Bearing Witness

Richard Saunders

Shown here is a selection of photographs by Bermudian photojournalist Richard Saunders (1922-1987) which were exhibited at BNG in 2011 in a retrospective of his work, and which now reside in the permanent collection of the Bermuda National Gallery. 

As we collectively respond to the exposed systemic injustices so terribly familiar to communities of colour, it is especially challenging to see how little has changed since Saunders took the photograph above, Malcom X with Elijah Muhammed and Muslim Dignitaries, in the 1950s. 

Top: Malcom X with Elijah Muhammed and Muslim Dignitaries, 1950s, by Richard Saunders. Silver print.  9 ¼ x 13 ¾ inches. Collection of the Bermuda National Gallery. 
Above: Members of the 4-C Club Listening to Instructor, Upper Volta, 1972, by Richard Saunders. Silver print. 9 ¼ x 13 ¾ inches. Collection of the Bermuda National Gallery.

The realities of institutional segregation in Bermuda until the 1960s forced artists such as Richard Saunders to work overseas. From 1967 to 1986 he worked as international editor for Topic, the United States Information Agency’s magazine, during which time he visited over 30 African countries.

His photographs went on to be published in the New York Times, Life and Time. He was part of the 1953 Museum of Modern Art exhibition Always The Young Strangers and was the recipient of the International Black Photographers Award and Bermuda Arts Council’s first annual lifetime achievement award.

Theatre In The Street, Harlem, 1967 by Richard Saunders for The New York Times. Silver print. 9 ¼ x 13 ¾ inches. Collection of the Bermuda Gallery. 

After his death at the age of 65, U.S. Congressman Charles Rangel acknowledged Saunders, who had become a U.S. citizen, for his contribution to photography and the civil rights movement.

New York’s prestigious Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture is a custodian of 20 years of photographs taken by Saunders for Topic. The Center is based in Harlem, New York and is part of the New York Public Library system.