Gordon Parks’ career spanned decades, the Amon Carter Museum currently has an exhibition, The New Tide representing his early works from 1940-1950, closing December 29, 2019. Parks is one of the most influential photographers of the 20th Century, who was not only remarkable for his photographic eye, but in his innate ability to tell a narrative. He was a groundbreaking photographer because he managed to cross the racial divide and pave the way for the minority photographers who would follow in his steps. He became the first African American photographer on staff at LIFE magazine, and also published work in Ebony magazine. His corpus of work covers fashion photography, Harlem, key influential figures and celebrities, the industrial war complex, and the civil rights movement presented with a bold and thoughtful look at community, inequality and poverty.
The entire exhibit was truly wonderful, but here are a few of the works that specifically stood out to me.
One of his most iconic photographs, is of Ella Watson, the Washington DC government charwoman, depicted standing in front of the American flag with a broom and mop in either hand as an allusion to Grant Wood’s famous American Gothic painting. This photo was the cover on Ebony magazine after the first American independence Day during World War II. Parks was not only ‘speaking’ to the hundreds of magazines that in a strike of patriotism had plastered their front covers with ‘Old Glory’ but he seized the moment to also speak to the inequality still present in America. The photo becomes a commentary on the times and demonstrates the artists thoughtful capability at creating a visual narrative.