In 1965, South African photographer, Grey Villet visited the family of Richard and Mildred Loving, and their three children in King and Queen County, Virginia. The LIFE magazine assignment was simple: an interracial couple joins forces with the ACLU to fight for the right to marry in the U.S. Supreme Court. The resulting editorial piece was neither in-depth nor overly empathetic to the couple's tribulations, nor was it politically charged; in that era, politicized content was not meant to alienate any demographic of potential readers.
The Lovings won their case unanimously in 1967, permanently altering the landscape of marriage and civil rights in the U.S., paving the way for hundreds of thousands of couples. Fast forward decades later, when, just a few years ago, Filmmaker Nancy Buirski knocked Loving daughter Peggy's door, to obtain information for a film she was making about the family's legal battle. Although hundreds of journalists had attempted the same feat in vain, Peggy presented Buirski with 70 prints gifted to her partents by Villet upon completion of his assignment. A selction of the Villet photographs, the LIFE spread, and a short film recorded at the time of Villet's visit are on view at the International Center of Photography. The photographs are that of a skilled, poetic family album. Villet chose not to focus on the impending court case, but the tender dynamics of intimate home scenes. Peggy's revelation completed the narrative of Buirski's film and opened the door to understanding a more complete story over forty years after the LIFE story ran. Richard and Mildred Loving's motivation to pursue their case was based in their need to keep their family together; their actions had very little to do with the civil rights movement. Through Villet's photos were taken over a span of just two weeks, the ICP show offers viewers a deeper look into the Lovings relationship and narrates the effects of an eight year legal battle--from Richard and Mildred's arrest, the family's exile to Washington DC and subsequent resettlement in Virgina.
The Loving Story is on view at The International Center of Photography, 1133 Avenue of the Americas at 43rd Street, until May 6, 2012. Free public tours occur daily at 3 pm.
Nancy Buirski's documentary, The Loving Story will premier on HBO on February 14th, 2012.
Also, check out this New York Times article written by Villet's wife: