Societal Divisions

Societal Divisions

For American photographer Gordon Parks (1912-2006), the camera was his “weapon of choice”. In the right hands, the camera can be adaptable tool used against repression, racism, violence, and inequality. Known for his black and white photographs, Parks used the medium to expose the deep divisions in American society. An important champion of equal rights for African Americans, the artist’s work addressed themes of poverty, marginalisation and injustice. Aside from his iconic portraits of legends like Martin Luther King, he achieved fame through his photographic essays for Life Magazine, as well as his films The Learning Tree (1969) and Shaft (1971).

This summer, Foam collates 120 works from the collection of The Gordon Parks Foundation, including vintage prints, contact sheets and magazines, into a comprehensive exhibition titled Gordon Parks – I Am You. Selected Works 1942-1978. Opening on 16 June, the presentation shows black and white prints alongside Parks’ lesser known work in colour. Accompanying a selection of portraits, documentary images and fashion photographs, are excerpts from his films The Learning Tree and Shaft, both of which signalled the start of the popular Blaxploitation genre. Combined together, these pieces reflect deeply on the social and political context in which the artist worked, while also highlighting the aptitude and talent of the self-taught photographer.

First brought to fame with a photo report on a gang leader named ´Red´ in Harlem, New York, he was the first African American photographer to join the staff of Life Magazine. Parks also photographed legendary boxer Muhammed Ali and Civil Rights Movement leader Malcom X. Notably, this storyteller carved out a place for underexposed topics during a turbulent time in the US, and his work continues to impact new generations for his open attitude to the various groups making up a fiercely divided America – something that shines through in the narrative imagery of his photographs and filmic pieces. Gordon Parks – I Am You is part of a European tour initiated by C/O Berlin.

Gordon Parks – I Am You. Selected works 1942 – 1978, 16 June – 6 September, FOAM Amsterdam.

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1. Gordon Parks, The Invisible Man, Harlem, New York, 1952. Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation.