Posts Tagged ‘Gordon Parks Mrs. Jefferson

03
Sep
15

Exhibition: ‘Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott’ at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

ustExhibition dates: 17th January 2015 – 13th September 2015

Robert and Jane Burke Gallery (Gallery 335)

 

 

It’s been a really tough time writing the Art Blart recently, as my beloved Apple Pro tower that has served me so well over the years has died and gone to god. I have been making do with a small laptop, but tomorrow I pick up my new 27 inch iMac with Retina screen, to pair with my Eizo Flexscan monitor. I can’t wait!

I have so much admiration for the work of this man. The light, the sensitivity to the social documentary narrative just emanates from these images. You don’t need to say much, it’s all there in front of you. Just look at the proud profile of that old woman, Mrs. Jefferson, Fort Scott, Kansas (1950, below), and you are instantly transported back to the slave fields and southern plantations of the 19th century. No words are necessary. The bony hands, gaunt cheeks and determined stare speak of a life hard lived.

Marcus

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Many thankx to the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

 

 

Gordon Parks. 'Husband and Wife, Sunday Morning, Detroit, Michigan' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Husband and Wife, Sunday Morning, Detroit, Michigan
1950
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, St. Louis, Missouri' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, St. Louis, Missouri
1950
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Tenement Dwellers, Chicago, Illinois' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Tenement Dwellers, Chicago, Illinois
1950
Gelatin silver print
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“Gordon Parks (1912-2006), one of the most celebrated African-American photographers of all time, is the subject of a new exhibition of groundbreaking photographs at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (MFA). Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott (January 17 – September 13, 2015) traces Parks’ return to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas and then to other Midwestern cities, to track down and photograph each of his childhood classmates. On view in the MFA’s Art of the Americas Wing, the exhibition’s 42 photographs were from a series originally meant to accompany a Life magazine photo essay – but for reasons unknown, the story was never published. The images depict the realities of life under segregation in 1950 – presenting a rarely seen view of everyday lives of African-American citizens in the years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest. One of the most personal and captivating of all Parks’ projects, the images, now owned by The Gordon Parks Foundation, represent a rare and little-known group within Parks’ oeuvre. This exhibition, on view in the Robert and Jane Burke Gallery, is accompanied by a publication by Karen Haas, the MFA’s Lane Curator of Photographs, in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, which includes an introduction by Isabel Wilkerson, Pulitzer-prize winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration. The book includes previously unpublished photographs as well as archival materials such as contact sheets and a portion of the 1927 yearbook from the segregated school Parks attended as a child.

“These personal and often touching photos offer a glimpse into the life of Gordon Parks and the prejudice that confronted African Americans in the 1940s and 1950s,” said Malcolm Rogers, Ann and Graham Gund Director at the MFA. “We’re grateful to The Gordon Parks Foundation for giving us the opportunity to display these moving works.”
Fort Scott, Kansas was an emotional touchstone for Gordon Parks and a place that he was drawn to over and over again as an adult, even though it held haunting memories of racism and discrimination. Parks was born in Fort Scott in 1912 to a poor tenant farmer family and left home as a teenager after his mother died and he found himself – the youngest of 15 children – suddenly having to make his own way in the world. By 1948, Parks was the first African-American photographer hired full time by Life magazine. One of the rare African-American photojournalists in the field, Parks was frequently given magazine assignments involving social issues that his fellow white photographers were not asked to cover. For an assignment on the impact of school segregation, Parks returned to Fort Scott to revisit early memories of his birthplace – many involving racial discrimination – and to reconnect with childhood friends, all of whom went to the same all-black elementary school that Parks had attended.  He was able to track down all but two members of the Plaza School Class of 1927, although only one was still living in Fort Scott at the time. As he met with fellow classmates, his story quickly shifted its focus to the Great Migration north by African Americans. Over the course of several days Parks visited with his childhood friends – by this time residing in Kansas City; Saint Louis; Columbus, Ohio; Detroit; and Chicago – joining them in their parlors and on their front porches while they recounted their life stories to him. Organized around each of these cities and families, the exhibition features previously unpublished photographs as well as a seven-page draft of Parks’ text for the article.

“With the Back to Fort Scott story, Parks showed – really for the first time – a willingness to mine his own childhood for memories both happy and painful, something he would continue to do in a series of memoirs over the course of his long career” said Haas. “The experience also seems to have inspired him to write The Learning Tree in 1963, his best-selling novel about growing up poor and black in Kansas, that he transformed a few years later into a groundbreaking Hollywood movie – the first by an African American writer-director.”

Parks began his research in Fort Scott, where he found classmate Luella Russell. In addition to photographing Luella with her husband and 16-year-old daughter, Parks took photos of his own family and life around town – finding friends and acquaintances at the local theater, railway station and pool hall. Parks also visited the local baseball field at Othick Park, where he recorded a group of white spectators seated at one end of the bleachers watching a game, while two African-American girls in summer dresses stand at the other end, in an area loosely designated for the town’s black residents. Parks’ image of the girls at the ballpark, where black and white baseball teams sometimes competed against each other, subtly refers to the separation of the races that marked much of everyday life in Fort Scott.

Fort Scott had not changed dramatically since Parks’ youth. Parks attended the all-black Plaza School through the ninth grade  in 1927, and as he wrote in his draft for Life magazine: “Twenty-four years before I had walked proudly to the center of the stage and received a diploma. There were twelve of us (six girls and six boys) that night. Our emotions were intermingled with sadness and gaiety. None of us understood why the first years of our education were separated from those of the whites, nor did we bother to ask. The situation existed when we were born. We waded in normal at the tender age of six and swam out maladjusted… nine years later.”

After Fort Scott, Parks discovered three of his classmates in Kansas City and St. Louis – cities that were easily reached by rail and were often the first stops made by African Americans leaving smaller towns. Many left towns like Fort Scott in the hope of finding jobs and better futures for their children in these larger, more industrial cities. When Parks tracked down his classmates, he recorded their jobs and wages – the sort of detail that Life typically included in such pieces, allowing its readers to measure their own lives against a story’s subjects. In Kansas City, classmate Peter Thomason was working as a postal transportation clerk (a position, Parks noted, with a minimum salary of $3,700 a year), while in St. Louis, Parks recorded that classmate Norman Earl Collins was doing quite well, making $1.22 an hour at Union Electric of Missouri. Parks’ sympathetic images of Earl and his daughter, Doris Jean, may have been a conscious effort on Parks’ part to offset contemporary stereotypes of black families as less stable and strong than their white counterparts.

By 1950, Chicago was the de facto capital of African-American life in the US, with more black inhabitants than any other city in America – including three of Parks’ classmates. Parks discovered them residing only a mile or two apart from one another on the city’s South Side. Untitled, Chicago, Illinois (1950), depicts Parks’ classmate Fred Wells and his wife Mary in front of their apartment building in the Washington Park neighborhood. A number of the photographs in the exhibition repeat the simple compositional device seen here – featuring a classmate and his or her family, framed by the front door of their home. These images highlighted the families’ similarities to, rather than differences from Life‘s readers, who would have found such strong representations of black families at once surprising and reassuring.

In Detroit, Parks traced classmate Pauline Terry to the McDougall-Hunt neighborhood. In Fort Scott, Pauline had married Bert Collins, who had run a restaurant during much of the 1930s. By 1950, they were settled in Detroit and had five children. Unlike Parks’ other classmates who had migrated north in search of opportunity, Pauline (yearbook ambition: “To be young forever; to be a Mrs.”) now had a large family and no longer worked outside the home. In the course of her conversation with Parks, she emphasized the importance of religion in their lives. Parks’ powerful portrait of the couple walking to Sunday services at the Macedonia Baptist Church, Husband and Wife, Sunday Morning, Detroit, Michigan (1950) reinforces the seriousness of their faith.  The cigar-smoking Bert wears a sharp suit and straw boater and carries a well-worn Bible.

Once completed, Parks’ Fort Scott photo essay never appeared in Life. The reason for that remains a mystery, although the US entry into the Korean War that summer had a major impact on the content of its pages for some time. The magazine’s editors did try to resuscitate the story early in April of 1951 only to have it passed over by the news of President Truman’s firing of General Douglas MacArthur. In the end, all that survives, as far as written documentation of the Fort Scott assignment, are Parks’ project notes from his individual visits with his classmates in May and June of 1950; several telegrams sent by Life staffers regarding his friends’ whereabouts before his arrival; fact-checking when the piece was again slated to run in April 1951; and an annotated seven-page draft. Because the photos were never published, and most have never before been on view, the exhibition presents a unique opportunity to explore a body of work that is almost completely unknown to the public.

“The Gordon Parks Foundation is pleased to collaborate with the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, on this exhibition and publication highlighting a series of very personal, early works by the artist” said Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., the Foundation’s executive director. “Gordon Parks: Back to Fort Scott allows us a focused look at a single Life magazine story and reveals a fascinating tale of Gordon Parks’ segregated beginnings in rural Kansas and the migration stories of his classmates, many of whom, like him, left in search of better lives for themselves and their families.””

Press release from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, Chicago, Illinois' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, Chicago, Illinois
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, Columbus, Ohio' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, Columbus, Ohio
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

“The lives of the classmates – six girls and five boys who graduated from the segregated Plaza School in 1927, in what was then a town of 10,000 people – present a miniature snapshot of African-American aspiration and struggle in the years before Brown v. Board of Education or the civil rights movement.

Parks found Emma Jane Wells in Kansas City, Mo., where she sold clothes door-to-door to supplement her husband’s salary at a paper-bag factory. Peter Thomason lived a few blocks away, working for the post office, one of the best jobs available to black men at the time. But others from the class led much more precarious lives. Parks tracked down Mazel Morgan on the South Side of Chicago, in a transient hotel with her husband, who Parks said robbed him at gunpoint after a photo session. Morgan’s middle-school yearbook description had been ebullient (“Tee hee, tee ho, tee hi, ha hum/Jolly, good-natured, full of fun”), but in 1950 she told Parks, “I’ve felt dead so long that I don’t figure suicide is worthwhile anymore.”

The most promising of the classmates, Donald Beatty, lived in an integrated neighborhood in Columbus, Ohio, where he had a highly desirable job as a supervisor at a state agency and where Parks’s pictures show him – very much in the vernacular of Life magazine’s Eisenhower-era domestic scenes – happy and secure with his wife and toddler son and a brand-new Buick. But notes made by a Life fact-checker just a year later, when the magazine planned once again to run Parks’s article, recorded a tragedy, blithely and with no explanation: “Aside from the death of their son, nothing much has happened to them.”

Lorraine Madway, curator of Wichita State University’s special collections, said of the Fort Scott story: “There are those moments in an archive when you know you’ve found the gold, and this is one of them. It’s a wonderful example of micro-history. It’s not only that there is so much material written at a specific time in people’s lives, but then there are Parks’s reflections on it later.” …

Besides fact-checking notes, Parks’s own notes and a typewritten draft for what might have been his introduction to the photo spread, there is almost no other documentation surrounding the project, for which Parks shot about 30 rolls of 35-millimeter and medium-format film. And so the question of why it was not published might never be answered. In an essay for the show’s catalog, Ms. Haas speculates that it might have been doomed by its very newsworthiness, as national challenges to school segregation began gathering speed and Life waited – in the end too long – for just the right moment…

Parks carried his own psychic wounds from those years, which profoundly shaped his writing and approach to photography. But his feelings were always bittersweet. Though he lived for many years in New York City, he chose to be buried in his hometown, whose African-American population has declined even more markedly than its overall population. In a 1968 poem about his childhood, he wrote that he would miss “this Kansas land that I was leaving,” one of “wide prairies filled with green and cornstalk,” of the “winding sound of crickets rubbing dampness from wings” and “silver September rain.”

Then he added: “Yes, all this I would miss – /along with the fear, hatred and violence/We blacks had suffered upon this beautiful land.””

Extract from Randy Kennedy. “‘A Long Hungry Look’: Forgotten Gordon Parks Photos Document Segregation,” on The New York Times website, December 24, 2014 [Online] Cited 29/08/2015.
Gordon Parks. 'Railway Station Entrance, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Railway Station Entrance, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Shoes, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Shoes, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled (Outside the Liberty Theater)' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled (Outside the Liberty Theater)
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Untitled, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Uncle James Parks, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Uncle James Parks, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

Gordon Parks. 'Mrs. Jefferson, Fort Scott, Kansas' 1950

 

Gordon Parks
Mrs. Jefferson, Fort Scott, Kansas
1950
Courtesy and © The Gordon Parks Foundation
Courtesy Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

 

 

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, Massachusetts

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday 10am – 4.45 pm
Wednesday – Friday 10am – 9.45 pm
Saturday and Sunday 10am – 4.45 pm

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston website

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05
Nov
11

Exhibition: ‘Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks’ at the Phoenix Art Museum

Exhibition dates: 20th August – 6th November 2011

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Many thankx to the Phoenix Art Museum for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Gordon Parks
Children with Doll (Ella Watson’s Grandchildren)
1942
Gelatin silver print
11 x 14 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Ingrid Bergman at Stromboli
1949
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Black Muslim Rally
New York, 1963
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Alberto Giacometti, Paris
1951
Gelatin silver print
16 x 20 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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“Gordon Parks spent the majority of his professional career at the crossroads of the glamorous and the ghetto – two extremes the noted photographer knew well.  Perhaps best recognized for his works chronicling the African-American experience, Parks was also an accomplished fashion photographer. Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks provides a revealing look at the diversity and breadth of Parks’s most potent imagery. Featuring 73 works specifically selected by Parks for the photographic collection of the Los Angeles-based Capital Group, Bare Witness divulges heart wrenching images, iconic moments, celebrities and slices of everyday life.

Born in 1912 in Fort Scott, Kansas, Parks, who died in 2006 at age 93, was an African American photographer who began working professionally in the 1930’s. Parks tackled the harsh truth and dignity of the black urban and rural poor in the United States. He photographed aspects of the Civil Rights movements and individuals associated with the Black Panthers and Black Muslims. For nearly 25 years, from 1948 to 1972, he served as staff photographer for Life magazine. He also established himself as a foremost fashion photographer, providing spreads for respected magazines such as Vogue.

Bare Witness features many of Parks’s most memorable images such as “American Gothic.” Taken during Parks’s brief time with the Farm Security Agency, the photograph depicts a black cleaning woman named Ella Watson standing stiffly in front of an American flag, a mop in one hand and a broom in the other. Also included in the exhibition is a series of photos from Parks’s most famous Life magazine essay about Flavio da Silva, a malnourished and asthmatic boy living in a Rio de Janerio slum. Portraits of Muhammad Ali, Duke Ellington, Alexander Calder, Ingrid Bergman, Langston Hughes and Malcolm X among others will also be on view.

“Whether photographing celebrities or common folk, children or the elderly, Harlem gang leaders or fellow artists, Parks brought his straightforward, sympathetic ear and mind to bear witness to late 20th century civilization,” commented Hilarie Faberman, the Robert M. and Ruth L. Halperin Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at Cantor Arts Center and organizer of the exhibition. “His photographs balance the dichotomies of black and white, rich and poor, revealing his strengths and struggles as an artist and a man.”

In addition to his documentary and fashion photography, Parks was a filmmaker, author, musician and publisher. He was the first black artist to produce and direct a major Hollywood film, “The Learning Tree” in 1969, which was based on his early life experiences. He subsequently directed the popular action films “Shaft” and “Shaft’s Big Score.” He was a founder and editorial director of Essence magazine and wrote several autobiographies, novels and poems. In 1988, he received the National Medal of Arts award and throughout his lifetime was the recipient of 40 honorary doctorates from colleges and universities in the United States and England.

“Parks was a renaissance man whose career embodied the American ideal of equality and whose art was deeply personal. This exhibition is an exciting opportunity for Museum visitors to experience the poignant images he made over five decades,” commented Rebecca Senf, Norton Curator of Photography, Phoenix Art Museum.

The exhibition includes an illustrated catalogue with an essay by photography scholar Maren Stange who writes frequently on modern American culture. This exhibition has already enjoyed a five-venue tour, where the photographs were received with great excitement. The exhibition has been revived for a final showing at the Phoenix Art Museum. Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks was organized by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are made possible by generous support from The Capital Group Foundation, the Cantor Arts Center’s Hohbach Family Fund, and Cantor Arts Center’s Members.”

Press release from the Phoenix Museum of Art website

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Gordon Parks
American Gothic
1942
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Mrs. Jefferson, Fort Scott
1949
Gelatin silver print
20 x 16 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Muhammad Ali
c. 1970
Gelatin silver print
24 x 20 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Gordon Parks
Muhammad Ali
1970
Cibachrome
20 x 16 inches
Lent by The Capitol Group Foundation, 2002.05.
© 2006 The Gordon Parks Foundation

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Phoenix Art Museum
McDowell Road & Central Avenue
1625 N. Central Avenue
Phoenix, AZ 85004

Opening hours:
Monday and Tuesday, Museum closed
Wednesday, 10am-9pm (Free admission/voluntary donation every Wednesday, 3-9pm)
Thursday-Saturday, 10am-5pm
Sunday, 12pm-5pm

Phoenix Art Museum website

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Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Études’ 1994

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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