American Gothic

(Not about language.)

From my friend Max yesterday, a postcard with this famous arresting image by Gordon Parks:

An account of this photo:

“American Gothic,” considered to be Parks’s signature image, was taken in Washington, D.C., in 1942, during the photographer’s fellowship with the Farm Security Administration, a government agency set up by President Roosevelt to aid farmers in despair. “It’s the first professional image I ever made,” Parks says, “created on my first day in Washington.” Roy Stryker, who led the FSA’s very best documentary photographers—Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Carl Mydans, etc.—told Parks to go out and get acquainted with the city. Parks was amazed by the amount of bigotry and discrimination he encountered on his very first day. “White restaurants made me enter through the back door, white theaters wouldn’t even let me in the door, and as the day went on things just went from bad to worse.” Stryker told Parks to go talk with some older black people who had lived their entire lives in Washington and see how they had coped. “That’s how I met Ella,” Parks explains.

Ella Watson was a black charwoman who mopped floors in the FSA building. Parks asked her about her life, which she divulged as having been full of misery, bigotry and despair. Parks’s simple question, “Would you let me photograph you?” and Ella’s affirmative response, led to the photographer’s most recognizable image of all time. “Two days later Stryker saw the image and told me I’d gotten the right idea but was going to get all the FSA photogs fired, that my image of Ella was ‘an indictment of America.’ I thought the image had been killed but one day there it was, on the front page of The Washington Post .” At the time, Parks couldn’t have realized that the image would go on to become the symbol of the pre-civil rights era’s treatment of minorities. (link)

As for the original American Gothic:

From the Wikipedia entry:

American Gothic is a [1930] painting by Grant Wood, in the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Wood’s inspiration came from a cottage designed in the Gothic Revival style with a distinctive upper window and a decision to paint the house along with “the kind of people I fancied should live in that house.” The painting shows a farmer standing beside his spinster daughter. The figures were modeled by the artist’s dentist and sister. The woman is dressed in a colonial print apron mimicking 19th century Americana and the couple are in the traditional roles of men and women, the man’s pitchfork symbolizing hard labor, and the flowers over the woman’s right shoulder suggesting domesticity.

It is one of the most familiar images in 20th century American art, and one of the most parodied artworks within American popular culture. (link)

Parks’s photograph was, of course, in no sense a parody, but a bitter allusion.

3 Responses to “American Gothic”

  1. Marisol « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] (as in Gordon Parks’s bitter allusion to Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”, here)? Or even as a parody or burlesque (like a literary parody or burlesque — not at all the […]

  2. Burlesques, parodies, playful allusions « Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] American Gothic (link): Walker Evans allusion to “American […]

  3. Photography in San Francisco I: Gordon Parks | Arnold Zwicky's Blog Says:

    […] “American Gothic” [Parks's famous, bitter photograph on this blog, here] leads off the exhibition, which includes images of a sweating Muhammad Ali, the Tuskegee Airmen, […]

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