Tuesday, January 13, 2015

UPDATED -- Gordon Parks on Segregated America

The revered American photographer Gordon Parks, who died in 2006, had a long and distinguished career as a photographer who transcended many barriers to the full inclusion of people of color in America, including his work as a photographer for Vogue and Life.

Parks' lesser-known images have caught the attention of curators at several museums and galleries which, in their shows of Parks' work, have drawn on images made during Parks' time as a staff photographer for Life Magazine, many of which have not previously been exhibited or published. 

These shows document, in powerful images, the look and feel, as well as the cost, of segregated America.  They also remind us powerfully that the legacy (and continuing cost) of racism in America is a national, not simply a Southern, issue.

The High Museum in Atlanta has up now a show of Parks' work, called Gordon Parks: Segregation Story (see image above), drawing on a portfolio of work Parks created for a 1950s Life magazine article on the daily life and struggles of a multigenerational family living in segregated Alabama.

The work in this show (see image above) takes me back to the South I grew up in, and powerfully reconnects me to that sense of shame and disgust I remember feeling when I got old enough to understand the world my ancestors had made. 

Parks' show is up at the High through June 7th, 2015. 

Also, in Atlanta, Jackson Fine Art has just opened a show of Parks' work, also called Segregation Story (see image above), up at the gallery through March 14th, 2015.

The show at the Studio Museum in Harlem, up from Nov 11, 2012 - Jun 30, 2013, with the title A Harlem Family featured about thirty black and white photographs (see image above) of the Fontenelle family, whose lives Parks documented as part of a 1968 Life magazine photo essay. 

The Studio Museum called the work, appropriately, "a searing portrait of poverty in the United States."

 Museum of Fine Arts in Boston will open a show of Parks' work, made in his home town in Kansas, entitled Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott, on January 17th, up through September 15th, 2015. 

Parks made this body of work in 1950, returning to his hometown in Kansas to make a series of photographs he intended to accompany an article in Life Magazine but was never actually published.  

Parks, according to the folks at the MFA, "used this assignment to revisit early memories of his birthplace, many involving serious racial discrimination, and to reconnect with childhood friends, all of whom had attended the same all-black grade school as Parks."

As the MFA points out, this work -- like the work on offer at the Studio Museum and the High Museum -- "represents a rarely seen view of everyday lives of African American citizens, years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest."

Parks' work reminds us powerfully of the ongoing agendas of Southern history and culture, and the central role that photography has had, and continues to play, in the ways we address those agendas. 

You can see more of Parks' work by going to the websites of his Foundation, here, and his Museum, here.  You can read more about Parks' work in the Guardian, here.

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