Stand Up

Miami in the Making: The Photographs of Charles Hashim

The photographer that captured a crucial chapter in the story of Miami shares his own.
Photographer Charles Hashim, a lifelong Miami native, emphatically rejects the idea of “right place, right time.” But it just so happens that he was in the right place and time in history to capture Miami during its massive transformation in the '70s and '80s from a sleepy, deeply-segregated Southern town to a multi-cultural mecca. Using newspapers and local television as his guides, Hashim set out on weekend shooting expeditions, and to maximize his opportunities to capture great images, he gravitated to crowds and gatherings: gay rights and KKK rallies, illegal motorcycle races, rock shows, parades. These remarkable, unforgettable images are collected in a new book from Miami’s Letter16 Press titled We Are Everywhere and We Shall Be Free. Taken together, Hashim's work is a vivid, dynamic portrait of a weird, wild, scary time in the city, one that deeply resonates today given the current upheavals, and thankfully he talked about how it all came to pass. 

Charles Hashim by Lynn Parks

THE STANDARD: Where did you grow up in Miami and what was it like at that time?
CHARLES HASHIM: I grew up in Downtown Miami. We had an apartment that overlooked the bay. My father managed a restaurant that was handed down through his family.
I seem to have been able to read at a very early age, and I remember very, very clearly white people had drinking fountains, white people had bathrooms. Miami at that point in time was a little, narrow, close-minded, Southern town. If a black person was working on Miami Beach, in order to come across the causeway, which was the only way to get from Miami to Miami Beach, they had to have a written pass showing that they worked at a hotel or restaurant or somebody’s home. It was very rigidly enforced. My Catholic high school and elementary school were completely segregated. There was no mixing, no sports competition. Even coming down to the time of Muhammad Ali, he would not be allowed to try on a shirt at Burdines, the big store in town. He was often quizzed by the police.
Things began to change in the ’60s. Gradually, very gradually, Miami became a tolerant and international city, with all kinds of different people from different countries, like Venezuela, Guatemala, Colombia, and Peru coming to live in Miami. Miami developed a strong, international banking center. Schools became integrated.
What was your introduction to photography?
When I was 12, my parents gave me a Brownie camera. I sat in the public library in Downtown Miami and I looked at Life Magazine, which at that time was 97% photographs. I began to look and see what made photographs work. And I said to myself, “Well, I could do something like that.” And using Life as kind of an inspiration, I ran around taking pictures. And I did it for a few years, and then when I was in high school I worked as a photographer on the annual, and the last two years I was in charge of it. Then someone at the University of Miami looked at my work and offered me a scholarship to study photography there. I worked on the annual there, and I was editor the last two years. 
Illegal motorcycle drag race, Opa-Locka, circa 1979 by Charles Hashim from "We Are Everywhere and We Shall Be Free: Charles Hashim's Miami 1977-1983" (Letter16 Press)

What was your life like at the time in which the book of your photograph focuses, ’77-’83? 
To back up a little bit: in ’67, I was granted tenure at Miami Dade College and I became head of the photography program. Really my whole focus was running the program at Miami Dade. I was a workaholic. On the weekends was the only time I could take pictures and in order to make my time more effective, I concentrated on going where the crowds were, because I knew that I could get better pictures if there were a lot of subjects at hand. So I began photographing around Miami.
This is obviously long before the internet. So would you scour the newspaper to find things to shoot?
Exactly. I would do that. Also, I’d ask my students what was going on. And between the newspapers, local television, I was finding things to photograph. 

"I never went out with pictures in my head. The real world is stranger than anything I could’ve imagined."

When this was happening, did you have a sense that you were capturing a pretty crucial moment in time, or were you focused purely on trying to just capture great images? 
I was just trying to capture great images.
At what point did you realize that the pictures told this kind of story about the evolution of Miami, and, in some ways, the evolution of the U.S., during that period?
Robert Healy, who taught with me, was the first one to mention to me that I had documented Miami at a particular point in time. I did feel that the time was unique. Counter-culture was still going on. It was intuitive. I just thought, “This is something that needs to be captured at this particular point in time,” and that if I went there, I would take pictures that would be valuable and valid now and in the future. 
Gay Pride Parade, Bicentennial Park, Miami by Charles Hashim from "We Are Everywhere and We Shall Be Free: Charles Hashim's Miami 1977-1983" (Letter16 Press)

What’s your criteria for a great image? 
The subject should be quite close to the camera. The frame should be filled with subject. You have to use the instant to stop a particular moment in time in which the subject displays a composition that will attract the viewer. 
Miami has obviously changed dramatically from the time that you took those photos to now. It seems like you are, on the whole, extremely positive and optimistic about the change. 
I photographed the first gay rally ever in Miami, and there was a lot, a lot of protest. But now Miami is a gay tourist spot. If you go outside of Miami, you see pickup trucks with confederate flags. It’s coming back north of Miami and south of Miami. And it does seem to be on the increase. It seems like our recent election has given these people encouragement—almost coming out from under rocks. It’s enabled and legitimized them. I really feel this is a very wrong turn for our country. 

Do you think that there something about you personally that drew you to those stories or was it just being in the right place, at the right time? 
No, it wasn’t being in the right place at the right time. It was going out and finding something that I knew was somewhat unique and that I knew I could get good photographs from. I was able to get good photographs within the very limited amount of time I had to work. I never went out with pictures in my head. The real world is stranger than anything I could’ve imagined. 

Header photo: Heart, Blue Oyster Cult, and Motorhead concert, Miami, April 19, 1981 by Charles Hashim from "We Are Everywhere and We Shall Be Free: Charles Hashim's Miami 1977-1983" (Letter16 Press)


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