Filmmaker Sue Marx has photo show at BBAC

Michael H. Hodges
The Detroit News

Birmingham resident Sue Marx is best known as an accomplished filmmaker whose documentary, "Young at Heart," won an Oscar in 1987. Some may also recall she produced the 1970s TV show, "Profiles in Black," on Channel 4.

However, few know that before she got into TV and film, Marx was shooting photos for a range of Detroit newspapers and magazines. Happily, the Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center has remedied this oversight with "Photographs by Sue Marx -- Images from History: People Who Defined Detroit in the 1960s."

The exhibition is up through Oct. 8.

Sue Marx was asked to shoot Detroit neighborhoods for a local newspaper launched during the 1964 Detroit newspaper strike.

Marx fell into photojournalism almost by accident. A friend, Hubert G. Locke -- who would go on to write a number of books on the city including "Detroit 1967" -- was launching a neighborhood newspaper during the 1964 Detroit newspaper strike and approached Marx.

"Hubert said, 'Just go shoot stuff in Detroit,' and a lot of the pictures in the show are those free-to-do, just-get-neighborhood stuff," she said. Marx only worked for Locke  about a year, afterwards moving on to other publications.

Because she'd done a lot of volunteer political work in the city and was friends with the late Rep. John Conyers, Marx got enviable access to African-American politicians both local and national.

Sue Marx shot the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Grosse Pointe South High School three weeks before his 1968 assassination.

A particularly striking picture is her 1968 portrait of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. at Grosse Pointe South High School, where the preacher spoke just three weeks before his assassination.

Images of King we typically see are hagiographic or heroic in tone, with the great man orating or looking stern and authoritative.

But Marx caught him in a small, throwaway moment -- pouring himself a glass of water on stage. It's a profoundly human glimpse, at once intimate and oddly moving.

Her portrait of Rosa Parks is similarly straightforward. But according to Marx, Parks wasn't an easy person to shoot.

Rosa Parks, according to Sue Marx, avoided the limelight, and was difficult to pin down for a photograph. "She wasn't that kind of star," the filmmaker and photographer said.

"She worked for Conyers," she said, "so I had access to her. But I could never talk to her. She was just very quiet."

A particularly charming picture is "Lafayette Coney Island" from 1967 in which a young boy enthusiastically jams a Coney dog into his mouth while his father (one presumes) looks on with amusement.

As it happens, "Images from History" likely never would have happened had Marx not yielded to family pressure.

"My three daughters -- in New York, Santa Monica and Albuquerque -- decided their mother should have a photographic exhibition," she said, and promised that they'd come in and handle all the heavy lifting.

It's been decades since Marx shot this sort of photojournalism, but luckily she had the good sense to save her negatives.

Expanding the circle of relatives involved in this production, it fell to her granddaughter in Maine, Jude Marx, to restore and digitize the images, and make the crisp prints for the show.

"She did," her grandmother said, "a helluva job."

Sue Marx documented Detroit neighborhoods for a local newspaper in the mid-1960s.

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'Photographs by Sue Marx -- Images from History: People Who Defined Detroit in the 1960s'

Through Oct. 8

Birmingham Bloomfield Art Center, 1516 S. Cranbrook, Birmingham

10 a.m.-6 p.m. Mon.-Thurs; 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Fri.-Sat.

(248) 644-0866