Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument

Exhibition Website

Sep 27 2017 - Dec 17 2017

This exhibition explores the making of Gordon Parks’s first photographic essay for Life magazine, “Harlem Gang Leader,” in 1948. After gaining the trust of a group of gang members and their leader, Leonard “Red” Jackson, Parks produced a series of photographs that are artful, poignant, and at times shocking. From this large body of work (Parks made hundreds of negatives) the editors at Life selected twenty-one pictures to print in the magazine, often cropping or enhancing details in the pictures in the process. Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument traces this editorial process and parses out the various voices and motives behind the production of the picture essay. The exhibition considers Parks’s photographic practice within a larger discussion about photography as a narrative device. Featuring vintage photographs, original issues of Life magazine, contact sheets, and proof prints, the exhibition raises important questions about the role of photography in addressing social concerns, its use as a documentary tool, and its function in the world of publishing.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website.     

Whether or not you go, A Choice of Weapons follows the remarkable life of photographer Gordon Parks (1912–2006). Parks was the groundbreaking photographer, writer, composer, activist, and filmmaker who was only sixteen in 1928 when he moved from Kansas to St. Paul, Minnesota, after his mother's death. There, homeless and hungry, he began his fight to survive, to educate himself, and to fulfill his potential dream.

This compelling autobiography, first published in 1966, now back in print by popular demand and with a new foreword by Wing Young Huie, tells how Parks managed to escape the poverty and bigotry around him and to launch his distinguished career by choosing the weapons given him by "a mother who placed love, dignity, and hard work over hatred." Parks, the first African American to work at Life magazine and the first to write, direct, and score a Hollywood film, told an interviewer in 1999, "I saw that the camera could be a weapon against poverty, against racism, against all sorts of social wrongs. I knew at that point I had to have a camera."

Praise for A Choice of Weapons: "A perceptive narrative of one man's struggle to realize the values (defined as democratic and especially American) he has been taught to respect." —New York Times Book Review     

A Choice of Weapons

  • Various Media
  • American
  • 20th Century
  • Culture / Lifestyle
  • Gordon Parks
  • and others

Exhibition Venues & Dates