My Perspective

Gordon Parks: 100 Years at the International Center of Photography

  • Photo: Kevin Brisco

In June, I visited the International Center of Photography to view Gordon Parks: 100 Years, an ambitious hundred-year retrospective of Gordon Parks’s photography. The exhibition celebrates the centennial birth of the multitalented photographer and filmmaker. I arrived from the museum’s south side. After  a few minutes of searching, I was guided to the gallery’s north side to a massive window display. Behind the display was a 20-by 13-foot mural of Parks’s Emerging Man. Three monitors were placed in front of the image, each shifting through various Parks photographs.

Expecting a more traditional type of exhibition, I was surprised to see the project relegated to such a small space. The exhibition was open to anyone passing by, unrestricted by ticket sales or prior knowledge. For many walking down the street the installation was a fleeting moment. However the installation did offer an element not normally present in traditional photography exhibitions: the passage of time. The digital displays shifted through Parks’s work and added a sense progression, which in turn brought out a narrative in the exhibition. Images of impoverished immigrant families of the 1930s shifted into images of 1950s Harlem and the emerging civil rights era, all the while accented by various lifestyle and fashion shoots from Parks’s work for Vogue magazine. At its core the exhibition was a narrative. It presented the tale of 20th century America, and at times reached beyond to craft an even greater global narrative.

Gordon Parks’s work was remarkable in that it told the American experience in its totality. He made profound moves in establishing African American experiences as wholly human, ones that could be felt and shared by all. The breadth of his work at Life magazine showcases his knack for understanding different cultural situations and emotions. He was able to capture the underlying human element of his subjects, consolidating their various plights into something that could be universally understood. It was the synthesis of these varying viewpoints that formed a complete/holistic account of the American experience.

So if you find yourself in the Times Square area, I encourage you to venture over to the International Center of Photography before January 6th, and take time to observe the massive window installation. It won’t cost much time or money but will offer quite a bit of knowledge about one of America’s greatest artistic voices.

Gordon Parks: 100 Years runs through January 6, 2013.

For more information on Gordon Parks: 100 Years at the International Center of Photography, click here.