How It All Began
It all began in 1957 when the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) sent Harvey a subpoena. It was the last straw in a series of persecutions that changed Harvey’s life and pointed him in a new direction. In 1946 during the San Francisco shipyards strike, he was a rank and file leader on the picket lines at Bethlehem Steel where he had worked during World War II making ships. The strike ended with a deal that gave some wages to the workers in exchange for expelling Communists from the union.
Harvey was expelled from the union and black listed from any future jobs in ship building. He became a millwright for a while installing generator machinery in the power plant being built at Moss Landing. He worked at the California Labor School in San Francisco during the last years of its existence, helping to disband it as the anti communist inquisition pressures mounted. There he met and married Alice Schott Meigs and soon, turned away from all wage work. When the subpoena arrived from the HUAC in 1957, he jumped ship, so to speak, and started his photographic work to help advance radical dissent rising up out of the silent 1950s. Isolated from his base among his fellow workers, and from his past associates in the Communist Party, Richards struck out on his own.
Photographic Adventures Begin: An Apprenticeship in Photography
Not wanting to be dragged through the mud by the witch hunting HUAC inquisitors, Harvey grabbed his newly acquired Leica 35 mm camera and took a “vacation”. His travels took him through the deep south US, Mexico, Columbia, and Venezuela. He commented later that in this trip, he basically served an apprenticeship as a photographer. When he returned home, he launched his photographic efforts to aid struggling social movements of the time.
His first subject was California Farm Workers. He made a trip to Butte, Montana in 1960 where he made a film called Perch of the Devil for the striking United Mine Workers Local No. 1. He and his wife Alice, and son Paul, traveled to the Soviet Union in 1961 to make two films about women and children in a socialist society.
In 1963 and 1964 he went to Mississippi to make films to help the voter registration and civil rights movements that destroyed legal segregation in the U.S. Harvey photographed early peace demonstrations in the San Francisco Bay Area. When the 1960’s anti-Vietnam war movement exploded onto the scene, Harvey was there photographing the movement for peace. Interspersed throughout these years, Harvey traveled into northern California and Oregon photographing the devastating clear cutting taking place in the forests of the west coast.
Photographic Adventures: a Legacy for Radical Dissenters
He made 22 documentary films between 1959 and 1978 which he offered free to the movements he supported for use in their organizing. He also shot thousands of still photos in all of these subject areas along the way. Most of his still photography was taken during his twenty-two motion picture projects.
As a movement photographer, Richards went to the front lines of social conflict in the early years of the 1960s when the struggles for social justice were largely ignored and needed some good press. As time went on, the media discovered that the Movement was newsworthy and gave major coverage to civil rights and anti-war protests. At first, Richards’ camera was one of a small number photographing the picket lines. As the crowds of media persons grew larger, Richards moved on to the next project.
MEDIA – For photos & interviews: Paul Richards (510) 967 5577; firstname.lastname@example.org
Leah Halper says
nice summary, and helpful chronology! I didn’t process hat he was such an early publicist who stayed long enough to get major media involved, and then moved on. It really shows what a visionary he was