'His Work is a Testament': The Ever-Relevant Photography of Gordon Parks

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tags: racism, photography, African American history, Gordon Parks

“Gordon Parks’s photographs are timeless,” said Peter W Kunhardt Jr, executive director of the Gordon Parks Foundation. “As we reflect on what has happened in recent months, his photographs remind us to stand up, speak out and demand justice. This exhibition does just that, highlighting images that inspire resilience and empathy that the photographer made over many years.”

The two-part exhibition, on view at both Jack Shainman Gallery locations in New York, is called Gordon Parks: Half and the Whole and until 20 February, photos from Parks taken between 1942 and 1970 will be showcased.

There are portraits of political leaders, protest images and stills from the civil rights movement, from Malcolm X to Muhammad Ali and Black Panther party members Eldridge and Kathleen Cleaver. There are photos from the segregated south, and from a police brutality protest in 1963, which has a striking resemblance to today’s America, over 50 years later.

His work is also on view in an exhibition at the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, Alabama, featuring his photos of segregation in America. Also, the Gordon Parks Museum in Fort Scott recently received funding for a research project to document the shooting locations of The Learning Tree, a coming-of-age drama Parks wrote and directed in 1969 (he was the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film based on his bestselling novel).

Parks, born in 1912, grew up on a farm in Kansas and attended a segregated elementary school before leaving home at 14. He lived in St Paul as a teenager, where he got into fashion photography, and later, lived in Chicago and Washington before becoming the first black photographer to shoot for Life Magazine in 1957.


Pulitzer prize-nominated writer and Columbia University professor Jelani Cobb has written an essay to accompany the Jack Shainman exhibition. “One of the things that stood out for me is the contemporary implications of this work,” said Cobb. “I wasn’t trying to force it into the present. It was just there. In Gordon Parks’s memoir, he talks about setting out to chronicle the lives and the world that black people were living in and happening in his life. We see that many of those things he was trying to shed a light on are still the case. They’re still applicable.”

Read entire article at The Guardian

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