On Texas' Death Row

Journalism's New Center for Photography
Opens Oct. 23 With Ken Light Exhibit

by Julia Sommer

News photographers have been getting a black eye recently with Diana's death and other high-profile celebrity-paparazzi encounters.

Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism aims to counteract that negative image with its new Center for Photography.

The center officially opens Oct. 23 with a 5:30 p.m. reception, panel discussion and exhibition titled "Texas Death Row" by renowned social documentary photographer Ken Light.

About a third of all executions in this country now take place in Texas. Light's photos reveal in gritty black and white how condemned men live behind bars while they wait for death.

Light and journalist Suzanne Donovan were granted extraordinary access to the largest death row in the country for three weeks in 1994.

They will be on hand Oct. 23 to sign their new book, "Texas Death Row," published by the University Press of Mississippi.

A panel discussion on "The Media and Death Row" will follow the reception, moderated by William Bennett Turner, a San Francisco lawyer who has done a number of capital appeals and teaches First Amendment and the Press at the journalism school. He is perhaps best known for representing all Texas prisoners in the Ruiz lawsuit over prison conditions.

Turner will be joined by Light, co-author Donovan (former director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas), and Michael Laurence, a Bay Area attorney working on death penalty cases in California.

The show will remain through Jan. 8 in the newly refurbished photo gallery at North Gate Hall at Hearst and Euclid streets.

The idea for the new Center originated with Dean Orville Schell. When he came aboard last year, Schell realized the school's top-notch journalism courses were not matched by training in photojournalism-an increasingly important aspect of modern media.

Schell was also struck by the "vast, unclaimed acreage of empty halls and walls" at universities and vowed to put the school's own walls to better use.

"The center's photo exhibits will put soul in the building," he says of the recently refurbished North Gate Hall.

"They will have a profound effect-both visual and intellectual-on young writers who may never take a photo.

"In the TV age, we're losing touch with photojournalism."

With $500,000, five-year funding from Susie Tompkins Buell, former co-owner of Esprit and an ardent collector of photographs, the center will be able to offer beginning and advanced courses in news photography and photojournalism every semester, starting this fall. Light is teaching them.

"Now we'll start attracting students specifically interested in photojournalism and visits from world-class photojournalists," says Light, also author of the documentary photography books "Delta Time," "To the Promised Land" and "With These Hands."

He is currently writing a book on photography for the Smithsonian Institution.



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