Bluff City: The Secret Life of Photographer Ernest Withers (2019), by Preston Lauterbach

Not sure about this one. First of all, I have to admit that I had never heard of Ernest Withers, and while some of his photos looked familiar none of them had previously really grabbed my attention. Then again, his “I Am a Man” image is striking, especially with the back story of the sticks. Withers photographed the civil rights movement, particularly around Memphis (Bluff City) but was simultaneously secretly providing information to the FBI. His spying appears to have at times provided cover and safety to the participants and at other times thwarted their objectives. Withers’ motives remain unclear but seem to be at least in part his need to make a buck. He left behind a treasure trove of historical (and at times artistic) photographs, now being protected and promoted by his family. The book included references to his Rolliflexes but no film/developer/darkroom data. I would give this three f-stops (out of five).     

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