New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 45 January 3 to 9, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Man on the Street
Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks: 100 Years
Mohammad Chowdhury
Emerging Man, Harlem by Gordon Parks. Source: icp.org
Gordon Parks

A giant man peeks out of a manhole somewhere in Harlem and gazes at me cautiously. It’s the wall size photo mural of Emerging Man, by renowned photographer, filmmaker, musician and writer Gordon Parks. Set in the background against three LCD screens showcasing Parks’ works in a harmonious loop, the mural is part of a small collection of Parks’ photographs on exhibit in the Plaza Window of the International Center of Photography. At first I was taken aback when inside the ICP gallery I could not find the Gordon Parks exhibit, but then I was informed that it is only viewable from the outside in ICP’s Plaza Window. The outdoor exhibition allows the viewer to step as far back as they wish to appreciate the power of the Emerging Man‘s stare, while making the exhibition accessible to all who pass by. (A more extensive, exhibition of Parks’ work will be at the Shomburg Center in Harlem starting in mid July.)

Growing up in a single parent household in the ghetto, Parks was no stranger to poverty and racism. After his mother’s death, he was unable to finish his high school education and had to fend for himself. While working as a waiter in a railroad car he stumbled across a magazine featuring the works of photographers Jack Delano, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, and Ben Shahn documenting migrant workers during the Depression. Deeply moved, he took up photography. Predominantly self-taught, he developed his own style, going on to become Life magazine’s first African-American photojournalist. Gaining critical recognition early for his groundbreaking work, he understood the power photography had on public awareness of social conditions. From the suffering of African-Americans to high points of the Civil Rights Movement, he photographed poverty, racism, and politics throughout his prolific career.

Muhammad Ali Gives Kids Autographs to Young Fans, Miami, Florida, by Gordon Parks. Source: icp.org
Gordon Parks, "Muhammad Ali Gives Kids Autographs to Young Fans, Miami, Florida," 1970

Close to Martin Luther King, Parks had easy access to key moments as well as key activists in the Civil Rights Movement. Some of his most memorable images include: a man closely listening to King’s speech at the 1963 March on Washington; Malcolm X leading a prayer; and Muhammad Ali with his fans after his famous “Rumble in the Jungle.” For those of us not present during those times, we are well aware of these historic events and figures, and Park’s tightly composed shots make us feel that we too were there, his images have become our own point of view.

Over a five decade career, until his death at the age of 93, Gordon Parks beautifully photographed American life, and along the way inspired many African-Americans to realize their own talents.

Gordon Parks
Gordon Parks: 100 Years
Curator: Maurice Berger

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