This autumn, Howard Greenberg Gallery, one of the world’s leading galleries for classic and modern photography, is celebrating its 40th year with an exhibition of work by renowned photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks.
Parks, who described his camera as his “choice of weapons,” was known for his work documenting American life and culture with a focus on social justice, race relations, the civil rights movement, and the African American experience. He was hired as staff photographer for Life magazine in 1948, where over two decades he created some of his most groundbreaking work that cast light on the social and economic impact of poverty, discrimination, and racism. In 1969 he launched a pioneering film career by becoming the first African American to write and direct a major studio feature, “The Learning Tree,” based on his semi-autobiographical novel—a career move foreshadowed through his cinematic approach to photography.
Marking the 50th anniversary of the release of Parks’ second feature-length directorial endeavor, the blaxploitation classic “Shaft” (1971), the gallery will present photographic works that reveal the artist’s cinematic approach. Parks’ earliest photographs often evoke a narrative beyond the individual frame, echoing his desire to represent complex facets of his subjects’ lives and communities. Like his films, Parks’ photographs present robust narratives that seek to reveal the complexities of his subjects’ lives.
The exhibition coincides with the release of the HBO documentary “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks” in November, and the extended presentation of works from his series “The Atmosphere of Crime” in the permanent collection galleries of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.
About Gordon Parks (1912-2006)
Gordon Parks was born into poverty and segregation on a farm in Kansas in 1912, the youngest of 15 children. He worked at odd jobs before buying a camera at a pawnshop in 1938 and training himself to become a photographer. From 1941 to 1945, Parks was a photographer for the Farm Security Administration and later at the Office of War Information in Washington, D.C. As a freelance photographer, his 1948 photo essay on the life of a Harlem gang leader, Red Jackson, won him widespread acclaim and a position as the first African American staff photographer and writer for Life magazine, which continued until 1972. In addition to being a noted composer and author, in 1969, Parks became the first African American to write and direct a Hollywood feature film, “The Learning Tree,” based on his bestselling novel of the same name. This was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful motion picture “Shaft.” Parks was the recipient of numerous awards, including the National Medal of Arts in 1988, and was given over 50 honorary doctorates from colleges across the United States. Photographs by Parks are in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, J. Paul Getty Museum, National Gallery of Art, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. stated, “Gordon Parks is the most important Black photographer in the history of photojournalism. Long after the events that he photographed have been forgotten, his images will remain with us, testaments to the genius of his art, transcending time, place and subject matter.”