Synonymous with San Francisco’s Summer of Love, 1967 also saw seismic events of a very different nature unfold on the opposite side of the US. Years of deprivation and institutional racism had turned New Jersey city Newark into a tinderbox, and when cab driver John Smith was arrested and subjected to brutal physical assault, the city exploded. The police’s trigger-happy response only fanned the flames, and soon the National Guard were called in to patrol the streets. The US was used to fighting wars on foreign soil (most obviously Vietnam), but – as the title of this new book underlines – this one couldn’t be closer to home.
Self-taught photographer Bud Lee, at 26 a relative rookie, found himself dispatched to Newark to capture the escalating violence for the world’s most prestigious photojournalism magazine, Life. Only a handful of the resulting photos – gritty frontline images of shattered windows and haunted, paranoid people, gathered together here for the first time – were published, but one made the cover: of Joey Bass Jr, lying prostrate on the tarmac with his arms in a grotesquely unnatural position, a 12-year-old child caught in the literal and metaphorical crossfire when a looter named Billy Furr paid the ultimate price for stealing some beer.
Like many war photographers, Lee was traumatised by what he had witnessed, consumed by guilt at having not intervened. Yet his images and the Life cover story did constitute a significant intervention, bringing home the violent realities of racial injustice to the complacent or ignorant. Those realities persist today; as writer Chris Campion puts it in an accompanying essay, The War Is Here is “less a historical document than a terrifying echo of our present from the past” – and all the more vital for it.
The War Is Here: Newark 1967, Bud Lee (Ze)
Price: £35. Info: here
words BEN WOOLHEAD