GORDON PARKS: The Making of an Argument New Orleans Museum of Art

Gordon Parks, Untitled, Harlem, New York, 1948
Courtesy of The Gordon Parks Foundation

An exhibition that explores Parks' first photographic essay, "Harlem Gang Leader," for Life Magazine in 1948

In 1948, Gordon Parks began a professional relationship with Life magazine that would last twenty-two years. For his first project, he proposed a series of pictures about the gang wars that were then plaguing Harlem, believing that if he could draw attention to the problem then perhaps it would be addressed through social programs or government intervention. As a result of his efforts, Parks gained the trust of one particular group of gang members and their leader, Leonard "Red" Jackson, and produced a series of pictures of them that are artful, emotive, poignant, touching, and sometimes shocking. From this larger body of work, twenty-one pictures were selected for reproduction in a graphic and adventurous layout in Life magazine.

At each step of the selection process – as Parks chose each shot, or as the picture editors at Life re-selected from his selection-any intended narrative was complicated by another curatorial voice.

Curator Russell Lord notes, "By the time the reader opened the pages of Life magazine, the addition of text, and the reader's own biases further rendered the original argument into a fractured, multi-layered affair. The process leads to many questions: 'What was the intended argument?' and 'Whose argument was it?'." Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument examines these questions through a close study of how Parks' first Life picture essay was conceived, constructed and received.

The exhibition includes vintage photographs, original issues of Life magazine, contact sheets and proof prints all made available by The Gordon Parks Foundation. Additionally, the exhibition is accompanied by a catalog also entitled Gordon Parks: The Making of an Argument by Russell Lord, Freeman Family Curator of Photographs at NOMA, a foreword by Peter W. Kunhardt, Jr., Executive Director of The Gordon Parks Foundation and an afterword by Irvin Mayfield, Artistic Director of the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra. (text courtesy of NOMA)

 September 12, 2013 – January 19, 2014

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