July 1967. After the arrest, beating, and imprisonment of cab driver John Smith by local police, the city of Newark— already a tinderbox— became a hotbed of protest and retaliation. Over five long days, 26 people were killed by police gunfire and hundreds more were injured, thousands arrested, and millions of dollars in property damage was caused. The scars on the city remained for decades.
War Is Here: Newark 1967 by lauded photographer Bud Lee documents the several days he spent in Newark capturing the transformation of the city into an urban war zone and manifestation of the citizens’ frustration with the inherently corrupt local government and vicious, authoritarian police-force. Featuring mostly unpublished images from his series, the unsettling images capture an inescapable sense of fear, corruption, racial discrimination and authoritarian police force’s misuse of power.
As the locals – consisting mostly of Black population – attempt to maintain some semblance of normalcy in an already deprived area, homes and businesses are burnt down and looted while the trigger-happy state police patrol the streets day and night and leave the locals living in constant fear.
At the time of the events, Lee was still a novice photographer operating at the Life magazine. Shooting a portrait of a Wall Street stockbroker at the time of the call requesting him to leave immediately to cover the civic uprising in Newark, little did he know about the harrowing influence these images would still have to this day with undeniable parallels between Newark 1967 and present day America where gun violence and police brutality towards the Black population remains a core issue within the country.
With a foreword by the Honorable Ras J. Baraka, 40th Mayor of Newark, NJ, The War Is Here captures a city turned into a killing ground, something Lee would witness first-hand on seeing two policemen shoot a man named Billy Furr in the back, murdering him in cold blood. This, Lee captured in a dramatic sequence of images that ran in Life.
The same bullets also hit and wounded a 12-year-old boy named Joey Bass Jr., who had been playing at a nearby intersection. Lee’s stark, emotional image of Bass, lying bleeding and contorted in pain on dirty concrete, ran on the July 28, 1967 cover of Life, sparking a national conversation on race and police violence, and becoming the defining image of the ‘long, hot summer’ of ’67—a summer of fire and fury, protest and rage across the country. Over half a century later, Bud Lee’s raw, desolate, and empathetic photographs of the people of Newark, at a turning point in the city’s history, continue to resonate: a testament to their resilience and fortitude.
About Bud Lee:
A self-taught photographer, who first took up a camera professionally in the military and received fine art training at the National Academy in New York, Bud Lee (1941-2015) had an idiosyncratic eye unconstrained by the conventions of documentary photography. Between 1967 and 1974, he worked on assignments for Life, Esquire, Rolling Stone, and many other publications, somehow finding himself at the centre of some of the biggest stories of the time.
An outsider who got insider access, his work is poetic and painterly, occasionally droll and irreverent.
Bud Lee : War Is Here: Newark 1967