Photography in San Francisco I: Gordon Parks

Two significant San Francisco exhibitions of photography, on Gordon Parks and Garry Winogrand. Parks first.

(Hat tip to Elizabeth Traugott, for alerting me to this exhibition.)

From the San Francisco Chronicle on 4/6/13, “Gordon Parks’ vast career in 92 photos” by Patricia Yollin:

When Karen Jenkins-Johnson decided to put together an exhibition of photographs by Gordon Parks, she had to choose from at least 900 images. It was an almost impossible task, but she eventually selected 92 pictures that capture gangs in Harlem, fashion in Paris, a starving boy in Brazil and more than four decades of work.

… Parks was a photographer, composer, filmmaker and writer who was born in 1912 [so that last year was his centennial] and died in 2006 at age 93. Henry Louis Gates Jr., literary critic and Harvard University professor, described him as “the most important black photographer in the history of photojournalism.”

… “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, segregation in the South, the Black Panthers, celebrities such as actress Ingrid Bergman and conductor Leonard Bernstein, and New Englanders who in 1944 had never met a black person.

… Parks spent 24 years at Life Magazine and became close friends with [director of the Gordon Parks Foundation Peter Kunhardt Jr.’s] grandfather, who was managing editor. “Gordon wasn’t an icon. He was a member of our extended family,” Kunhardt said. “He’d have his pipe and a cowboy hat and a big coat when he visited us. He’d listen to everybody, and he always had a camera in his hand.”

Gordon Parks Centennial: Through April 27. 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday. Jenkins Johnson Gallery, 464 Sutter St. website here.

Since much of Parks’s work (often socially and politically pointed) was done to accompany stories (in Life, in particular), the exhibition displays some stories along with the photos, so that the images can be seen in context.

From Lens, the NYT photography blog, on 9/27/12, an article by James Estrin on Parks (the source of many of the images to come in this posting), beginning:

What can you know about Gordon Parks by looking at his photos? He was a sophisticated photographer and one of the most eloquent voices for the poor and oppressed in the middle part of the 20th century. He was a lover of beauty, particularly in women, and he knew how to tell a good story (both in photographs, film and in a conversation between friends). You can easily discern these things by looking at his work. If you can find the images.

Though he was quite famous for being a filmmaker and the first African-American photographer for Life magazine, until this year, the 100th anniversary of his birth, most of his photographs, except for a few iconic images, were not widely known. That’s changing this week as the publisher Gerhard Steidl’s famed presses print “Gordon Parks: Collected Works,” a comprehensive five-volume collection of Mr. Parks’s photographs.

Representative photos from various categories of Parks’s work. From the civil rights category, this image of segregation in the South (an untitled photo from Shady Grove AL in 1956):

In the poverty category, this image of race and poverty in Harlem:

Family matriarch Bessie Fontenelle, 39, is seen visiting the Poverty Board [in NYC] with four of her children in 1967. Her husband, Norman Fontenelle, Sr., lost his part-time job as a railway section hand after being employed for 11 years. He had arrived in Harlem from the British West Indies 15 years earlier.

And in a black life category, this photo of a husband and wife on Sunday morning in Fort Scott KS, from 1949:

(Among the other documentary photographs are many on the subject of crime.)

From the portraits of workers category, this image of cowboys:

Then there’s a series of portraits of Cassius Clay / Muhammad Ali, bringing out the sheer physicality of a man who made his living with his body, as in this one from 1966:

(Other series have portraits of artists, portraits of celebrities, and portraits of children.)

Then in the fashion category, this image from a series of Life photos of women in furs, from 1952:

Finally, one in a set of photos of beautiful women, an untitled photo from NYC in 1958:

Unfortunately, I have no information about the context for this intriguing image.


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