September 05, 2019 The Amon Carter Museum of American Art Presents Major Touring Exhibition of Photographs by Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 is the First Exhibition Dedicated to this Barrier-Breaking Photographer’s Formative Decade
Fort Worth, TX, September 5, 2019—The first exhibition chronicling the formative beginnings of Gordon Parks’ extensive career opens at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art September 14 and is on view through December 29, 2019. Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, the exhibition highlights Parks’ mastery of the camera to create an uplifting vision of African American life at the mid-20th century. Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 is the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s newly renovated galleries, which include expanded spaces dedicated to hosting special exhibitions.
The pioneering African American photographer Gordon Parks (1912–2006) considered his work of the 1940s and ’50s to be the catalyst for a deeply influential 60-year career that stretched from photography to writing and filmmaking. Within this first decade, Parks grew from a self-taught portrait photographer in Minneapolis and Saint Paul into an influential photojournalist working in New York for such magazines as Ebony and Glamour. In 1949 he became the first African American staff photographer at Life magazine. Incorporating extensive new research and many rarely seen images, Gordon Parks traces the artist's rapid evolution while examining the expanding role of mass media in visual culture and documentary photography’s essential contributions to the American civil rights movement.
“Gordon Parks was a visionary photographer whose work had a lasting impact on the world,” said Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director of the Carter. “We are grateful to the National Gallery of Art and The Gordon Parks Foundation for spearheading this groundbreaking consideration of the foundational aspects of his career and for allowing us to bring his timely and relevant perspective to our audiences in North Texas.”
“Gordon Parks was part of what his friend and author Richard Wright called ‘the new tide’ of African Americans, who in the 1940s were pushing for respect and racial equality,” stated John Rohrbach, the Carter’s Senior Curator of Photographs. “A consummate professional, he added finely wrought photography to the struggle for social justice, creating a model for generations to come.”
From his fashion photographs to his thoughtful depictions of American life, Parks used the camera as his tool for proclaiming the value of an American community built on freedom and equality. Through some 150 photographs, as well as rare magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, and books, Gordon Parks offers an expansive and intimate look at how this pioneering artist became one of the most influential photographers of his day. The exhibition is chronologically organized into five sections:
A Choice of Weapons (1940–42)—This introductory section showcases Parks’ focus on becoming a professional portrait and fashion photographer in Saint Paul and Minneapolis prior to his move to Chicago, where he enters the vibrant art community centered on the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC). Highlights include Parks’ 1941 Self-Portrait and his portraits of leading African American artists, writers, and community figures like the fashion designer Marva Trotter Louis, influential wife of the world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis.
Government Work (1942)—In April 1942 Parks was awarded a Rosenwald Fellowship (the first one given to a photographer) to expand his photographic vision under Roy Stryker at the legendary Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C. During this time, Parks documented the African American communities of his new city and created his first major picture story emphasizing the humanity of government office cleaner Ella Watson. Watson is the subject of his iconic portrait Washington, D.C. Government charwoman (1942).
The Home Front (1942–43) —Documenting Parks’ work for the Office of War Information (OWI), this section shows the photographer continuing to draw public attention to the impoverished African American communities in Southwest Washington, D.C., and then New York, while also creating uplifting portraits of significant African American personages like Marion Anderson and Mary McLeod Bethune. Among his engaging images made in support of the American war effort are a late 1943 series celebrating the first African American fighter pilots, including Lt. George Knox.
Standard Oil (1944–48)—This section features finely crafted, rarely seen work that Parks produced for Stryker in a major public relations campaign for Standard Oil Company (New Jersey) (SONJ). Over these years, Parks documented many facets the production and use of oil across the northeastern United States and western Canada.
Mass Media (1945–50)—The final section focuses on Parks’ photography for major fashion and lifestyle magazines, including Ebony, Circuit's Smart Woman, and Glamour, in addition to his freelance work and early photo essays for Life. In 1948 Parks created an extended photographic portrait of Red Jackson titled “Harlem Gang Leader,” which was published in Life. This poignant photography essay led to him being hired as the first African American staff photographer at Life. Under the magazine’s auspices, he went on subsequent photographic trips to diverse international destinations where he mixed projects on high fashion and celebrity, including Paris Fashions from 1949, with acknowledgement of divisions of wealth, as shown in Untitled, Puerto Rico (1949).
The Carter will host an exhibition talk highlighting the formative decade of Gordon Parks’ works on October 24 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. with National Gallery of Art curator and exhibition organizing curator, Philip Brookman, and Assistant Professor in the Honors College of Texas Christian University, Frederick W. Gooding, Jr., ($10 ticket). The Carter will also host multiple events themed around the exhibition. On September 26, the Carter’s book club, Bookish, will be reading Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates, a 2018 honoree at The Gordon Parks Foundation Awards. A special tour of the exhibition will follow the discussion. The October 27 Art Mashup, a new Carter program debuting September, 22, will center around the Parks exhibition with a screening of his popular film Shaft (1971) and a tour of the exhibition led by local experts. For dates, prices, and details, visit cartermuseum.org.
The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation. Bank of America is a proud to be the national sponsor of Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950. Generous support is provided by the Kleinheinz Family Foundation for the Arts and Education and the Ann L. & Carol Green Rhodes Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee. A fully illustrated catalogue, produced and published by The Gordon Parks Foundation and Steidl in association with the Gallery, features extensive new research and many previously unpublished images. The Gordon Parks exhibition is included in the museum’s free admission.
About Gordon Parks
Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born on November 30, 1912, in the segregated town of Fort Scott, Kansas, and was the youngest of his father’s 15 children. In 1928 Parks left Kansas and moved north to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he eventually enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 after marrying Sally Alvis. After moving around New York and New Jersey with the CCC, Parks and Sally returned to Minneapolis in 1934 to begin a family.
In 1937 Parks was given a magazine that would change the course of his life, later recalling that it featured a photo story on the Dust Bowl with pictures by such photographers as Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein. He soon bought his first camera and began studying photography manuals and magazines. Shortly after discovering photography, he published a photograph in the St. Paul Recorder on March 25, 1938. After moving with his wife and two children to Chicago in early 1941, Parks was given access to studio space and a darkroom in the South Side Community Art Center (SSCAC). There he developed important relationships with other artists—many who taught at the center—such as Eldzier Cortor, Margaret Taylor Burroughs, and Charles White.
In 1942 Parks was awarded the first Rosenwald Fellowship given to a photographer and offered the opportunity to work with Roy Emerson Stryker at the legendary Historical Section of the Farm Security Administration (FSA) in Washington, D.C. Parks was transferred to the Office of War Information (OWI) when the FSA Historical Section was disbanded in fall 1942. Parks ended his work for the government and permanently relocated with his family to New York in September 1943. By 1945 Parks began shooting assignments for major fashion and lifestyle magazines, including Ebony, Circuit’s Smart Woman, and Glamour. In 1949 Parks was hired as the first African American photographer for Life.
Parks would remain at Life for two decades, chronicling subjects related to racism and poverty, as well as taking memorable pictures of celebrities, athletes, and politicians (including Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael). In 1969, Parks became the first African American filmmaker to write, score, and direct a Hollywood feature, The Learning Tree (based on his bestselling novel of the same name), which was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful Shaft. He served as the editorial director of Essence magazine from 1970 to 1972. Parks spent much of the last three decades of his life expanding his style; he continued working up until his death in 2006, winning numerous awards, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1972 and the National Medal of Arts in 1988. A noted filmmaker, composer, musician, poet, and author, he worked across all media and received over 50 honorary doctorates during his lifetime, even though he never graduated from high school.
About the Carter’s Photography Collection
The Amon Carter houses over 45,000 exhibition-quality photographic prints and 250,000 photographic objects, making the museum one of the country’s major repositories of American photography. The holdings span the history of the photographic medium, from one of the earliest daguerreotypes made in this country to inkjet prints being made today. The holdings reflect photography’s central role in documenting America’s nineteenth-century culture and history and the medium’s development as a significant and influential art form in the twentieth century to the present. Throughout its history, the Carter has supported the work of contemporary photographers. In 1979 the museum commissioned Richard Avedon to create his acclaimed series In the American West, and the collection now holds a complete set of prints from that project. A collaboration in 2013 brought Chicago-based photographer Terry Evans to Forth Worth to document the city’s Trinity River. The museum is also home to the archives and monographic collections of photographers Carlotta Corpron, Nell Dorr, Laura Gilpin, Eliot Porter, Helen Post, Clara Sipprell, Erwin E. Smith, and Karl Struss.
About the Amon Carter Museum of American Art
Located in the heart of Fort Worth’s Cultural District, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art explores the breadth and complexity of American creativity through an important and dynamic art collection. The Carter opened in 1961 to benefit its community by sharing the wonder of American art, fostering the growth of a vibrant cultural spirit, and stimulating everyone’s artistic imagination. Housed in a building designed by Philip Johnson (1906–2005), the Carter features one of the great collections of American art including masterworks of painting, sculpture, and works on paper by artists such as Georgia O’Keeffe, Jacob Lawrence, John Singer Sargent, Frederic Church, Thomas Eakins, Grant Wood, Alexander Calder, and Stuart Davis. The Carter is also home to a world-renowned photography collection that spans the history of the medium from the 19th century to today. It is also home to Amon G. Carter Sr.’s collection of nearly 400 works by Frederic Remington and Charles M. Russell, two of the most significant artists of the American West. Admission is free. Open: Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday 10 a.m.–5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m.–8 p.m.; Sunday 12–5 p.m. Closed Mondays and select holidays.
Images (left to right): Gordon Parks (1912–2006), Washington, D.C. Government charwoman, July 1942, gelatin silver print, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information Photograph; Gordon Parks (1912–2006), Self-Portrait, 1941, gelatin silver print, Private Collection, Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation; Gordon Parks (1912–2006), Paris Fashions, 1949, gelatin silver print, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Corcoran Collection (The Gordon Parks Collection), Courtesy of and copyright The Gordon Parks Foundation 2016.117.149.