raising Committee, to have been a great success and netted $400 more for the new headquarters fund.
WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?
Tom Clark's bolt of lightning was certainly blunted if our membership meeting on Tuesday night was any indication. A membership, united in indignation, rejected the smear technique he used as being completely unfounded in fact and certainly in violation of the basic law of the land. Shades of Tom Paine! Who ever thought the day would come when the Photo league would be called Upon to defend the Bill of Rights?
It is interesting to speculate as to why we were placed on Clark's list. What have we done in the past to be so labeled? Almost immediately one begins to think of the old Film and Photo league. Our files for that period contain pictures of strikes, picket lines, and demonstrations of the unemployed. Certainly the Film and Photo league of that day seemed to concern itself greatly with the social scene.
But is this so difficult to understand? The period between 1929 and 1934 was one of the most turbulent in American history. Millions of people unemployed, two thirds of a nation ill clothed, ill housed and i11 fed. What more fitting material for the photographer who wanted to honestly reflect the world he lived in? Our war years and the prosperity engendered by full production have perhaps made us forget. But the pictures in our files are a constant reminder. The film section of the league acquitted itself well. Practically the only movie footage available today which documents the turmoil of those times is that made by the Film section of the league. The commercial newsreels weren't interested in recording that kind of reality. Historians of the future will be grateful indeed to such League film makers as Leo Hurwitz, Sidney Myers and Julian Roffman.
The history of the Photo league is the history of its members. We have developed a tradition based on social realism because our members concern themselves deeply with the world they live in. At one time the Pictorialists labelled documentary photography as the "ashcan school." It is true that many of our members did not concern themselves with the natural scene. Not because they didn't recognize the emotional value inherent in such subject matter, but because they were brought up in an environment of crowded tenements. And you make the best photograph of that which affects you most strongly. We feel deeply about the people we photograph, because our subject matter is of our own flesh and blood. In Harlem or on the East Side, we aren't tourists spying on the quaint mannerisms of the people. We aren't interested in slums for their picturesque qualities. The people who live in them are our fathers and mothers, our brothers and sisters. The kids are our own images when we were young. The inhumanity of watching a woman drag a big sack of coal up four flights of stairs hurts us because our mothers did it too. How can one be censured for being interested in one's fellow man? Our immaturity has never been in depth of emotion. What many of us did lack was the aesthetic ability to sum up our emotions and feelings in pictures that expressed fully and completely in visual terms what was in our hearts. But that is a problem with which those Photo Leaguers who photograph the social scene are coming to gripe with more securely.
This intense feeling about the social scene is not limited to Harlem or Pitt Street. That is why we flung ourselves so quickly into the war effort. We organized our work in the Red Cross, the AWVS, the servicemen's canteens with all the power at our command. Our members did a magnificent job in the armed services. At a meeting called to organize Camera Clubs into the war effort, Captain Steichen told the group to follow the fine leadership the Photo league had established.
We were successful in our efforts because we understood the real nature of the world in which we live. The destruction of Fascism had a personal meaning for all of us, and we were going to use our cameras to help smash its might.
It is true that our members are still tremendously interested in the social scene. The day of the ivory tower artist is over. With the housing shortage being what it is, you can't even rent an ivory tower any more. Our membership felt the Taft-Hartley bill to be a menace not only to labor but to the entire American people, and so, in a democratic manner at one our meetings we passed a resolution urging Congress not to pass it. At another meeting our membership felt that the State Department was destroying an important cultural program when it repudiated its own collection of American paintings and recalled them from Czechoslovakia and South America. We informed the State Department how we felt. Inflation, the lack of adequate housing and the threat of another war affect all people regardless of craft. We are and always will be citizens as well as photographers.
The league has been attacked not because of the few resolutions we have passed---any Masonic group or ladies' club does the same---but because reaction in this country knows that artists can be a very potent force for progress. When some artists threw their support behind Roosevelt in the last election, they contributed much towards his victory. Scare the artist now and you might shut him up when 1948 rolls around. But we will not be frightened by this flagrant attempt at thought control. We will continue to speak up when and how we please.
However it would be wrong if the few political actions we have taken should disguise the true nature of the Photo League. We are, have been, and always will be, an organization devoted as exclusively to photography as a disordered world will allow us to be. Our members are of very race, color, and creed--of every shade of political opinion. The only question our membership committee asks of prospective members concerns the seriousness of their approach to photography. The Photo League is a photographic and not a political organization.
There is only one answer to Clark's listing. And that is to move full steam ahead in building a bigger and better Photo League. The League developed out of specific needs which photographers have---a need to get together as social individuals to talk to one another about pictures, to help each other become better photographers, to have a place where they can show their pictures to the pubic, to have a school for young photographers. These needs exist more strongly than ever. Our work to date has earned us the reputation of being a vital force in American photography But we know how much more there is to be done. Let us go on with our building. Let us make the Photo League what our dreams say it can be.