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Gordon Parks, Staring Back at You

Gordon Parks: I am You | Part 1, a new exhibition at Jack Shainman Gallery, features some of Parks’s lesser seen bodies of work. Best known for his photographs documenting the civil rights era, I am You highlights a series of portraits of artists in their studios, including Helen Frankenthaler, Alexander Calder, and Alberto Giacometti. The show also focuses on Parks’s fashion photography made in New York during the 1950s and 1960s. Situating models wearing haute couture clothing within the vibrant city, “readers could imagine themselves in the clothing, either waiting for a bus on Fifth Avenue or experiencing a flat tire on the way to a ball,” says photo historian Deborah Willis, who is a Gordon Parks Foundation board member.

As a photographer, film director, composer, and writer, Parks (1912-2006) was a “visionary artist whose work continues to influence American culture to this day,” states the press release for the exhibition. A photographer for Life Magazine during the publication’s prime years, Parks documented everyday life across the country and his images “have been woven into the fabric of our nation’s collective visual memories.”

Parks was a self-taught artist and first worked with the Farm Security Administration. During the 1940s he worked as a freelance photographer for publications like Ebony and Vogue. In 1948 he became the first African American staff photographer and writer at Life magazine, spending 20 years there.

In 1967, after more than two decades of chronicling America, Parks wrote these words:
What I want. What I am. What you force me to be is what you are. For I am you staring back from a mirror of poverty and despair, of revolt and freedom. Look at me and know that to destroy me is to destroy yourself.

I Am You | Part 1
Jack Shainman Gallery
January 11-February 10, 2018
Opening Reception 6-8pm
524 West 24th Street
New York, NY 10011

Related Posts
Richard Avedon and James Baldwin on America Then (and Now)
Walker Evans’s Vernacular America
First Gordon Parks Foundation Fellowships Awarded to Devin Allen, Harriet Dedman (for PDN subscribers; login required)

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