Gordon Parks exhibition coming to The Amon Carter Museum of American Art

Anacostia, D.C. Frederick Douglass housing project. Mother watching her children as she prepares the evening meal

Gordon Parks (1912-2006)

The first exhibition chronicling the formative beginnings of Gordon Parks’ extensive career opens at the Amon Carter Museum of American Art Sept. 14, and will be on view through Dec. 29, 2019.

Organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation, this exhibition highlights Parks’ mastery of the camera to create an uplifting vision of African-American life at the mid-20th century.

Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950 will be the inaugural exhibition in the museum’s newly renovated galleries, which includes expanded space dedicated to special exhibitions.

Parks (1912–2006) considered his work of the 1940s and ’50s to be the catalyst for a deeply influential 60-year career that stretched from photography to writing and filmmaking, the Amon Carter Museum of American Art said in an announcement of the exhibition.

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Within this first decade, Parks grew from a self-taught portrait photographer in Minneapolis and Saint Paul into an influential photojournalist working in New York for such magazines as Ebony and Glamour. In 1949 he became the first African-American staff photographer at Life magazine.

The exhibition, incorporating new research and many rarely seem images, traces Parks’ rapid evolution while examining the expanding role of mass media in visual culture and documentary photography’s essential contributions to the American civil rights movement.

“Gordon Parks was a visionary photographer whose work had a lasting impact on the world,” Andrew J. Walker, Executive Director of the Amon Carter., said in the announcement.

Gordon Roger Alexander Buchanan Parks was born Nov. 30, 1912, in the segregated town of Fort Scott, Kansas, and was the youngest of his father’s 15 children. In 1928, Parks left Kansas and moved north to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he eventually enrolled in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in 1933 after marrying Sally Alvis. After moving around New York and New Jersey with the CCC, Parks and Sally returned to Minneapolis in 1934 to begin a family.

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He drew his inspiration for photography from a 1937 magazine that featured a photo story on the Dust Bowl with pictures by such photographers as Dorothea Lange and Arthur Rothstein.

Shortly after discovering photography, he published a photograph in the St. Paul Recorder on March 25, 1938.

He worked in Chicago and Washington, D.C., and moved to New York in September 1943. By 1945, Parks was shooting assignments for major fashion and lifestyle magazines, including Ebony, Circuit’s Smart Woman, and Glamour. Life hired him in 1949.

Parks would remain at Life for two decades, chronicling subjects related to racism and poverty, as well as taking memorable pictures of celebrities, athletes, and politicians including Duke Ellington, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, and Stokely Carmichael.

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In 1969, Parks became the first African-American filmmaker to write, score, and direct a Hollywood feature, The Learning Tree, based on his bestselling novel of the same name, which was followed in 1971 by the hugely successful Shaft.

He served as the editorial director of Essence magazine from 1970 to 1972.

Parks continued working up until his death in 2006, winning numerous awards, including the NAACP’s Spingarn Medal in 1972 and the National Medal of Arts in 1988. He was a filmmaker, composer, musician, poet and author working across all forms of media.

He never graduated from high school, but he received more than 50 honorary doctorates during his lifetime.

“Gordon Parks was part of what his friend and author Richard Wright called ‘the new tide’ of African-Americans, who in the 1940s were pushing for respect and racial equality,” said John Rohrbach, the Amon Carter’s Senior Curator of Photographs. “A consummate professional, he added finely wrought photography to the struggle for social justice, creating a model for generations to come.”

The Amon Carter houses more than 45,000 exhibition-quality photographic prints and 250,000 photographic objects, making the museum one of the country’s major repositories of American photography.

The exhibition is organized by the National Gallery of Art, Washington, in collaboration with The Gordon Parks Foundation. Bank of America is the national sponsor of Gordon Parks: The New Tide, Early Work 1940–1950. Support is provided by the Ann L. & Carol Green Rhodes Charitable Trust. Additional support comes from the Arts Council of Fort Worth.


– FWBP Staff