Women’s Movement Anniversary Exhibits 50-Year-Old Photos
By Darcey Pittman
Feminists gathered at the Atlantic City boardwalk outside the 1968 Miss America Pageant to protest in a rally that would become iconic for decades to come. Including a Freedom Trash Can, a sheep wearing a Miss America sash, and stink bombs, these activists fought the unattainable beauty standards and oppression they experienced as women.
Bev Grant was there in the midst of the action both as a feminist and a photographer, documenting first-hand what occurred. Fifty years later, after over 2,000 negatives were left in a shoebox to collect dust, Grant’s work is on display in her first exhibition hosted by OSMOS in the East Village. Her images of social justice protests and rallies from 1968 and 1969, impeccable in and of themselves, are striking in their parallel to movements we are seeing today.
“There’s definitely a connection [between today and the 1960s] because they’re trying to wipe out everything, all the gains that we made,” said Grant. “The power structure that exists now is horrendous and is really hell-bent on destroying the progress we made in terms of social justice and women’s rights and anti-racism and all of those things are being attacked. So, as an older person who was an activist in the 60s, when we fought so strongly for those things, I’m infuriated.”
Grant looks back on that time with a fondness for the privilege she had being close to the action as an activist herself, but also as an objective spectator behind the camera. She became involved with the feminist movement after experiencing oppression in her first marriage. Her first-hand understanding of how women are forced to put someone else’s needs before their own made her passionate about the feminist movement. From there, “my feminism infused my understanding of all these other movements that were going on,” said Grant.
At the time Grant captured these movements, it was before digital photography, so it was expensive to print and required a lot of work. It was not until recently Grant digitized almost everything and started to post her photos on Facebook. She quickly found “there was just this hunger for the images. Little by little people started contacting me, predominantly looking for the Miss America [photos].”
When asked whether she realized the Miss America Pageant Protest would become iconic, Grant quickly replies with “No,” but follows by acknowledging how much the protest resonated with her and other activists at the time. Given the response to her photos today, this protest continues to empower and inspire many.
It is no wonder these images are resonating with people, as Grant was able to powerfully capture the activist energy of the late 60s, not unlike what we are seeing today. Through Grant’s work photographing the Miss America Pageant Protest and other activist movements, including G.I.s Against the War in Vietnam, the Black Panthers, and more, she vividly shows the wave of activism that has become synonymous with the late 60s. As Grant puts it, “we were the first occupiers of Wall Street.”
To see Grant’s work for yourself, visit OSMOS Gallery through October 30th.