Inspiration: Photographer Grey Villet

Long before Facebook, Twitter and viral videos, magazines like National Geographic, LIFE and TIME were bringing powerful images into American homes.   We still see them on the Internet today. Most of us scroll through these images without giving a thought to the photographers who went out into the world to capture them. This was the heyday of photo essays and journalistic photography, and the average reader wouldn’t recognize names like; Alfred Eisenstaedt or Margaret Bourke-White,  but you would most definitely remember the iconic images they took that made their way into the American Zeitgeist through LIFE Magazine.

Grey Villet isn’t a household name, but as a freelance photographer, commissioned primarily by LIFE and TIME magazines, Grey was given assignments to create  photo-essays that capture the essence of some of the most poignant stories and social movements of that time.


Gay rights in New York. – This issue is obviously close to my heart, especially now with Gay men being rounded up, put into camps and tortured in Chechnya. It’s easy to loose track of how far we’ve come in the United States when it comes to Gay rights, but in the 1960’s, the movement was just beginning. Here in our own country, the people who were tasked with protecting the rights of citizens were raiding gay bars and arresting men simply for being homosexual. The birth of the gay rights movement here in the U.S. was a powder keg of anger and passion.   Grey Villet was tasked by TIME magazine to cover the protests. These were some of the first images that actually portrayed individual Gay people, their struggles and the passion behind their cause.


Loving vs. the state of Virginia – As gay men and women were fighting for their rights in the 60’s, there was an interracial couple in Virginia who were also fighting for their right to love and marry, a right that Gay couples fought for just a few years ago, and in some states, we are still fighting.   Mildred and Richard loving were married in Washington D.C. in 1958. It wasn’t until they moved back to their home state of Virginia did they realize that they may be subject to arrest for the crime of miscegenation (mixing of races). In fact, Virginia lawmakers told them that they would indeed be arrested and face 25 years in prison if they didn’t leave the state, (and their family and friends). They weren’t the first interracial couple to get married, but this case captured the attention of the whole country.   The images that Grey Villet captured of their life, along with the accompanying story in LIFE magazine, made a huge impact in the heart of the country. Sure, the images didn’t change everyone’s mind, but putting a human face to the issue makes it just that much more difficult to hold on to one’s racist views.

At a time when there was no digital photography and no Photoshop, the job of a good photojournalist required patience, technical skill and the ability to really understand their subjects. Photographers whose images graced the pages of TIME, LIFE or NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC we’re empathetic, astute observationalist’s and masters of their craft.   We owe thanks to these courageous photographers, like Grey Villet, for their legacy of images, images that tell the story of all those who came before us, braved the trail to give us the rights that we may now take for granted.