Coinciding with Black History Month, a compelling exhibition of iconic and powerfully moving images by the late African-American photographer Gordon Parks is coming to the Toledo Museum of Art
Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks brings together 73 works grouped
specifically by Parks himself. The free exhibition opens to the public on Thursday, Feb. 5, in the Canaday Gallery and continues through April 25, 2010.
Perhaps best known as director of the Hollywood hit motion picture Shaft, Parks was first acknowledged as a master of the photographic arts. He began his photography career in the 1940s, documenting crime, poverty and civil rights, as well as the contrasting world of celebrity and glamour.
Parks established himself professionally while working for the Farm Security Administration and later as the first black photographer for the Office of War Information, where he documented discrimination in Washington D.C., the first black fighter pilot squadron and more.
He went on to spend more than 20 years as staff photographer for Life magazine. One of many assignments he took on at Life was to spend three months living with a gang, photographing the 16-year-old leader known as "Red Jackson." He photographed the Black Panthers, the Black Muslims and Dr. Martin Luther King's death. Parks also spent time in Brazil getting up-close-and-personal with the slums of Rio de Janeiro while photographing the de Silva family.
From still photography, Parks moved on to become the first African-American moviemaker to direct a major Hollywood film. His first motion picture, The Learning Tree, was based on his semi-autobiographical novel about a black teen in rural Kansas. It was followed by Shaft, an action thriller that helped to inspire the 1970s film genre known as blaxploitation.
Bare Witness is a veritable retrospective of Parks' life. The exhibition includes examples of his early works from the Farm Security Administration, to the Black Panther's headquarters, to segregation in Birmingham, Ala., to intimate photos of the de Silva family.
Visitors will be drawn in by Parks' amazing technical ability to create delicate portraiture while at the same time capturing powerful examples of race relations as in the 1970 photo Eldridge Cleaver and Wife, Kathleen, with Portrait of Huey Newton, Algiers.
"Parks depicts tender interactions between brothers Flavio and Zacarias in an image from a powerful yet disturbing series that documents abject poverty in a Rio de Janeiro favela. The ability of the artist to capture this tender moment, in what he described as the worst living conditions he had ever witnessed, speaks both to his photographic skills and his ability to adapt," said Tom Loeffler, TMA assistant curator of works on paper.
"Bare Witness (in the exhibition title) refers to Parks' photographic investigation of social, political and racial issues throughout the world. He had the ability to become personally involved while never forgetting his position as a journalist. He bore witness for us all," Loeffler noted.
Bare Witness: Photographs by Gordon Parks was organized by the Iris & B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University. The exhibition and its accompanying catalogue are made possible by generous support from The Capital Group Foundation, the Cantor Arts Center's Hohbach Family fund and the Cantor Arts Center's Members.
In addition to hosting the exhibition, the Toledo Museum of Art has planned an array of free exhibition-related public programs for children and adults. This programming is made possible with the support of TMA members and the Ohio Arts Council's sustainable grant program that encourages economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.