Gordon Parks' A Segregation Story

Sunday, June 14, 2015



I  managed to make it to the Gordon Parks Exhibition at Atlanta’s High Museum of Art before it closes at the end of this month. It was a beautiful night to be out so my sis Betiel and I took advantage of the opportunity to catch up. I am ever thankful that my friends enjoy art and culture as much as I do. Even though I value experiencing such things by muself, it’s special to have those with whom you could share those memorable moments. Anyway, back to the exhibit, the main reason for our visit… 

“In 1956, Life magazine published twenty-six color photographs taken by staff photographer Gordon Parks. The photo essay, titled The Restraints: Open and Hidden, exposed Americans to the effects of racial segregation. Parks focused on the everyday activities of the related Thornton, Causey, and Tanner families in and near Mobile, Alabama, capturing their everyday struggles to overcome discrimination.
 Parks's photo essay served as crucial documentation of the Jim Crow South and acted as a national platform for challenging racial inequality. However, rather than focusing on the demonstrations, boycotts, and brutality that characterized the battle for racial justice, Parks emphasized the prosaic details of one family's life. In particular, his ability to elicit empathy through an emphasis on intimacy and shared human experience made the photographs especially poignant.
 The serene images provided an exceptional account of a nationwide struggle, yet one that remained invisible to many. Parks strove to undo racial stereotypes by providing a positive, complex account of real people. By contrasting the normal activities of daily life – preparing taxes, doing laundry, cooking dinners, cutting timber – with persistent evidence of social inequality, he exposed the damaging effects of racial and economic subjugation on the family's pride and opportunity.
 Although the pictures associated with Parks’s work for the segregation story were believed lost for several decades, The Gordon Parks Foundation recently uncovered more than two hundred transparencies that comprise the full series. This exhibition brings together more than forty of those images, many on view for the first time. Together, they give a sense of the complexity and breadth of Parks's vision and also provide a deeper look into the experience of segregation in the South.” 
~ Sourced from the High Museum’s Website. 

Beneath one of the photographs in the collection, I noticed a quote by one of the persons captured by Mr. Parks.  I can't state verbatim what the lady said but here's the gist. She asserted that only through Integration could African Americans come to be treated justly.  Do you believe this has come to pass? Do you believe that the end of Segregation has helped African Americans receive more justice in this society? Surely, it's a salient question in 2015



















In addition to Gordon Parks' iconic photographs, the works of other artists including Karen Walker are also on display. Ms. Walker is a contemporary artist best known for her black cut-out silhouettes, which convey scenes related to slavery in the Antebellum South and address issues surrounding gender, sex and power. The stark depictions force viewers to confront a chapter in U.S. history that they may otherwise be unwilling to face. Ms. Walker herself has stated that for a while she hesitated to delve into the subject of American slavery out of concern that it would be seen as cliche'. Nonetheless, as an African American woman who has been exposed to and in some ways, experienced the bitter fruit of slavery, she decided to analyse American dynamics of power that stem from this period. Despite and because of people's discomfort with discussing the subject matter, Karen Walker made it a prominent part of her work. Just as Gordon Parks',Ms. Walker's collection is particularly salient today. Maybe if we can engage in discourse about segregation and slavery, we can begin to truly heal certain wounds. Art is a great place from which to start. 











No comments:

Post a Comment