What I want. What I am. What you force me to be is what you are. For I am you staring back from a mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom. Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself.
Born in 1912 in rural Kansas, Gordon Parks and his siblings were orphaned when he was 14 years old. He was sent to live with relatives and left them a year later; a teenage man on his own in the segregated and racist world of mid-western America at the brink of the Depression. Parks’ natural abilities in the arts (later he became a filmmaker and composer), enabled him at a young age to recognize photography as the most important tool he could use to convey his vision. The first African-American photographer to work for Life magazine and at the height of its influence, Parks’ photojournalism addressed and exposed the stark realities of racism, segregation and poverty in America. Parks also photographed for Vogue and other fashion magazines. His ongoing portraiture is exceptional, capturing Iman brilliantly, Mohammed Ali off-guard and he captured iconic portraits of Helen Frankenthaler and Alberto Giacometti.
His close associates included authors Ralph Ellison, James Baldwin and Malcolm X. Parks states the fundamental message that black Americans have been enslaved and treated as sub-human through segregation and the atrocities countenanced under racism, but the black American has always been integral to the identity of the United States as a whole. Gordon Parks’ skills and his humanity enabled him to capture a wide arc of culture in America and Europe, keeping in balance portraiture, documentary coverage of civil rights issues and conditions, fine art and high fashion.
The images go deep and should be seen in person. Parks’ well known, American Gothic shows the same woman posed with a broom and an American flag, who in another photograph can be seen in the process of sweeping; a graceful and restorative process. Portraits and fashion photographs, the latter taken using in an early color film that lends a certain quality to the images, can be completely iconic. Parks filmed Alberto Giacometti in black and white in his studio in Paris and Helen Frankenthaler in color in America in hers. A portrait of Mohammed Ali leaning casually off-guard in London, and a fashion shot of Iman in profile with an African sculpture at her back are not to be missed…
Gordon Parks: I Am You | Part 1 January 11th – February 10th, 2018
Gordon Parks: I Am You | Part 2 February 15th – March 24th, 2018
Jack Shainman Gallery
513 West 20th Street, New York NY