|Gordon Parks (American, 1912 - 2006)|
Department Store, Mobile, Alabama, 1956
Image courtesy of High Museum of Art
Parks and Freed were pioneers in the art of documentary photography and used their work to advance social change, particularly in the face of racial inequality. The two photographers’ bodies of work are empathetic, intimate accounts of the daily life, struggles, and triumphs of African-Americans living during a period of intense social struggle.
Parks’ portion of the exhibit at the High Museum focuses mainly on his photo essay for Life magazine, “The Restraints: Open and Hidden”. The article was first published in 1956 and offered a close look at a multigenerational family living in segregated Mobile, Alabama.
At great risk to themselves and their family, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Thornton, then aged 82 and 70, allowed Parks to observe and photograph life with their nine children and 19 grandchildren in an effort to challenge racial inequality.
But rather than focusing on the demonstrations, boycotts, and brutality that characterized the battle for racial justice, Parks captured images that illuminated the shared experiences of daily life, such as preparing taxes, doing laundry, cooking dinners, and attending Sunday church services.
Though Parks died in 2006, he left a legacy of journalistic and cinematic achievements. Parks was the only black photographer working for Vogue magazine in 1944, he was the first black staff photographer at Life magazine in 1948, he co-founded Essence magazine in 1970, and he directed the 1971 hit movie Shaft. He was also awarded the National Medal of Arts and more than 50 honorary doctorates over the course of his career.
Freed’s part of the exhibit focuses on photographs from his book Black in White America. The book is a collection of photographs and notes Freed took while traveling around New York City attending religious gathering, protests, and other urban engagements. He also traveled throughout the South capturing images of jails and jazz funerals and chronicling the experience of segregation.
Rather than offering an account of newsworthy events, such as demonstrations and boycotts, Freed’s book largely focuses on sharing the nuance of African-American life during this time of great social change. His storytelling style was innovative and became influential in the development of self-directed documentary projects for photojournalists.
For more information, or to register, please visit www.forsythpl.org.