Gordon Parks is a living legend who has mastered many media to express an influential message of hope in the face of adversity. Organized by curators Philip Brookman, Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Charles Wylie, the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art of the Dallas Museum of Art, Gordon Parks, Half Past Autumn: Selections from the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art is a retrospective survey of Parks’ photographs drawn from the extensive Gordon Parks Collection owned by the Corcoran. This exhibition presents roughly 130 photographs produced between 1940 and 1997. The result, in the artist’s words, is an autobiographical “tone-poem” that tells his own story. The exhibition will be on view from June 5 through Sept. 4, 2005.
Exhibition support in Dallas is provided by Verizon Wireless and Ford Motor Company Fund. Additional support provided by the Donor Circle Membership Program through a leadership gift of Mr. and Mrs. J.E.R Chilton. Air transportation provided by American Airlines. Promotional support provided by Al Dia, and The Dallas Morning News. The Museum acknowledges the Artist and Elaine Thornton Foundation for the Arts, Inc., for its collaboration in presenting this exhibition in Dallas.
Gordon Parks, Half Past Autumn: Selections from the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art records Parks’ creative search for humanity in the face of intolerance. His art is about pressing social issues such as poverty, race, segregation and crime. It also enhances our understanding of beauty, nature, childhood, music, fashion and memory. Parks’ seamless movement between such diverse topics strikes a balance between social and aesthetic concerns, sketching a poetic portrait of post-war culture in the U.S. and abroad.
Born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1912, and the youngest of 15 children, Parks overcame a childhood of racism and poverty to succeed as an artist. He has devoted his life to exposing injustice, revealing beauty and investigating how differences between people can be overcome. Parks made his own experiences—his life and feelings for those around him—central to his work.
Following the death of his mother when he was 15, Parks left Kansas for Minnesota. At the age of 25, he began to consider the meaning of photography when he saw images produced by social documentary photographers for the Farm Security Administration (FSA). Struck by the faces of dust bowl refugees in these pictures, and personally hounded by bigotry, Parks chose to fight the poverty and racism of his past, selecting a camera as his principal “weapon.”
In 1941, Parks was awarded a fellowship to work in Washington with FSA director Roy Stryker. During his fellowship, Parks met Ella Watson, a government cleaning woman also working at the FSA, who became one of Parks’ most important subjects. His best-known photograph of Watson is American Gothic, 1942, today an icon of American culture. It shows a dignified woman posed like the farmer in Grant Wood’s 1930 composition, holding a broom and mop in place of the farmer’s pitchfork. Behind her hangs the American flag.
In the late 1940s, Parks came to Life magazine armed with the skills he learned at the FSA and as a photographer for the Office of War Information. In what became his trademark style, he focused his lens on individuals and families, illuminating personal human relationships by getting to know his many subjects. His most important assignments for Life include photo-essays about a Harlem youth gang (1948), Paris fashions (1949–50), Portugal (1950), segregation in the South (1956), crime (1957), an impoverished Brazilian family (1961), the Black Muslims (1963) and poverty in America (1967).
Parks began to experiment with color photography in the late 1950s. Since that time, he has published many books of color images combined with his poems. His most recent works are abstractions that transcend his traditional subjects; created in his studio using combinations of still-life elements, these works evoke lyrical landscapes.
In addition to his career as a preeminent photographer, Parks is also an accomplished filmmaker, writer, musician and composer. He began to make films in the early 1960s and, with his autobiographical The Learning Tree (1969), became the first African American filmmaker to write, direct and score a feature film in Hollywood. He went on to direct Shaft (1971) and a number of other important films.
Parks is recognized for his significant contributions in photography, film, literature and music; however, his greatest achievement may be his triumph over both personal and social adversity to fulfill his potential to dream. His art expresses the lessons of his early life and imparts these to future generations. This exhibition unlocks the door to this uncommon and uncompromising vision.
This exhibition is organized by the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Gordon Parks, Half Past Autumn: Selections from the Collection of the Corcoran Gallery of Art is organized by Philip Brookman, Senior Curator of Photography and Media Arts at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, and Charles Wylie, the Lupe Murchison Curator of Contemporary Art of the Dallas Museum of Art.
About the Corcoran Gallery of Art
A privately funded institution, the Corcoran Gallery of Art was founded in 1869 as Washington’s first museum of art. It is known internationally for its distinguished collection of historical and modern American art as well as European painting, sculpture, photography and decorative arts. Founded in 1890, Corcoran College of Art + Design is Washington’s only 4-year college of art and design offering BFA degrees in Fine Arts, Graphic Design, Digital Media Design, Photojournalism and Photography—and AFA degrees in Fine Arts, Interior Design and Photography. The College’s Continuing Education Program, which offers part-time credit and non-credit classes for children and adults, draws more than 3,500 participants each year.
The Corcoran Gallery of Art is located at New York Avenue and 17th Street, NW, Washington, D.C., and is open every day, except Tuesday, 10 am–5 pm, and until 9 pm on Thursdays. The Corcoran is closed every Tuesday. The Corcoran Web site address is www.corcoran.org.